Iconic New York Magazine recently featured our carbon-emissions infographic in a piece arguing for more e-bikes and less car traffic in The Big Apple (read the full article here).

For those of you who don’t remember, our CO2 infographic ranks the major urban transportation modes based on their estimated per-capita CO2 footprint.

However, for making an educated guess on whether e-bikes (as well as e-scooters) truly get cars off the road, it’s not enough to only compare their respective per-capita CO2 footprint.

Using an e-​scooter or e-​bike seems climate-friendly at first glance because they do not use internal combustion engines. 

But in terms of their carbon footprint, the means of transport they typically replace is ultimately what matters.

It’s necessary to look at how micromobility modes are actually being used by people.

The problem is that credible research that shows how much micromobilty modes replace cars is still scarce.

In other words, we know very little about how people are using these services.

E-scooter companies like Bird argue that up to 50% of shared scooter rides replace trips by car.

This sounds great. But can we trust this data? It’s hard to say.

Transportation analyst Anchit Sood recently shared an exciting research study from ETH Zurich that provides more unbiased insights into the substitution effect of micromobility services.

And the results are anything but rosy. At least for a city like Zurich.

According to ETH, shared micromobility solutions in Zurich emit more CO2 emissions than the alternatives they replace. 

Why?

Because most e-scooter and e-bike rides in Zurich primarily replace more sustainable modes of transport like walking, public transportation, and cycling.

So, e-scooters and e-bikes actually harm the environment?

Yes, in the way they are currently used (at least in Zurich), shared e-​scooters, and e-​bikes do the climate more harm than good.

But there are two things to keep in mind:

  • A different picture emerges in the case of private e-​scooters and e-bikes, which replace trips by car much more frequently and thus produce less CO2 emissions than the means of transport they replace.
  • The primary use cases for jumping on a shared e-scooter or e-bike in Zurich may be different than, let’s say, in the average American city where public transportation infrastructure is less built out. Hence, it’s essential to consider the respective city layout and transportation alternatives before jumping to any conclusions.

In any case, the study presents critical scientific insights that emphasize the fact that “sharing is caring” may not always be accurate. At least when it comes to micromobility usage.

Especially shared e-scooter and bike providers may want to keep this in mind. 

One way to address this finding would be to base market-rollout decisions on facts such as city layouts and existing transportation alternatives in the given market. 

This way, micromobility providers might be able to keep up their promise of introducing a more sustainable way of getting from A to B in the urban context. 

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