As we well know by now, the limits of public transport create opportunities for tech entrepreneurs, sharing platforms and revolutionising apps. Last year saw the quick rise and fall of dockless bike sharing apps competing with public providers, and this year’s rising star is the electric scooter. Barely known in Europe a year ago, e-scooters have now taken up the streets of every big city on the continent, providing a cheap and effortless means of transport.
For better, or for worse? There are two sides to every issue, read them here and decide for yourself!
I recently purchased a bike. With cycling comes the unmatched pleasure of feeling the wind ruffling through your hair, weaving through a traffic jam and avoiding the Central line at rush hour. My friends, fellow cyclists and more recently e-scooterists, share the unbridled joy of the above.
E-scooters are the new kid on the block, so to speak. Their recent surge in cities across the globe has been met with criticism. But why? I for one am enthusiastic about what the two-wheeled kick like scooter can bring to our cities.
Reclaiming space with green solutions
There is no doubt that the e-scooter is greener than a car. Imagine a world where we didn’t have to use cars. Demand for alternatives to the personal vehicle is rising. Going Green has now become inevitable. Research from the US suggests that e-scooters are replacing the use of cars in numerous cases.
Several e-scooters run on electricity supplied by charged battery packs. The batteries usually last four hours. Unlike cars, e-scooters don’t have combustion engines so no carbon emissions into the environment. This equates to a reduction in pollution. Hurray! There is a counter-argument that they’re not as green as bikes or walking, but if they are reducing emissions then it is hard to argue against their use.
Like the Razor, but for adults
Commuting can be tedious and cycling isn’t for everyone. E-scooters offer a solution to the bored commuter by making a journey to work inevitably more fun. The look of the current e-scooters in the market is not dissimilar to that of the Razor, invented by Wim Oubuter. For 90s kids the Razor scooter was a staple. With its tiny wheels and metal finish, riding a scooter is synonymous with childhood. E-scooters have the ability to let you relive your childhood memories.
Scooters are nowhere near as stable as bikes. Just try lifting an arm to indicate the direction of next turn, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Or don’t, and be a danger to all other vehicles on the road. On the sidewalk, you would be dangerous – and annoying – to all pedestrians. (A ban against scooters left on the pavement was announced in Paris recently, which shows they are also a pain when not in use.)
Aside from personal impressions, the fact that most providers require no further driving licence verification than the tick of a box is not reassuring. The lack of proper regulations means that, in many places, electric scooters are in a legal limbo until we can figure out appropriate rules such as speed limit, helmet requirements, etc. In the United States, the birth land of e-scooters, a study found that the rate of injury for e-scooter riders is 100 times the rate for cars or bikes. And indeed, while electric scooter injuries are getting more common in all European hospitals, deadly accidents have been reported in Brussels, Stockholm and Paris in recent months – and that’s only Europe.
Sustainable, you said?
E-scooters’ biggest selling points are the reduction of traffic jams and pollution. Electric vehicles, as we are already seeing with cars and bikes, are the holy grail of environmentally-friendly mobility. Yet, electric scooters may not be so revolutionary. If indeed they do not emit polluting gas on the road, their carbon print is far from neutral. The average life expectancy of an e-scooter is 28 days. This is due to both scooter vandalism and the weak resistance of e-scooters. That does not sound very good in terms of profit for e-scooter providers, but most importantly this means that they are not a sustainable product.
Another issue is the material required for their batteries. This is not specific to e-scooters, but batteries for electric vehicles require minerals that are often extracted under disastrous conditions, including child labour. In particular, Amnesty International regularly speaks out against claims of environmental sustainability for electric batteries made at the expense of human rights.
You have legs, use them!
This should be an obvious point, but as e-scooters offer fast and effortless transport, they participate in making humans even lazier than we already are. Pressing a button to attain a speed of 25 km per hour is not exercise. And with e-scooters’ increasing popularity, I fear that we might soon see streets covered in vehicles that require very little to zero exercise and empty of pedestrians.
When I look around me, people who use electric scooters do so for trajectories that they would usually cover walking or cycling. So it seems e-scooters offer an affordable opportunity to avoid all sorts of exercise in our daily life. Humans require exercise, it is bad enough a lot of us spend days sitting at a desk. If walking or cycling is replaced with effortless e-scooter riding, what do we need legs for?