Features
25 juin 19

Shared e-scooters: unsustainable case of greenwashing

Fundamentally, scooter safety is problematic. The way scooter companies operate and enter new markets is controversial. But they may also be unsustainable in the long run.

Scooter greenwashing

Scooter providers need a degree of greenwashing, said traffic expert Kris Peeters in the Brussels-based newspaper Bruzz. “Shared scooter platforms need a positive image,” he said. “The positive argument needs to counterbalance the various negative aspects scooters have: the fact that the public space becomes untidy, with scooters parked or strewn all over the place. But there’s also users’ safety - accidents are being discussed more and more.”

Mr Peeters believes we should ask ourselves what kind of mobility we want in our cities. “Maybe people that want to ride small boards to go from A to B at high speeds  shouldn’t be at the top of our priority list.”

Nevertheless, Mr Peeters does believe shared scooters can have a future. Even though few car drivers swap their car for a scooter today, that can change in the future, especially through public policy to limit car access to cities.

Indeed, scooters can have a potential role in the mobility mix, as they allow riders to reach their destination without sweaty or wrinkled clothes.

Scooter sustainability

“(Scooter) ridesharing is widely unsustainable,” said The Verge’s Andrew Hawkins in a video report on scooter sustainability, going on to predict that they may not be around for much longer if things don’t change fundamentally. Basically, scooters don’t bring in enough money to cover their costs.

Surprising as it may sound today, the first shared e-scooters only popped up in September 2017, when Bird dropped the first ones onto the streets of Santa Monica. Since, they have taken off across the globe.

From the start, e-scooters proved to be very popular, making it easy for the likes of Bird and Lime to rake in millions in investments for expansion into new markets.

Scooter lifespan

Nevertheless, it is very hard for these companies to actually make a profit. The main problem is the lifespan of the electric scooters.

According to the report of The Verge, Bird spends $551 per scooter it buys but aims to bring that down to $360. To recoup this investment, a Bird scooter needs to be used for five rides a day for five months. However, a large portion of shared scooters don’t even make it to the 30-day mark. Quartz crunched the numbers and found Bird loses $293 per scooter it puts on the streets - numbers Bird contests.

The main reason for the short lifespan of the average scooter is vandalism, which has even become somewhat of a viral trend on social media. Part of the reason, however, is that many scooter providers are using consumer vehicles not designed for heavy use.

Venture capital

Recently, Bird has started using a more rugged scooter, and Lime did the same. It remains to be seen whether these newer vehicles will last long enough for their providers to stop losing money.

In spite of these numbers, venture capitalists continue pumping millions of dollars into scooter companies in the hope they will find a way to start making money. This is buying them time while they try to figure out a way to develop cheaper and more durable vehicles. Ideally, they’d also look at ways to make them safer.

Image: discarded scooters on the streets of Los Angeles

Authored by: Benjamin Uyttebroeck