E-scooters: what are they really good for?

In the summer of 2019 they will spring up like mushrooms overnight in Germany: The E-scooters. Since then there have been divided opinions: Some people think that the e-scooters are sustainable and relieve traffic; others are annoyed and see the scooters as a danger on the already busy cycle paths. So what is really the sustainability of e-scooters?

The basic facts

The e-scooters, also called e-scooters or e-standing scooters, can be found on Germany's roads since 15 June. Yes, they have even been hard to miss since then. But Germany is not a pioneer in this respect; in many European metropolises the scooters have been around since the beginning of 2018

The 20 km/h fast e-scooters may be ridden from the age of 14 years on cycle paths. There is no obligation to wear a helmet. The e-scooters must be insured. And that's it for basic rules.

The arguments

If you ask around in your circle of acquaintances, the most common arguments in favour of using e-scooters are the following

  1. It's fun!
  2. The things are practical; one gets everywhere quickly and does not have to get the bike from the cellar first.
  3. You can start from where you are
  4. The e-scooters are a more sustainable alternative to driving.
  5. You feel free and flexible.

But there are also some arguments against e-scooters:

  1. They pollute the streets. It's annoying that they stand around everywhere, hardly anyone turns them off properly.
  2. These things are unsafe and therefore pose a danger
  3. There is not enough space on the bike paths.
  4. We don't even know yet whether they really represent an ecological alternative to the transport system..

But what is the truth of the arguments?

Flexibility and freedom

There is hardly anything wrong with this argument. If you want to get from A to B quickly, you can grab an e-scooter and reach your destination in no time at all - at least faster than on foot. The scooters are also not really expensive: Whoever wants to drive such a scooter pays 1 Euro. Per minute ride, depending on the city, 15-30 cents are then added

Cityscape

I have to say that sometimes the electric scooters annoy me too. Scooters parked in the middle of the sidewalk or thrown into the next ditch - that is definitely not the point. It would certainly be good if the e-scooter system could be expanded even further; if there were more fixed parking spaces and the roads were better developed or optimized for driving such a scooter. Maybe for many of us it's just a matter of getting used to it; sometimes we find it hard to deal with new things and so we make it bad at first

Safety

Europe-wide there are unfortunately already several deaths of people who have died in accidents with e-scooters. The fact that there is no obligation to wear a helmet does not make things safer, of course. Driving in twos on an electric standing scooter also poses a danger. For these reasons, France has recently tightened the rules on driving e-scooters. For example, those who use their mobile phone when driving or drive in pairs now face a fine of EUR 35. France now has a speed limit of 25 km/h, but e-scooters can still be driven on pavements (albeit with stricter rules)

In Germany, these rules are stricter from the outset (the maximum speed is 20 km/h; it is only allowed to ride on cycle paths), but here too there are fines: 20 euros for obstructing other road users and 10 euros for driving in twos. You can view the full list of fines here . The problem here is that the violations must be noticed and recorded at all..

There are currently four major providers in Germany: Lime and BIRD from the USA, voi from Sweden, circ from Luxembourg and TIER, a Berlin startup. In the coming spring you can expect to see a few more providers.
For security reasons, however, it would be better to reduce the number of providers. Because then the number of e-scooters themselves would also decrease.

E Scooter steht auf einem Bürgersteig
Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Sustainability of e-scooters

Now let's get to the really exciting point: What is the sustainability of the e-scooters?

First of all, the e-scooters are electric, lighter and smaller than cars. Therefore they also produce less CO2. However, it is not yet clear how much this really brings in the end. Because there are no official studies on this yet.

Initial estimates and comparisons with e-bikes show that an e-scooter produces around 5 g of CO2 when the battery is charged in order to be able to travel 1 km. For the same distance, a car burns around 120 g CO2. The pure figures therefore speak for the e-scooter. But is that enough to call it sustainable?

For the time being, scooters only mean vehicles on the roads. It is questionable whether e-scooters will really replace car rides. It seems that pedestrians in particular use the scooters to cover longer distances. Thus they do not represent a supplement to public transport, but rather hinder it. Instead of sitting in buses or trains, some people now drive e-scooters. And whether this is really sustainable, I dare to doubt

For e-scooters to really contribute to more sustainability and a better climate balance in the future, three things would have to change:

1. Usage behavior:

E-scooters should replace car traffic. For example, they are great for the "last mile", i.e. the journey from home to bus or train. In addition, electric standing scooters are only available in large cities where public transport is already well developed anyway. They are not available in the countryside, although they would be good alternatives to cars there. The reason why the scooters do not exist in the countryside is that the business only becomes profitable for the providers from about 100,000 inhabitants

2. The battery:

The batteries in the scooters are permanently installed. Therefore, the e-scooters have to be collected and recharged by employees in the evening. They are often collected by diesel or gasoline sprinters, which really does not help the eco-balance. Some suppliers are now working on e-scooters that will be equipped with replaceable batteries and thus no longer need to be moved. E-cargobikes will then replace the batteries directly on site. That would improve the situation considerably.

3. The longevity:

The e-scooters must last longer for a good carbon footprint. According to the manufacturer, they currently last about one year. Unfortunately, many people do not handle the e-scooters as carefully as they do their own scooters. In Marseille, for example, the scooters end up in the harbour, in Greece somewhere in nature and in Paris the wrongly parked e-scooters are disposed of as bulky waste...
After all, the e-scooters are built in such a way that individual parts can be replaced, which can in some cases significantly increase their service life.


So we can say that e-scooters are not really helping the climate at the moment. They are in themselves more climate-friendly than cars, but for that to really count, they have to replace car trips. It is not yet clear whether this is a hype that generates a lot of e-waste or a really profitable market. That remains to be seen

What do you think about e-scooters and their sustainability?

If you want to learn more about sustainability, mindfulness or healthy nutrition, take a look here over.

Nachhaltigkeit: zwei geparkte E Scooter als Alternative zum Auto
Photo by Uche Chilaka on Unsplash

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