Can e-scooters and e-bikes contribute to improving people's mobility and at the same time make it more environmentally friendly? Who uses it the most and for what purpose?
E-scooters are kick scooters with an electric motor and are primarily used as rental devices in many cities worldwide. Users download the provider's app on their mobile phones, scan the scooter's QR code, and can start riding. Of course, those services are not for free. The duration of the ride is calculated and billed in minute intervals, with payment made through the app. In Germany, E-scooters have been allowed for road traffic since June 2019 and can be used as private vehicles from the age of 14. However, to rent an E-scooter, you must be at least 18 years old. They are allowed on bicycle paths but not on sidewalks. If there is no bike lane available, riders must move to the road. Also, wearing a helmet is not mandatory.
Overall, compared to other countries not many people in Germany use E-scooters. This is also due to the unavailability of rental devices in small towns and land areas. In a survey conducted across multiple countries from April 2021 to March 2022, only one in ten respondents stated that they had used an E-scooter in the last twelve months. E-scooters are also not widely used in Austria and Switzerland.
The enthusiasm that E-scooters at first had and the thought it could be a truly sustainable mode of transportation is not as much anymore. These small scooters also come with disadvantages. Often, the rental vehicles are not properly parked, blocking sidewalks and can be a risk of injury to pedestrians.
The German Federal Environment Agency points out in a report from 2021 that the environmental impact of E-scooters is rather low and depends on several factors. The production of lithium-ion batteries involves the use of limited resources, and their extraction can be harmful to the environment. Furthermore, the lifespan of the batteries is often not long enough to achieve a positive environmental balance. Also, the proper disposal of the scooters is also problematic.E-scooters only have more or less a positive impact on the environment when they replace car trips. Compared to cars, they have a significantly better ecological footprint. However, the most environmentally friendly option remains the conventional bicycle or, for shorter distances, walking.
The moment users choose an e-scooter as a substitute for journeys they would typically make on foot or by bicycle, the e-scooter becomes a less favorable alternative for the environment.
While e-scooters are primarily used as rental devices, an increasing number of people are choosing to purchase electric bicycles, known as e-bikes, for personal use. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, in the year 2020, 4.3 million households in Germany owned at least one e-bike. In 2021, the total number of e-bikes in Germany reached 8.5 million.
The use of e-scooters do offer advantages such as environmental friendliness, efficiency, and convenience. They can contribute to emissions reduction and provide a practical alternative for short distances. However, there are concerns such as safety issues. It is important to weigh the pros and cons and introduce appropriate regulations to ensure a safe and responsible use of alternatives like e-scooters and e-bikes.