E-scooter companies are taking the world by storm. Companies like Bird and Lime offer micro-mobility solutions by way of electric scooter rides, starting at just a few dollars. These American dockless e-scooter tech companies are the fastest growing sector in history, reaching 500 million users and valuations of over $2bn. These disruptors have achieved phenomenal success in a matter of months.
Dockless e-scooters continue to transform the cityscape and influence behaviours of urbanites around the globe, e-scooter share surely has the potential to influence a reduction in carbon emissions throughout the world right? A new Berkeley study into the phenomena has produced some interesting results...
Shared Micro Mobility Services
Micro-mobility is such a hot topic, as nations around the world are trying to solve the rising carbon outputs and meet climate change targets. One of the easiest ways to reduce carbon emissions in transport is to cut out the short car journeys and switch to more sustainable modes like personal light vehicles.
The scooter-share companies have developed a business model that harnesses this agenda, and at the same time takes the cost out of the equation for the consumer. The dockless scooters can be used by anyone who has a smartphone, using an app to unlock and rent one. The scooters are fun, cheap, have no harmful emissions, and are being adopted at an unprecedented pace.
The E-Scooter is a High Growth Market
A recent study created by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Unagi Scooters has found that the electric scooter industry will have annual revenue of between $34 and $42 billion by 2025. E-scooter sharing takes up a big part of the market, but what about the traditional B2C model of ownership? Once the behaviour is adopted, the consumer might workout that ownership is more cost effective in the long run. The Berkeley Study also shows that 35-40% of regular riders would like to own a scooter rather than renting one. That leaves us with the simple question, when it comes to e-scooters, what’s better? Sharing or owning?
(Source: Ugani x Berkeley study)
1. Is Shared Mobility Better for the Environment?
Sustainability - How long does an e-scooter last?
Just because these scooters are electric, doesn’t necessarily mean they are environmentally sustainable. The case for sharing is underpinned by the attempt to consume less, own less, and therefore reduce your personal carbon footprint. But on the flipside, no sense of ownership is causing problems for e-scooter share schemes worldwide. The reputation of the sector is severely hampered by irresponsible use and vandalism, the backlash has led to the banning of e-scooters in some cities... The cheap scooters used by Bird and Lime are replaced at an affordable cost to the business (the popular Xiaomi M365 retails at around $400), the broken ones discarded. The carbon embodied in the manufacturing of the product and replacing them is a factor to consider. Alarmingly, evidence suggests that the average lifespan of a shared electric scooter is only 1-3 months before it’s unusable.
E-scooters are supposed to be a more environmentally friendly way of getting around the city compared to taxis and other carbon-emitting transportation. This might be true when looking at the short term and localised emissions. But considering the carbon cost of manufacturing and landfill, it would be more eco-friendly to own a scooter that would last for 1000s of miles. The psychology of ownership itself promotes responsibility, and it’s this lack of responsibility for commodities that is one of the problems facing the world today.
It only takes a quick look at @birdgraveyard on Instagram to see the potentially hazardous consequences, e-scooters (with their lithium-ion batteries) are submerged in the waterways, thrown into the sea, and set on fire. No-one is caring for these scooters and the companies are simply off-setting the responsibility of their fleets onto the public.
Convenience, but at what cost?
While the scooter itself doesn’t emit harmful gases, there is a carbon footprint accounting for the production, assembly, charging, collecting and distributing the dockless scooters. If the scooter has a short lifespan, it is possible to calculate the carbon footprint of the scooter on a per mile basis. In a blog by Matt Chester on Chester Energy and Policy* it states that the CO2 per mile is so high, it even equates to the CO2 emissions of a car. The results suggest that on average, these shared e-scooters produce between 320.2 grams and 742.7 grams of CO2 per scooter mile. Compare this to a midsized gasoline car (424 grams of CO2 per mile) and you can see that the shared scooters aren’t that much better than the average car.
These statistics might seem ridiculous, petrol cars must produce more CO2 than electric scooters, right? It is mainly linked back to the short lifespan of the e-scooters. Even though the production of a car emits way more CO2 than the production of an e-scooter, the per-mile basis is way lower. This is because, on average, a car travels tens of thousands of miles before it is written off, compared to the e-scooters from Bird and Lime that only travel a few miles a day for 1-3 months before they end up in a landfill. Spreading the CO2 production over these numbers creates such a big difference in CO2 emission per mile between the two vehicles. These are all things that we need to keep in mind when we compare them because CO2 emission isn’t just linked to what vehicles emit while we use them as forms of transportation.
