Skip to main content

E-scooters in Bristol: their potential contribution to a more sustainable transport system

Voi e-scooter parked across the pavement outside Victoria Rooms in Clifton. Image credit: Georgina de Courcy-Bower

At the end of October this year, the Swedish company Voi launched their e-scooters in Bristol as part of a pilot scheme. The government brought the scheme forward in the hope that e-scooters would ease demand for public transport and allow for social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier in the year, Marvin Rees said that he hoped e-scooters would help the city reduce congestion and air pollution. These are two key issues associated with a car-dominated transport system present in Bristol and many other cities around the world. 

I have been investigating whether e-scooters could help Bristol to meet its sustainable transport targets. These include meeting net-zero emissions by 2030 and simultaneously reducing inequality within the city. However, between 2005 and 2017 the decrease in CO2 emissions in Bristol’s transport sector was only 9%. To reach net-zero by 2030, there will need to be an 88% decrease from the 2005 baseline. 

E-scooters have been called a ‘last mile’ solution to fill the gaps between transport links and homes or offices which could draw more people away from their cars. My research has found that policies towards the new micromobility focused on decreasing transport inequalities in the United States. Conversely in Europe, there was more consideration for the environmental impact, but both continents have policies emphasising the importance of safety. 

E-scooters and the environment 

Despite cities frequently referencing environmental sustainability, few were found to have policies or regulations to ensure this. There was often an assumption that e-scooter users would previously have made their journey by car. However, in Paris only 8% of users would have driven if e-scooters were not an option. This was higher in the US, with cities consistently having a modal shift from cars of over 30%. However, this was explained by the lower availability of public transport compared with European cities. Therefore, US policies would not have the desired effect in Bristol. 

A second environmental consideration is the lifecycle analysis of e-scooters. This shows that e-scooters still produce a significant amount of CO2 emissions, particularly when compared to active travel. E-scooters used as part of a sharing scheme are also frequently vandalised which shortens their lifespan. In UK cities which started their trials before Bristol, operators have already complained of high rates of vandalism. Many are also thrown into rivers which causes ecological impacts. 

E-scooters and inequality 

Many cities in the US have regulations aiming to improve access to transport for low-income communities. This has included unsuccessful discounted services. Operators have often failed to comply or the schemes have not been marketed. A more successful regulation was rebalancing e-scooters to ensure that some are placed in deprived communities. However, operators have claimed that this is economically and environmentally unsustainable. Using large trucks to move e-scooters around the city will increase CO2 emissions associated with them. 

It is important that environmental goals do not come at the cost of excluding certain communities in the city, and vice versa. However, overall the most significant factor for decreasing inequality or decreasing CO2 emissions is which mode the shift comes from. 

The most effective way to encourage a modal shift away from cars is to reallocate space to other modes and start designing cities around people. However, making such a significant change in the way we live our lives will be met with backlash from some. E-scooters can help mitigate this by providing an alternative mode of transport that could make the reallocation of road space to micromobilities more politically feasible. 

Safety of e-scooters 

What can be agreed upon by everyone is that e-scooters must be safe for users and for those around them. The main complaints about e-scooters are that they block pavements for more vulnerable pedestrians and in most cities, e-scooters are banned from pavement riding. Nevertheless, casual observation shows that this is often ignored. However, in Portland it was found that the presence of cycle lanes and lower speed limits decreased e-scooter pavement use by around 30%. In Bristol, 70% of respondents for a Sustrans survey supported building more cycle tracks even if it took space away from other traffic. The presence of cycle tracks could also lead to more active travel which has co-benefits for individual health and wellbeing. 

Governance of e-scooters 

E-scooters and other shared mobility technologies are part of a change in governance. There is now collaboration between public and private and it is essential that communication between the two is transparent. Local authorities must make clear their goals and set boundaries for operators without restricting them to the extent that they are unable to provide their services. 

Overall, e-scooters alone are not going to solve our dysfunctional urban transport systems. However, they might provide a catalyst for more radical change away from the car-dominated city.  

--------------------------------

This blog was written by Georgina de Courcy-Bower, a recent graduate from the MSc Environmental Policy and Management course at the University of Bristol. The blog is based on her dissertation which was supervised by Cabot Institute member Dr Sean Fox

Georgina de Courcey-Bower



Popular posts from this blog

Are you a journalist looking for climate experts? We've got you covered

We've got lots of media trained climate change experts. If you need an expert for an interview, here is a list of Caboteers you can approach. All media enquiries should be made via  Victoria Tagg , our dedicated Media and PR Manager at the University of Bristol. Email victoria.tagg@bristol.ac.uk or call +44 (0)117 428 2489. Climate change / climate emergency / climate science / climate-induced disasters Dr Eunice Lo - expert in changes in extreme weather events such as heatwaves and cold spells , and how these changes translate to negative health outcomes including illnesses and deaths. Follow on Twitter @EuniceLoClimate . Professor Daniela Schmidt - expert in the causes and effects of climate change on marine systems . Dani is also a Lead Author on the IPCC reports. Dani will be at COP26. Dr Katerina Michalides - expert in drylands, drought and desertification and helping East African rural communities to adapt to droughts and future climate change. Follow on Twitter @_k

Urban gardens are crucial food sources for pollinators - here’s what to plant for every season

A bumblebee visits a blooming honeysuckle plant. Sidorova Mariya | Shutterstock Pollinators are struggling to survive in the countryside, where flower-rich meadows, hedges and fields have been replaced by green monocultures , the result of modern industrialised farming. Yet an unlikely refuge could come in the form of city gardens. Research has shown how the havens that urban gardeners create provide plentiful nectar , the energy-rich sugar solution that pollinators harvest from flowers to keep themselves flying. In a city, flying insects like bees, butterflies and hoverflies, can flit from one garden to the next and by doing so ensure they find food whenever they need it. These urban gardens produce some 85% of the nectar found in a city. Countryside nectar supplies, by contrast, have declined by one-third in Britain since the 1930s. Our new research has found that this urban food supply for pollinators is also more diverse and continuous

#CabotNext10 Spotlight on City Futures

In conversation with Dr Katharina Burger, theme lead at the Cabot Institute for the Environment. Dr Katharina Burger Why did you choose to become a theme leader at Cabot Institute ? I applied to become a Theme Leader at Cabot, a voluntary role, to bring together scientists from different faculties to help us jointly develop proposals to address some of the major challenges facing our urban environments. My educational background is in Civil Engineering at Bristol and I am now in the School of Management, I felt that this combination would allow me to build links and communicate across different ways of thinking about socio-technical challenges and systems. In your opinion, what is one of the biggest global challenges associated with your theme? (Feel free to name others if there is more than one) The biggest challenge is to evolve environmentally sustainable, resilient, socially inclusive, safe and violence-free and economically productive cities. The following areas are part of this c