E-scooters Have a Dirty Secret.
Electric scooters began showing up in Santa Monica, California, about 2 years ago; and now, you can see thousands of them in over 100 different cities worldwide, run by 10 primary companies. With that many companies in the industry and a valuation in the billions, we began to wonder about its contributions to climate change and pollution.
Bird (one of the original scooter companies based out of Santa Monica) likes to often push the notion that their company “helps reduce CO2 Emissions — one ride at a time”, but as we began to dive deeper into the way that these companies operate, we began to see how dirty this business really is.
The life of a scooter takes on an interesting path. A scooter begins it’s life being manufactured in China by a few companies, notably Xiaomi, Ninebot and Segway. Once assembled, scooters get delivered via cargo ships.
Cargo ships are notoriously dirty, with an industry essentially lacking any regulation, cargo ships require denser fuel that is a lot more carbon packed known as “bunker fuel” (a heavy, thick fuel) that has been used in the cargo shipping and cruise line industry for years, ultimately because it’s inexpensive; especially compared to other fuels.
After oil has been refined into diesel, gasoline or jet fuel, bunker fuel is what’s left over at the refinery. Effectively, it’s literally what’s left at the bottom of the barrel.
“It is probably about one grade better than asphalt,” said Glen Kedzie, American Trucking Associations’ Energy and Environmental Counsel. Not to mention, these fuels contribute to Sulfur emissions that contributes to acid rain.
Maintenance and Charging
Once in the city and operating, scooters have an average lifespan of about 28 days and require a lot maintenance and charging. The logistics behind this process essentially cancels out any benefit that these scooters would have for the environment.
Every night contracted workers, known as “chargers”, drive around picking up scooters to charge and “release” before 7:00 AM the next day. Chargers can get anywhere between $5-$20 per scooter.
Chargers use a special setting in the Bird app to locate scooters that are in need of a charge. Oftentimes, a scooter has already been picked up before the app has a chance to update. It’s a system designed in such a way to be competitive, which means someone could beat you to a scooter – in which you just drove 5 miles to get to…for nothing. This causes many drivers to drive around aimlessly wasting gasoline.
“Usually when I get to a scooter’s location someone already beat me to it. I’ll see someone loading it into the back of their van. So i’ll drive to the next one only to find that it’s not there. It’s actually pretty annoying, plus dealing with traffic it’s sometimes not worth my time” said Devin a scooter charger.
“It’s like playing capture the flag, you will see cars speeding and doing illegal moves on the road to get to a scooter before someone else”
The scooters themselves don’t emit C02 but they essentially do by proxy, as each scooter needs to be picked up, charged and dropped off daily, often with 2-3 people going to the same location to grab a scooter that has already been taken, on the daily.
In terms of maintenance, electric scooters get abused regularly and break down from general use (if you haven’t heard of Bird Graveyard, you can see what we mean) You can frequently see scooters with broken necks, exposed electronics, flat tires, and broken plastics. They sit in rain or snow which floods the battery packs rendering them in-operable and requiring repair.
Scooter mechanics have a similar app to what chargers use, but made for mechanics showing scooters that have been flagged for repair. Just like Chargers, mechanics collect scooters, bring them back home, charge / repair them and send them off the next day at pre determined locations on the apps map.
“If I found scooters that look like they got ran over by a car and I can’t fix them on the spot, I drive the scooter all the way to the Bird storage warehouse. Otherwise I fix flat tires, broken brake handles and other parts and release it back on the street.” said O’hare, a former bird mechanic.
“In one of the warehouses you could see massive bins of broken parts. People don’t think about it, but these scooters produce a lot of waste.”
Upkeep and Charging Are the Main Culprits
It seems that grabbing an Uber or Lyft is the more “eco-friendly” option. At this point, scooters tend to be more of a nuisance around major cities. Look around any major town and you’ll notice they take up space on sidewalks and streets, have fallen over, or are in the street waiting to be run over by a car (sometimes with a person on it, sometimes not).
The E-scooter ride sharing business is relatively new, but at the moment the amount of waste and pollution that is tied to maintaining these scooters is way to high to justify using them as an eco-friendly alternative to vehicles.
Is the public better off investing in their own scooter or bicycle? Or perhaps using existing public transportation, such as buses and subways?
We want to know what you think, too. Comment below, or DM us on our instagram (@greenism.social).