Impact of scooters on environment still in question

The dockless electric scooters that started popping up in California cities three years ago are facing a two-front backlash. 

The first front involves complaints over heavy use hurting quality of life in tourist areas and posing safety risks to both users and pedestrians.

In Los Angeles, anger over scooters has left city leaders increasingly open to a regulatory crackdown and led to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of scooters being vandalized. In San Diego, California’s second largest city, whether to ban or severely limit scooters is shaping up as a major issue in the 2020 mayoral race. One of the two early frontrunners, Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria, is a scooter supporter. The other, Democratic Councilwoman Barbara Bry, sees them as a failed experiment. 

The second front of criticism has generally caught the scooter industry by surprise: That’s the view that one of scooters’ main selling points – that they help the environment by limiting vehicle emissions – is exaggerated or false. 

Scooters only last a month or two, not a year

The criticism took off last year after industry leaders Bird and Lime disclosed that many scooters were only lasting a month or two, not nearly a year, as some investors were told. That means the amount of industrial pollution generated by the manufacturing of the inexpensive scooters is five times or more what was expected.

Now a Los Angeles Times’ report detailing academic research into the question of scooters’ effects on the environment has confirmed how much the durability issue undercuts hopes that scooters will bring emissions down.

“While traveling a mile by scooter is better than driving the same distance by car, it’s worse than biking, walking or taking a bus – the modes of transportation that scooters most often replace. That’s primarily because of the energy-intensive materials that go into making the vehicles,” the Times noted, but also “because of the driving required to collect, charge and redistribute them.”

The key research cited by the newspaper was published last month in the journal Environmental Research Letters by North Carolina State University researchers Joseph Hollingsworth, Brenna Copeland and Jeremiah Johnson. While it did conclude that under current conditions, scooters were not helping the environment, the study was only partly downbeat.

Study offers mixed take on scooters’ value

The researchers said scooters could end up a net plus if durability were improved to the point that they lasted two years. The study also noted that scooter companies which developed more efficient systems for gathering and recharging scooters each night – in particular by not picking up scooters that still held charges – could limit emissions.

And the researchers not only found that scooters were very helpful in improving urban mobility, but that they “may be an effective solution” to one of the thorniest transportation issues: the “last-mile problem.” Because bus, train and other transit stops and stations are spaced blocks or even miles apart, transit officials struggle to efficiently get people from destination to destination. 

Dockless scooters’ potential to reduce this problem has also been hailed by a Wall Street Journal columnist, a former Cato Institute researcher and urban planners in Australia.

7 comments

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  1. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 12 August, 2019, 12:40

    I’ve been waiting for a story like this about these scooters, but had no idea there was anything more annoying about them than that they are an eyesore, noisy, and being stolen. They do cost taxpayers’ money, too.

    But, it occurs to me also that people using scooters are not likely to be patronizing fine restaurants, gift shops, bookstores, art galleries, or other types of businesses typical of pedestrian-friendly tourist spots. I hope this fad goes away soon.

    Bicycles & skateboards are serious forms of transportation, serving well in good weather and during the daytime, but you can’t do a decent amount of shopping with a bike, either.

    Thanks for the education.

    Reply this comment
  2. Queeg
    Queeg 13 August, 2019, 13:03

    Comrades

    While your casually strolling and window shopping they found another grisly way for you to die!!!!

    Reply this comment
    • Standing Fast
      Standing Fast 13 August, 2019, 16:36

      And the older you get, the more you have to keep looking over your shoulder to see who is gaining on you.

      Reply this comment
  3. Dork
    Dork 15 August, 2019, 08:12

    Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria, is a scooter supporter.

    Shouldn’t they really get behind this plan and Mandate ALL City Employee’s use Mass Transit for their daily commute to their respective workplace?? Make it a Misdemeanor and Fine Any City Employee $500 for not doing so per instance. Let’s see the scooters work!!!

    Reply this comment
    • Standing Fast
      Standing Fast 15 August, 2019, 10:26

      Hilarious. And why not extend this rule to all government employees in our poor sorry state? So unworkable, for there aren’t enough busses in California to handle their numbers. Half the population works for the government.

      Reply this comment
  4. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 15 August, 2019, 19:18

    We would never have these accident machines in our inventory.

    Simple doomer trailers are a challenge running them hills in West Virginia and northern Maine.

    We dread the panicky phone calls.

    Reply this comment
  5. oregon bill
    oregon bill 20 August, 2019, 21:27

    ” they “may be an effective solution” to one of the thorniest transportation issues: the “last-mile problem.” Because bus, train and other transit stops and stations are spaced blocks or even miles apart, transit officials struggle to efficiently get people from destination to destination. ”

    RIGHT

    Americans really really REALLY HATE WALKING/WADDLING.
    We are absolutely the most supremely massively morbidly obese human beings that have ever existed. We Americans are existentially lazy. We whine and bitch and moan endlessly about how hard we ‘work’ (sitting in a cubicle for 12 hours a day) but God help us if we have to actually WALK 2 blocks from the bus to get home.

    And no, scooters will NOT help the handicapped or disabled get home…What a stupid, made in California idea.

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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