Micromobility Isn’t As Eco-Friendly As We’re Led To Believe

can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
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One of the greatest selling points of using an electric scooter is its eco-friendliness. But, what if that’s not actually the case?

  • Electric scooters are marketed as an eco-friendly alternative to driving.
  • Researchers in North Carolina found that scooters can produce more greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than a standard diesel bus.
  • If scooter companies could increase the lifecycle of their product, then they could rightly claim to be a more green way to get around. 

Researchers at North Carolina State University decided to test that assumption by doing a “life-cycle assessment”. To determine environmental impact of scooters, they evaluated the emissions from making, shipping, charging, collecting and disposal.

The news isn’t just bad, it’s disturbing. According to the study, scooters produce more greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than a standard diesel bus with high ridership. Although scooters produce 200 grams of CO2 per mile compared to 415 for a car, the numbers don’t tell the full story until put into perspective.

When the researchers surveyed e-scooter riders in Raleigh, North Carolina, they found that only 34% would have used a personal car or rideshare service instead. Another half would have biked or walked, 11% would have taken a bus, while 7% would have just skipped the trip altogether.

The ugly truth is that about two-thirds of the time, scooter rides create more greenhouse gas emissions than taking another form of transportation. Even worse, those emissions outweighed the gains from car rides not taken instead, according to Jeremiah Johnson, an engineering professor and one of the authors of the study.

It’s not the electricity to charge the scooters that’s the big problem. At least half comes from sourcing raw materials and manufacturing. The researchers based their findings partially upon the Chinese-made Xiaomi M365 scooter, which both Bird and Lime have used in their fleet.

When assessing environmental impact, operating life of scooters factors in heavily. Unfortunately, scooters aren’t the most durable of vehicles. They can routinely be found dead on the road, with a reported lifespan of less than a month.  There is some good news, however. If scooters could become rugged enough to stay on the road for two years instead of mere months, it would cut average emissions by about 30% per mile. With this result, they could become the cleaner option as much as 96% of the time. And then could scooters rightly claim to be clean machines.

WHY THIS MATTERS

As e-scooters grow in number and popularity, their impact on the environment will also grow, and must be taken into consideration. We might see increased government regulation relating to e-scooters as a result of the environment even before we see safety regulations.


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can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
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