110.E-scooters are frequently promoted as a low carbon form of transport that have the ability to improve local air quality. E-scooters could help to reduce air pollution and congestion, and make carbon savings, if they are used to replace journeys that would otherwise have been made by car (see Chapter 3 on modal shift). An analysis by North Carolina State University found that over a lifetime, e-scooters may be more environmentally friendly than most cars but can be less green than other options, including certain modes of public transport, cycling, and walking. The study reported the lifetime carbon impact of an e-scooter to be 202 g CO2-eq/passenger-mile. This is lower than a personal car (with an impact of 414 g CO2/passenger-mile) but not as environmentally friendly as a bus with high ridership (impact of 82 g CO2/passenger-mile).
111.Arcadis, an engineering and management consulting company, conducted a study of the whole-life environmental impacts based on dockless e-scooter rental companies in Paris in 2019. This suggested that over an average lifecycle, an e-scooter in Paris emits around 105g CO2 equivalent/km/user, which is greater than that of hybrid and electric buses (74.3g and 21.7g equivalent/km/user respectively).
112.Both these studies noted that the majority of an e-scooter’s lifetime carbon dioxide emissions comes from its materials and the manufacturing process and the process of collecting it for charging.
113.Rental e-scooters tend to have shorter lifetimes than privately owned ones, as they are used by more people and may be subject to a greater amount of damage by users. One 2019 analysis from the Boston Consulting Group estimated that the average lifespan for rental e-scooters is just three months. Increasing the “lifetime” of e-scooters can help to improve their overall environmental footprint, as their carbon dioxide impact per mile decreases.
114.In its e-scooter trials guidance for local areas and operators, the Department did not specify any sustainability or environmental requirements for e-scooters, although local authorities have the ability to specify these when establishing trials with operators. However, the Department did state that micro-mobility vehicles should be “durable enough to avoid entire units requiring frequent replacement due to poor design” in order to “avoid the potential downside of consumer waste and environmental impact as a result of poorly designed vehicles.”
115.Several witnesses to our inquiry noted concerns around scooter lifetime. Sustrans said “we believe that the lifecycle of e-scooters, their efficiency and their redistribution, if used as part of a shared scheme, needs to be optimised, in order to ensure that their environmental impact is less than any vehicle journeys that they are used to replace.” TIER recommended that the UK specifies a minimum lifetime in e-scooter regulations. We also heard concerns that e-scooters are not very easy to repair, with some recommending that they be manufactured in a way that makes it easy to remove and replace its component parts if they break, rather than needing to dispose of the whole vehicle. PACTS noted that the battery life of e-scooters may be quite short, and expressed concern that many are not recycled or disposed of appropriately. A few witnesses noted that there should be higher standards of recycling for e-scooter components and batteries.
116.Some noted that e-scooters have seen significant recent improvements in their operational lifetime and repairability. Dr Sherriff told us that “companies have been improving their environmental performance quite a lot in terms of the sturdiness of the e-scooters, which helps them last longer.” Lime told us that “one of the biggest impacts of the process we have been through has been improving the lifespan of the scooter—how long it lasts. It is also making sure, for example, that, if one component of the scooter gets broken or degrades over time, we can just replace that one piece of the scooter”. Voi, Lime and Bird all confirmed that their newest e-scooter models have an operational lifetime of two years or more, with Voi adding that they have high levels of recyclability for e-scooter components including batteries.
117.Charging e-scooters typically involves the e-scooter company picking up scooters with depleted batteries, taking them away to be recharged and then redistributing them into the local area. Some studies suggest that e-scooter rental companies could make carbon savings through the way they collect and/or charge their e-scooters, including by:
118.Several witnesses noted that the environmental impacts of how e-scooters are collected and distributed for charging need to be considered. The Urban Transport Group expressed concern about the choice of vehicle used to carry out these operations, saying that if low carbon vehicles are not used, it may worsen air quality. Dr Sherriff told us that local authorities should be encouraged to ensure that e-scooter charging activities and maintenance activities are carried out by bikes and low emission vehicles, as opposed to diesel vans, in order to minimise their environmental impact.
119.We also heard that some e-scooter companies have now introduced ‘swappable’ batteries, meaning that rather than having to move the scooters to a specific location for their batteries to be recharged, e-scooter companies swap the drained battery for a fully charged one. E-scooter companies can carry out battery swapping operations using bikes or e-bikes, which may help to reduce the overall environmental impacts of their operations.
120.We asked the Minister why the Department did not specify sustainability and environmental requirements as part of the trials. She noted that “a lot of our operators are working in places that already have their own environmental credentials” and that e-scooter companies are already operating using models that maximise how long they can operate on the roads, including using swappable batteries. Anthony Ferguson, Deputy Director of Traffic and Technology at DfT added that “some of our technical standards will ensure the robustness of the vehicles.” He also emphasised that local authorities will be able to choose which operators to work with and are likely to consider an operator’s environmental credentials and sustainability practices:
All local authorities take their environmental duties very seriously. They are not going to allow operators to operate in their areas who do not meet high standards.
121.E-scooters have the potential to improve local air quality and help meet the Government’s carbon emission targets, particularly if they replace car journeys. However, we note there are valid environmental concerns relating to the lifetime of the scooters and the processes used to charge their batteries. It is encouraging that e-scooter companies are making improvements to these processes as technology develops.
122.We recommend that local authorities involved with the trials make it a condition that e-scooter companies seeking to participate operate in an environmentally sustainable way, both in terms of the design lifetime of their scooters and the processes used to recharge batteries.
123.The Department should closely monitor the environmental impact of e-scooters during the rental trials and, if needed, consider introducing stricter requirements around sustainability.
192 Joseph Hollingsworth, Brenna Copeland and Jeremiah X Johnson, “”, Environmental Research Letters, vol 14:8 (2019)
193 Arcadis (ESC0034)
194 Joseph Hollingsworth, Brenna Copeland and Jeremiah X Johnson, “”, Environmental Research Letters, vol 14:8 (2019)
195 Boston Consulting Group, ‘, 16 May 2019
196 Department for Transport, E-scooter trials: guidance for local areas and rental operators, June 2020
197 Department for Transport, , March 2020
198 For example, Go-Ahead (ESC0043), Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (ESC0051).
199 Sustrans (ESC0044)
200 TIER (ESC0067)
201 For example, Bicycle Association (Q49), Dr Sherriff (Q16).
202 Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (ESC0051)
203 For example, TIER (ESC0067), Bird (ESC0058), Swifty Scooters (ESC0063).
204 For example, Bolt (ESC0064).
207 Qq 85, 97–98
208 Joseph Hollingsworth, Brenna Copeland and Jeremiah X Johnson, “”, Environmental Research Letters, vol 14:8 (2019); Boston Consulting Group, ‘, 16 May 2019 .
209 For example, Transport for London (ESC0049), Sustrans (ESC0044), Dott (ESC0060), Bolt (ESC0064).
210 Urban Transport Group (ESC0068)
212 For example, Voi (Q85), TIER (ESC0067).
Published: 2 October 2020