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Electric scooters, the environment and enabling a low-carbon future

How environmentally friendly are electric scooters? This question has been in circulation ever since scooter-sharing systems began gaining real momentum in 2017. It was even challenged last fall in a North Carolina State University study that measured the carbon footprint of scooters. Then COVID-19 hit, and cities across the globe have been forced to stop in their tracks and ask how they can safely, efficiently and sustainably rethink their roads and reliance on cars. The topic of whether or not electric scooters benefit the environment has shifted to how these vehicles can best be used to uphold sustainable practices as short-term relief measures become more permanent. 

With more bike lanes and legislation opening up micromobility to the masses, there are more reasons than ever to understand how energy-efficient, two-wheeled vehicles (and the tech advancements behind them) are successfully helping to reduce our carbon footprint and increase access to greener transportation options. 

First, some facts

The pandemic has given cities an initial push toward reducing their environmental toll. Experts are estimating that CO2 emissions could fall by somewhere between 4% and 8% in 2020, and road transport emissions by 14%, as a result of current travel restrictions. Still, transport-related emissions need to be sliced in half by 2050 in order to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets of limiting temperature increases to 1.5ºC. Currently, road transit is responsible for 1,556 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. alone. The efficiency of electric scooters (with their average weight of 28 pounds) is hard to ignore, now that these vehicles are proving to be highly functional ways to commute beyond the car (which has an average weight of 4,100 pounds). According to a recent Wired article, one kilowatt hour of energy carries a gasoline-powered car a little less than a mile, while an electric scooter can travel more than 80 miles under the same conditions. The widely reported North Carolina State University study found that, on a per-mile basis, shared scooters produce about half as many grams of greenhouse gas as cars. Meanwhile, fueling costs for an electric scooter come in at $0.04 cents per passenger per 28 miles, compared to $2.84 per passenger per 28 miles in a car. These stats are all pointing us in the same direction, and now, with roughly 60% of U.S. trips clocking in under five miles, the environmental benefits of commuting via scooters have shifted to also hold social distancing and economic value as lockdowns continue to lift. 

More lanes mean fewer cars

Already, temporary emergency bike lanes are having a lasting impact on sustainable transport. In addition to greenlighting multi-million-dollar pilot programs, cities are making it convenient to rent a scooter thanks to hundreds of miles of newly introduced bike lanes, many of which are being purposely constructed to feed into public transportation systems. Replacing cars has an obvious benefit of reducing emissions. In Portland, Denver and San Francisco, about 36% of e-scooter trips are replacing trips by car (including private automobiles and ride-sharing), while in Santa Monica (home of the first shared scooter experiment), nearly half of e-scooter trips replace car trips. A number of scooter-rental companies have reported that rider trip duration is lengthening, meaning that widespread access to shared mobility vehicles has the real potential to make a dent in traditional car dependencies.   

Charging hubs recharge the environment

While scooters are benefiting the environment, groundbreaking tech is helping the vehicles themselves. Earlier this week, Bill Gates wrote about the tremendous importance of tech innovation and electric-powered alternatives if we’re ever going to achieve a zero-carbon footprint. Through software-enabled charging hubs (or docking stations), scooters are maintained and charged in one designated area rather than left scattered across city streets. These stations lessen the need for gig workers to drive around in carbon-heavy, diesel-powered trucks to collect scooters and rebalance/charge them. (Even under the dockless system, more and more companies are using e-cargo bikes to maintain swappable battery scooters.) Meanwhile, charging hubs help extend the life of a scooter by keeping them safe from vandalization and abduction, which in turn lowers production tolls on the environment. 

Scooters are lasting longer

When they first emerged as recreational vehicles, the scooter lifespan typically capped off at two months. However, electric scooters for shared use have seen significant advancements. The lifespan of shared scooters is now somewhere in the range of one to two years, with many new models being touted as lasting 24+ months. The introduction of swappable batteries, sturdier hardware materials and larger wheels are all helping the cause, as is sophisticated technology. Software is helping to extend scooter lifespan by promoting proper vehicle use to avoid accidents and malfunctions (such as how-to-ride info available in rental apps), only permitting verified and designated drivers to operate them, keeping scooters in designated locations through geo-fencing features, and providing access to bike lanes through integrations with cycling navigation services. The end result is a lessened strain when it comes to manufacturing, shipping and the discarding of older vehicles. 

The environmental benefits of scooters are no longer worth debating, it’s now a matter of ongoing implementation and innovation. The power is in the hands of government officials, city planners, hardware manufacturers and software providers to make micromobility adoption as accessible as possible. Joyride’s commitment to sustainable practices is woven throughout our company practices and partnership decisions. To learn more about how our software platform is working to improve environmental efficiencies in more than 100 markets, reach out to us today.

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