- A new report released by Bird and consulting firm Carbone 4 examines the role of light electric vehicles (EVs), such as e-scooters, in helping cities achieve their climate goals. The report, which analyzes Paris' transportation data, contends that greater use of shared, dockless bikes and e-scooters could help to lower emissions within a city.
- The report examines three scenarios to determine the potential for emissions reduction. In the most aggressive scenario, biking and e-scooters have the potential to account for 21% of all trips in Paris around 2030, up from about 1% today. Shared mobility solutions must replace car trips, not walking or personal cycling, to be successful in emissions reduction. Scooters also must have a long life cycle — more than a year — to be long-term sustainable beyond simply consuming less energy and having a low-emissions profile.
- Cities and mobility operators need to work together to encourage shared bike and scooter use, the report says. While mobility companies work on improving device life cycles, cities should work on improving non-vehicle infrastructure.
The main caveat for this study is that the data analyzed only comes from Paris and that city's unique conditions may or may not be representative of those in other cities, especially cities in the United States. Paris is a large, densely populated city with a population larger than all but four U.S. cities. It has a robust transportation system and that alone sets it apart from many U.S. cities.
As with many other European cities, the use of transportation modes other than vehicles — including walking or biking — is well ingrained into Paris' culture. In many cases, European cities are set up to better support non-vehicle mobility. As a whole, Americans typically are viewed as more car-centric than Europeans.
Paris also has leaders who are aggressive with achieving climate change goals, as evidenced by being an integral part of the global Paris agreement. While many U.S. cities also are advancing emissions reduction and climate change mitigation plans, some of them are not yet at the level of Paris.
These numerous considerations do not render the report un-useful, but they should be weighed when assessing the report's conclusions and true applicability to other cities.
One element that holds true both domestically and abroad is that many cities are working to cut the number of vehicle trips to ease traffic and reduce emissions. Bird holds reducing car trips as one of its core tenets.
"Beyond our commitment to car trip replacement, Bird has invested heavily in the sustainability of our vehicles by designing and engineering our own models that are built to last... Our hope is that this report will help advance the conversation around how to entice people out of cars as we work together to tackle climate change head-on," Melinda Hanson, head of sustainability and environmental impact at Bird, told Smart Cities Dive via email.
From the inception of e-scooters, mobility companies have touted them as a lower carbon form of transportation compared with vehicles, though they're not as environmentally friendly as walking or cycling. But an aspect gaining more attention in recent months is the life cycle of an e-scooter and its overall sustainability. The first shared models to hit U.S. streets only lasted about a month, and a Boston Consulting Group report released earlier this year indicated the average life span has only marginally ticked up to about three months. Bird anticipates its new scooter model released in spring will last more than a year.
The report recommends that cities focused on sustainability and replacing car trips with scooter trips should license operators whose devices last for at least a year. Mobility companies also should find low-carbon methods for daily scooter repositioning and recharging.
The report notes that scooters have had a rapid uptake that hasn't been seen before. After nine months of service in Paris, weekly trips were approximately double the number of bike trips after bike-share launched. While that comparison is valid, it's also worth noting that bicycles are a known, centuries-old transportation device whereas scooters can be seen as a novelty.
A Boston Consulting Group representative confirmed earlier this year that the uptake for scooters has been uncommonly high, but it's unclear if it's just a fad or if the use will continue over time.
A key point in the report is that cities and mobility companies each play a role in reducing carbon and they should work together, with cities focusing on infrastructure improvements to support lower-carbon modes of transportation. The report explains that cycling increases in cities that enhance their bike lane infrastructure, indicating the same could happen with e-scooters.
Bird had a program in which it helped cities fund infrastructure improvements such as protected bike lane installation, but it ended the program last month over concerns about how the money was being spent.