No exhaust fumes, no petrol tank, just pure electric power. E-scooters might appear to be the very green innovation needed by many cities polluted by diesel cars to become more environmentally friendly.
But environmental experts are increasingly sounding the alarm over the latest mobility trend to proliferate on inner-city streets around the world.
Battery-powered scooters, increasingly available for hire for urban commuters and tourists from San Francisco to Singapore, make little contribution to environmentally-friendly urban mobility and are, in fact, worse than bicycles, the German Environment Agency (UBA) says.
“The routes travelled are usually very short and can normally be covered on foot, by bus, by rail or by bicycle,” UBA President Maria Krautzberger says.
By comparison with the bicycle they were “considerably more harmful to the environment,” Krautzberger says.
Providers should rather make them available on the outskirts, she said. “It may well make sense here to bridge these longer routes to the bus or the train quickly with an e-scooter rather than a car.”
But she adds that the private car was “much the greater environmental problem, both with respect to pollutants and to noise.” Krautzberger called for municipal authorities to cut the number of parking places to create more space for cycle paths and pedestrian routes.
The remarks echo those of other environmental agencies and research institutes, who say e-scooters don’t live up to their environmentally friendly image.
“E-scooter companies tout themselves as having little or no carbon footprint, which is a bold statement,” says Jeremiah Johnson, author of an August 2019 study from researchers at North Carolina State University in the US.
“We found that the environmental impact from the electricity used to charge the e-scooters is fairly small – about 5 per cent of its overall impact,” Johnson says.
“The real impact comes largely from two areas: using other vehicles to collect and redistribute the scooters; and emissions related to producing the materials and components that go into each scooter.”
The authors, who found similar results to researchers in the US city of Portland, Oregon, said taking a bus on a busy route was usually more environmentally friendly than an e-scooter.
The researchers found that 49 per cent of riders would have biked or walked if they hadn’t taken the e-scooter, while 34 per cent would have used a car and 11 per cent would have taken a bus. Seven per cent would not have taken the trip at all.