I am a grump. Therefore, it should hardly be surprising that I am no fan of the trend of electric scooters popping up in major cities across the world. People argue that they are so convenient, and I see their point. Yes, being able to travel at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) on board one of these monstrosities is certainly quicker and therefore, I assume, more convenient than walking at about three miles per hour (5 km/h). But at what price? These massive hunks of metal so casually discarded on pavements around the world seem like an obvious trip hazard to me. If you thought the Sophie’s swing incident was bad, wait until Maria Bailey has a photo opportunity on one of these.
I was, in fact, blissfully unaware of this trend until July when I visited Washington D.C. because, thankfully, the 1835 Highways Act makes electric scooters illegal at home in Britain. There is much to be said for outdated 19th century legislation thwarting progress after all, it seems. My American friends already thought I was some weird anachronism who had stumbled into the new world straight out of a C.S. Lewis novel. My reaction to what is described on the Lyft Scooters website as “the latest, affordable way to get you where you’re going” probably made them full-blown believers in time travel.
“Almost two-thirds of e-scooter rides are actually worse for the environment than what they are replacing.”
I can, however, see the arguments in favour of electric scooters. They are undoubtedly very quick – up to ten times the speed of walking, in fact. They’re also much cheaper than taxis or subway fares, with prices of roughly $2.50 (US dollars) for a 10 minute trip in Washington, D.C. They also look like great fun. At first glance, they seem like a great way to get people to drive cars less. As someone who hates cars, driving, and cities with infrastructures which are seemingly unaware of the existence of public transport, I should support them for that reason alone. Except for the fact that they’re not actually very environmentally friendly. As with lots of fads, the environmental benefits of electric scooters seem to be overhyped. According to a recent study by North Carolina State University, electric scooters emit roughly 200mg of CO2 per passenger mile travelled. Whilst the actual riding of the scooters doesn’t cause that much in the way of CO2 emissions, the manufacturing, transporting, charging and required maintenance of them does. No doubt, they’re still better than cars. Cars emit roughly 400mg of CO2 per passenger mile travelled, according to the same survey. However, scooters are much worse for the environment than cycling, walking or taking public transport. All of these options have much lower CO2 per passenger mile outputs. A North Carolina State survey found that 60% of the e-scooter riders they asked would have used a more environmentally friendly method of transportation had scooters not been available, and only 34% would have used some form of car. So almost two-thirds of e-scooter rides are actually worse for the environment than what they are replacing.
E-scooters also seem like a huge risk to people with disabilities. One of the biggest “conveniences” that scooter rental companies like Lyft and Bird push is that the scooters are dockless; that is, they can be dropped off and picked up anywhere rather than from pre-determined points, as is the case with Dublin Bikes. However, people are careless and scooters are often discarded in the middle of pavements, especially near major tourist attractions. This can hardly be much fun for someone in a wheelchair, or someone with sight impairments, or a mother pushing a buggy, can it? They make streets less accessible for many groups of people.
“Riding a tiny scooter with no helmet amongst cars and lorries [is] a death wish.”
This is before we even talk about the risk of injuries coming from the failure of a lot of riders to wear protection. Riding a tiny scooter with no helmet amongst cars and lorries, it seems like the user has a death wish. That might be okay in cities like Amsterdam, where two wheeled transport is the norm, but should hardly be encouraged in cities like London, Washington D.C. or Dublin where this is not the case. Likewise, electric scooters may be a fun alternative means of transport in cities already set up for other forms of transportation, but are not safe elsewhere. They also aren’t as eco friendly as they claim and, wherever they are in the world, are a hazard for many different groups of people.