Read more about clean air in the city in our journal:
CLEAN AIR IN THE CITY, THE HIGHWAY ACT OF 1835
Owning a better quality e-scooter could help reduce the CO2 produced per mile. This is because the lifespan of a scooter you own is much higher and spreads the CO2 emission from producing the products over thousands of miles, assuming you look after it well. Owning a scooter also means it does not have to be collected by a van in the evening to be charged, only to be redistributed again by a van in the morning.
*Source: Chester Energy and Policy
The total life cycle emission of dockless scooters, on a per-mile basis (Source chesterenergyandpolicy.com)
(Total life cycle emission of dockless scooters vs cars, on a per-mile basis. Source: Chesterenergyandpolicy.com)
In the short run, using a shared e-scooter might seem better for the environment compared to cars, but how many e-scooter trips are actually replacing cars? Another article by Matt Chester* suggested that most e-scooter rides are a substitute for walking rather than driving. The choice between a shared scooter or a car is rare inside the city. It’s usually a choice between walking, taking public transport or using the scooters. Of course, there is a percentage of scooter-rides that replace a taxi-rides, but it would be interesting to know how many of these scooters are really taking cars off the road.
*Source: Chester Energy and Policy
2. Is it cheaper to buy or share an e-scooter?
The shared micro mobility services provide cheap rides starting at only a couple of dollars (Bird charges $1 fee plus 15c per minute in the US). It’s appealing, and it is a fantastic way to persuade people to change their habits as the cost factor is taken out of the equation. A scooter ride is cheaper than a taxi ride, more fun and avoids adding to traffic congestion. Great for people to try and use a couple of times per month, but if riders want to use an e-scooter regularly, the costs add up and overtake the cost of buying one of their own.
Statistics say that 40% of e-scooter riders end up spending over 30 dollars per month on the sharing service, which those using them on their daily commute spending almost double. A blog by Yev Podgayetsky* even stated that using a shared e-scooter for your commute could cost you up to $2500 on an annual basis. This easily outweighs the cost of scooter ownership and eliminates the hassle of looking around for a share-scooter that is in rideable condition.
3. Parking your dockless scooter or storing your own?
One of the main issues with dockless sharing services is the misuse of e-scooters. Because the scooters can be used and parked literally anywhere, riders often leave them in impractical and unsafe locations that inconvenience pedestrians. They are found in the middle of sidewalks, on ramps and crossroads and block the road for others. This is one of the reasons cities like San Francisco and Denver decided to ban the use of the sharing scooters altogether.
Investing in your own scooter is a great way to avoid any of this. A quality foldable scooter like the electric foldable SwiftyONE model is easy to store underneath your desk at work and barely takes up any space. No need to look for an appropriate place to park and worry about annoying others.
4. Is sharing an e-scooter more convenient?
Even though the scooter sharing network is convenient, it’s also unreliable. If you want to use one of the sharing scooters, you have to mess around with an app and most likely walk a couple of blocks to find a useable scooter. Once you find one, you’ll be sure to get to your destination, but there’s no guarantee there will be one available for your ride back.
If you want to try e-scooters, you’ll have a problem if you live in rural areas or smaller towns where the share-schemes don’t venture, so purchasing one may be the only option anyway. This is not a bad thing, you know you get to ride a scooter that is safe and hasn’t been ridden by someone who rode it irresponsibly, and you many scooter brands offer a 0% finance option on purchasing.
When renting a scooter, you can never be sure who has ridden it and how they have used it. There is a chance that it has been damaged by a previous rider. This is common as the Xiaomi scooters used by Bird are only built to hold to hold a 100kg load. You don’t have to risk this when owning a scooter, and there are e-scooters that are easy to maintain, like all scooters from Swifty Scooters who use standard bicycle parts for the perishable parts like brake pads and tyres. The sense of ownership will ultimately help you ride safely and look after the product more carefully too.
E-scooters: Responsibility VS Convenience
Pictures and videos that are posted on the @birdgraveyard Instagram account are a perfect example of how far we have moved away from respecting our surrounding and the items we rely on. Design and engineering can only solve and manage so much, consumers also have to take responsibility for what products they use and how they treat them. The dockless scooters may seem environmentally friendly and better for your bank account, but this view is challenged after diving a little bit deeper.
Disruptive companies like Bird and Lime appear to have created a win-win business model through convenience, but perhaps at a greater cost than meets the eye. The next challenge for scooters-share is to address the companies’ accountability for the maintenance and after-care of their fleets. Meanwhile, it may be better to buy your own.
We like Swifty Scooters. You can get an adult scooter for as little as £36 per month (interest-free, Ts and Cs apply). You can find more information about Swifty’s interest-free credit options at the checkout.