Free-floating electric scooters : Is it really eco-friendly ?

They are now found in most major cities around the world. Free-floating electric scooters, presented by their operators as an green alternative for micro-mobility. They would not actually be so eco-friendly.

It is true that 40% of car journeys are made over a distance of less than 3km. Thus, the electric scooter can at first sight be considered a practical, agile and simple solution for urban travel. Especially for the famous last mile.

However, according to a study by the University of North Carolina, the reality of free-floating electric scooters is quite different.

Why use an electric scooter? How to travel in an eco-friendly way? Shall we share vehicles or not? ​What are the future trends in urban mobility? To answer all these questions, I wrote this article.

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Why use an electric scooter ?

There are several reasons why you may want to use an electric scooter. First, there is the ecological argument. Indeed, the electric scooter does not pollute, and remains less tiring and faster than a conventional scooter.

Compared to bicycles, electric scooters are less dangerous because you do not ride on the road, and the risk of collision with another vehicle is therefore greatly reduced.

In addition, the electric scooter is more versatile and faster because it allows you to take more direct paths, at least on a short distance. Of course, it all depends on the route in question.

The scooter is also characterized by its relative lightness and compactness, especially since many models are foldable. These features make it easier for the user to store the scooter and prevent it from staying on the street.

This reduces the risk of vandalism and theft. Similarly, you can take the scooter with you on most public transport without disturbing other passengers.

It is also important to note the low and rare maintenance costs of the scooter, where a bicycle is often more expensive.

Finally, the electric scooter is fun to drive and reminds us of our part of childhood. It is also very easy to use since it does not require any specific training.

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What are the future trends in urban mobility ?

There are four main trends in mobility today. And the urban displacement of the future will be:

  • PLURAL - Combined means of transport to move better
  • SMART - Data to facilitate travel
  • SHARE - Car-pooling, free-floating, self-catering
  • ELECTRIC - Clean, quiet and easily refillable means of transport.

Shared electric scooters : Are they really eco-friendly ?

Researchers at the University of North Carolina have highlighted several factors that they believe make free-floating electric scooters not as environmentally friendly as one might think.

Lithium batteries

First, there is the issue of lithium batteries. Indeed, like any other rechargeable object today, electric scooters also work with lithium batteries. A mineral whose extraction is extremely energy and water-intensive. 

For the moment, lithium recycling is still struggling to take off for several reasons:

  • collection rates for batteries containing lithium are still low, 
  • high recycling costs compared to production costs.

Today, scientists are still trying to develop cheaper recycling processes. With the planned development of electric cars, it is hoped that in the short term lithium batteries will no longer be a problem. Thus, the defenders of fossil fuels will no longer be able to use this argument to defend that electric vehicles are no more eco-friendly than combustion engines.

Polluting recharge

In my opinion, the biggest problem with free-floating electric scooters is how they are recharged. Indeed, since operators do not set up charging stations, they use so-called "juicers". Individual auto-entrepreneurs who walk the streets in the evening in search of scooters to recharge. In order to release them early the next day loaded, most often using their own vans or cars. According to the study conducted in the city of Raleigh in the United States, 4.6% of recharged scooters still had a full battery! In this way, the load represents a total of 43% of the ecological cost of the shared scooter.

Limited lifespan

Finally, self-service scooters have a very limited lifespan. According to Quartz, which studied data from 129 "Bird" shared electric scooters in Louisville, Kentucky. Their average life expectancy would be 28.8 days! And only 7 of the 129 vehicles lasted more than 60 days. This is mainly due to vandalism and the fact that scooters are abused by users. For these reasons, shared electric scooters are an unsustainable mode of transport.

How to travel in an eco-friendly way?

The good news is that the electric scooter is still more environmentally friendly than travelling by car! Indeed, it is estimated that taking a car alone represents 414g of CO2 for 1mile. With your own electric scooter, loaded only if empty and kept in circulation for at least 2 years, this number would drop to less than 140g.

However, travelling by public transport, by bicycle or on foot, remains the most eco-friendly means of transport. Walking or cycling even has the advantage of getting you exercising!