A study has found using a rented electric scooter could be worse for the environment than taking a bus or riding a bike.
While they're often touted as an environmentally-friendly way of getting around a city, the first peer-reviewed study examining the environmental impact of the life cycle of shared e-scooters suggests there are more eco-friendly ways of getting around.
When considering the life cycle of a rented e-scooter, the study didn't just consider the emissions created by charging the scooters, but every stage of their production and maintenance: materials, manufacture, transportation to the destined city and collection and redistribution for recharging.
Charging the scooters was not found to be the main issue, but their manufacture, collection and distribution.
The impact of an e-scooter's life cycle
The study by North Carolina State University found the average global warming impact for rentable e-scooters is 202g of CO2 per mile (1.6km) travelled.
As much as 50% of that comes from materials and manufacturing and 43% from the impact of collection and distribution, as they need to be collected to be recharged. Only 4.7% of the impact comes from the electricity used to charge them.
Compared to using a car, the study found that shared e-scooters were indeed much better for the environment. The average global warming impact from a car journey per passenger mile is 414g of CO2, according to the study.
However, it put the impact of a bus journey at 82g of CO2 per mile, and the use of a personal bike at 8g of CO2 for the same distance.
Changing transport habits
The study also looked at which modes of transport were, in fact, being replaced by the increased use of rented e-scooters.
In a survey of users, it found 7% wouldn’t have taken the trip without the scooter, 49% would have biked or walked, 34% would have used a personal car or ride-sharing service, and 11% would have taken a public bus.
While the survey was conducted in the United States, shared electric scooters have proliferated across European cities in recent years, and haven’t been without their problems.
Paris introduced fines for people riding on pavements or blocking pavements with parked scooters to try and deal with the problem.
Reducing the eco burden of e-scooters
The study put forward a number of policies which could help rental companies to reduce the environmental impact of their scooters.
Increasing the lifetime of their vehicles, reducing collection and distribution distance, using more efficient vehicles, and less frequent charging strategies could have a positive impact, it said.
Lime, a scooter rental company that has scooters in cities across the world, including many European cities, said it is making “rapid technological and operational advances” to improve the sustainability of its fleet.
The company said in a statement: "We welcome research on the environmental benefits of these new forms of mobility.
"In this case, this study highlights many topics that we have identified and are already working on.
"However, this study is also based on assumptions and incomplete data that lead to an uncertain dimension in the results obtained."
It outlined steps that Lime had taken to reduce its environmental impact, including the streamlining of charging operations, supplying scooters with 100% renewable energy, offsetting their fleet's CO2 emissions and establishing a programme to repair and reuse scooters and extend their life cycle."