1

During the last few years, shared electric kick scooter systems such as Voi and Tier have become common where I live. The system consists of a number of shared electric kick scooters scattered around in a city. The scooters have positioning devices, allowing finding them easily and ensuring that they are only used in the allowed city center area, and also during the end of a day the rental company collects all of the scooters with a van, charges them overnight and early in the morning the charged scooters (those that were not broken, that is) are distributed around the city.

The shared e-scooter systems have had a large amount of criticism:

  • They are often parked randomly, making it hard to walk if the sidewalk has lots of randomly scattered scooters that are often not in standing position
  • They have a very high injury rate per kilometer, far above that of bicycles, probably around that of motorcycles
  • The scooters have a short lifetime and often break early, so the company needs to continuously discard a large stream of broken scooters and replace them with new scooters
  • The diesel van that collects the scooters during the end of the day and distributes them again for use early in the morning causes emissions even though the scooters themselves are advertised as "emission free"

I have already calculated that for a person earning average salary and paying corresponding tax, it usually doesn't make sense to rent such a shared scooter. Walking the distance is bit slower, but the value of the time a scooter would save is somewhat smaller than the total cost of the scooter rental.

But what is the total climate impact of these shared scooter systems, per kilometer? A calculation should include both the manufacturing and disposal impact (taking into account the average short lifetime of a used scooter), and also the climate impact of collecting and distributing the scooters with a diesel van. The climate impact of charging is probably very minimal.

2
  • I would add sources for items two and three on your list (injury rate and lifespan). I'm not saying it's not true, but to make accurate comparisons better data on incidence and severity is needed.
    – theUg
    Jun 26 at 11:53
  • As far as utility goes, I've used it once whilst visiting friend in Tacoma, and in order for me to make it to the Tacoma Central bus terminal to make an early flight out of Sea-Tac, it allowed me to gain extra half hour of sleep, which, at 04:30 in the morning, is not trivial. I reckon, people taking those into the city cores in lieu of a taxi can see substantial time savings versus walking, considering the speed of these scooters can reach 3-4 times that of a brisk walk.
    – theUg
    Jun 26 at 12:02
1

I'll address a few of your points, though maybe not the overall question:

  • They are often parked randomly, making it hard to walk if the sidewalk has lots of randomly scattered scooters that are often not in standing position.

An irritation (or worse e.g. to wheelchair users), a hazard, but only a sustainability issue as far it affects public acceptance and choices.

  • They have a very high injury rate per kilometer, far above that of bicycles, probably around that of motorcycles.

A major problem, and to some extent inherent to the design (small wheels, short wheelbase) combined with the speeds they reach (jumping off at speed to avoid a crash is more likely to result in injury than with an unpowered kick-scooter) and the state of the roads. At the same time, used on pavements (sidewalks) they're a risk to pedestrians, but on road they're less visible and more vulnerable than bikes. Lack of helmet wearing is a contributing factor, to the extent that I wouldn't be surprised if helmets became compulsory, and that was extended to bikes at the same time.

Again the main sustainability aspect is public acceptance of the risks, especially to non-riders.

  • The scooters have a short lifetime and often break early, so the company needs to continuously discard a large stream of broken scooters and replace them with new scooters.

This is important, but comes back to the more general repair/replace issue. The early failures should be repairable (vandalism and theft may not be of course) so if they're being scrapped and replaced that counters the green credentials.

  • The diesel van that collects the scooters during the end of the day and distributes them again for use early in the morning causes emissions even though the scooters themselves are advertised as "emission free".

You assume they're gathered up at night - that's not exactly true on any scheme I've seen. Yes there's some repositioning and charging going on, but not nearly as much as you imply given how many I see scattered around early in the morning. This could be reduced further by only allowing parking in designated places as many bike schemes do, which would also address the littering aspect. The need to get them to a charger (or get a charger to them) is probably the biggest energy consumer of the whole system.

The van could be an EV, charged off-peak using renewable sources; even a modern diesel doing the rounds of the scooter parking has lower emissions and is better for urban air quality than a few cars. For the rental bike scheme here the van avoids the rush hour, so less waiting in traffic.

  • I have already calculated that for a person earning average salary and paying corresponding tax, it usually doesn't make sense to rent such a shared scooter.

Your financial calculations are only one way of looking at it. For most people comparing wages with rental is irrelevant. They may want to spend the money and get there quicker, or they may not, but most people can't stay in work and earn an extra 10 minutes pay. They either get paid a fixed salary or they get paid hourly with little control over the actual hours; overtime increments are usually longer than the journey length even when overtime is truly optional. On the other hand if you can get a cheaper off-peak train and still get to work on time by scooting the last mile, they have a financial benefit.

Now many of my "could" points are actually done by some schemes, which means there will be a big variation between the energy implications of each scheme.

-3

Consider the mass of a scooter, vs. a car. Scooter weighs average of 27 lbs. A typical five passenger compact car weighs 3000 lbs. So the resources of mass of 111 scooters vs. One automobile.

3
  • But do the scooters prevent any cars at all being made? Do they even replace many car journeys (or instead replace walking/public transport)?
    – Chris H
    Aug 11 at 9:56
  • If you use them.
    – LazyReader
    Aug 13 at 8:30
  • I mean in the general population - would more than a tiny minority use a rental scooter instead of buying a car, or even buy their own scooter? I've never used one myself, but do use rental bikes which for me replace public transport or walking. Otherwise I'd be on my own bike, only driving when carrying too much or occasional child-transport, neither of which is a use case for scooters - and that's from someone who wants to see more low-carbon options
    – Chris H
    Aug 13 at 8:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.