Electric Scooters: are they Really a Good Idea to Decarbonise your Mode of Transportation?

Electric scooters – or e-scooters in the U.S. – have massively taken over the French urban landscape from 2017. At the source of this phenomenon are private companies offering a rental service without docking stations, available via smartphone and payable by usage time. The frenzy was real and particularly massive (1.5 million users observed in 2019 ), so much that it raised a number of questions, especially regulation-wise. Nevertheless, a fundamental question surrounds this new mode of transportation: showcased as the future of transport because of its presumed eco-friendly features, is the electronic scooter a viable option to decarbonise our mode of transportation?

Mixed-results regarding environmental performance

A mere query stating “eco-friendly electric scooters” in a search engine generates approximately 12 200 000 results. Numerous articles and studies are dedicated to this question thus raising a deep-rooted issue: are electric scooters as eco-friendly as their advocates claim them to be? On paper, these vehicles are light and run on electric power, which is considered to be less polluting than thermal combustion engines. All in all, electric scooters only emit 24 grams of CO2 per kilometre, which is eight times less than the emissions per passenger of an average car (193 grams of CO2 per kilometre) or a city bus (146 grams of CO2 per kilometre). However, if we compare this in absolute value with the metro or the Regional Express Network commuter rail (RER) in Île-de-France (Paris and its suburbs), the ecological benefits of e-scooters dwindles: the CO2 emissions per kilometre reach 0.25 grams per passenger for the metro and 4.10 grams for the RER. This observation is all the more severe if we compare the performance of the electric scooter to the bicycle. The latter has a zero carbon footprint per kilometre and a grey energy – meaning the amount of energy consumed during the life cycle of the product – mainly concentrated in the manufacturing phase.

A few studies prove that the question of these vehicles’ environmental impact is linked to the change of habit they have created. When people opt for an electric scooter instead of a car, they go through what specialists call a “modal shift” from the car to the e-scooter. Nevertheless, the modal shifts observed with e-scooters are not related to the most polluting vehicles but rather to bicycles, walking or non-electric scooters. This results in a mechanical increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Another probing element tarnishes the environmental footprint of electric scooters, namely the load of grey energy during their manufacturing phase and the low lifespan of these vehicles. Providing each e-scooter with a battery implies investing in rare resources. In the event of a several years lifespan, this investment could be relevant. However, the lifetime of self-service vehicles does not go beyond a single year, or even, as some reports suggest, a single month due to vandalism or disrespectful usage. Moreover, fuel costs also add up because of fleet management. Electric scooters are crammed into combustion engine trucks to be returned to the workshop where they will be serviced and recharged.

A carbon footprint that could be improved under certain conditions

To say the least, the results of the environmental assessment of electric scooters are mixed. However, we should not neglect the potential this technology withholds to promote a more environmentally-friendly urban transport landscape.

According to Anne de Bortoloi, PhD Researcher in transportation sustainability at the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, a personal well-maintained scooter can last up to 15 000 km: it then becomes as efficient as the Parisian public transports”. By boosting the lifespan of these vehicles, we reduce the grey energy they build up. In addition, careful thought must be given to the production cycle to optimise the environmental impact of this step which, in this vehicle’s case, is the most detrimental to its environmental impact.

Finally, the last area for improvement would be to optimise the review and recharge process of free-service electric scooters to limit their negative impact on the planet.

To conclude, it is relevant to quote Anne de Bortoli who considers that well put to use, scooters have their role to play in a low-carbon mobility system”.

Electric scooters, a social issue highlighting the challenges EveryAct can help you rise to

As stated above, electric scooters are endowed with a potential for the future of mobility. This technology is one of the solutions which, in time, will help us solve the issues of our mobility system and more broadly those linked to our vision of society. These new technologies are ripe with benefits but, as shown through electric scooters, require a couple of tweaks to unleash their full potential.

EveryAct was born to help you make the best of it. Because if putting together an effective environmental programme requires relevant ideas, its execution is just as decisive.

EveryAct is the link between your ambition to offer a genuine environmental approach to your stakeholders and its realisation. By sharing the best ideas and knowledge in favour of a more responsible future and by helping your employees initiate an eco-friendly approach, EveryAct enables you to initiate your transformation towards a more sustainable business model. The purpose of EveryAct is to help you in this process, whether it is at work, at lunch break, while remote working or commuting.

21 April 2021 – 9 min read