Shared E-Scooters Can Be Sustainable—But There’s A Catch

Featured Faculty: Susan Shaheen

CEE Professor and ITS affiliate Susan Shaheen was recently featured in a Popular Science news piece on urban transportation networks, specifically focusing on the environmental impacts of e-scooters.

In 2018, the Portland Bureau of Transportation launched a four-month pilot program to assess how e-scooters can help the city’s transportation needs. Data revealed that 34 percent of Portland riders and 48 percent of visitors used an e-scooter instead of a personal vehicle or taking an Uber, Lyft, or a taxi. 

According to Shaheen, although the pilot program showed that many users replaced motor vehicle travel with e-scooter sharing, “it also found that scooter-sharing replaced some lower emission active transportation trips.” It’s important to understand the overall impact of e-scooters beyond the trips they replace and consider other factors like manufacturing and longevity because results can vary based on the assumptions and scenarios modeled, says Shaheen.

E-scooters are a relatively sustainable mode of transportation, but they still have the potential to improve. Shaheen says the public and private sectors can support e-scooter sharing systems by establishing solar docking stations where practical, using clean or renewable energy sources to charge e-scooters, and using electric vehicles to help distribute scooters would be beneficial.

“The use of pricing and incentives to impact pick-up and drop-off behavior could also help reduce the need to rebalance the scooter network,” says Shaheen. This recommendation aligns with guidance provided in the 2019 study, as mentioned earlier, to reduce collection and distribution distance to minimize the environmental impacts of e-scooters.