E-scooters: pavement nuisance or transport innovation? Contents

6Environmental impact

CO2 impact

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).192

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).193

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.

Durability and the e-scooter “lifetime”

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.194 One 2019 analysis from the Boston Consulting Group estimated that the average lifespan for rental e-scooters is just three months.195 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.196 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.”197

115.Several witnesses to our inquiry noted concerns around scooter lifetime.198 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.”199 TIER recommended that the UK specifies a minimum lifetime in e-scooter regulations.200 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.201 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.202 A few witnesses noted that there should be higher standards of recycling for e-scooter components and batteries.203

116.Some noted that e-scooters have seen significant recent improvements in their operational lifetime and repairability.204 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.”205 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”.206 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.207

Charging method

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.209 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.210 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.211

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.212

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.213 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.214

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, “Are e-scooters polluters? The environmental impacts of shared dockless electric scooters”, Environmental Research Letters, vol 14:8 (2019)

193 Arcadis (ESC0034)

194 Joseph Hollingsworth, Brenna Copeland and Jeremiah X Johnson, “Are e-scooters polluters? The environmental impacts of shared dockless electric scooters”, Environmental Research Letters, vol 14:8 (2019)

195 Boston Consulting Group, ‘The Promise and Pitfalls of E-Scooter Sharing’, 16 May 2019

197 Department for Transport, Future of Transport Regulatory Review: Call for Evidence, 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).

205 Q16

206 Q86

207 Qq 85, 97–98

208 Joseph Hollingsworth, Brenna Copeland and Jeremiah X Johnson, “Are e-scooters polluters? The environmental impacts of shared dockless electric scooters”, Environmental Research Letters, vol 14:8 (2019); Boston Consulting Group, ‘The Promise and Pitfalls of E-Scooter Sharing’, 16 May 2019 .

209 For example, Transport for London (ESC0049), Sustrans (ESC0044), Dott (ESC0060), Bolt (ESC0064).

210 Urban Transport Group (ESC0068)

211 Q23

212 For example, Voi (Q85), TIER (ESC0067).

213 Q137

214 Ibid.

Published: 2 October 2020