Scooting around

Photo credit: A man riding a hire scooter without a helmet in the CBD.Credit:Luis Ascui The Age January 6, 2023

Micro-mobility is contentious because e-scooters can be threatening to pedestrians. It is claimed that using e-scooters is a replacement for short car trips and therefore environmentally sound. But these claims are generally made by scooter hire companies who stand to profit from e-scooter use. There is a trial in Melbourne. Is there any unbiased research on the usage and benefits and disadvantages?

Well – yes, there is research on the usage and benefits and disadvantages of e-scooters and micro-mobility in general. However, the findings can vary depending on the study and the context in which e-scooters are used. Some studies have shown that e-scooters can lead to reductions in car trips and emissions, while others have found that e-scooters may increase pedestrian-vehicle conflicts. The results of the trial in Melbourne may provide further insights into the effects of e-scooters in a specific context.

Here are some of the general findings from research on the usage and benefits and disadvantages of e-scooters and micro-mobility:

  • Environmental benefits: Some studies have shown that e-scooters can lead to reductions in car trips and emissions, particularly for short trips.
  • Accessibility: E-scooters can improve mobility options for people who cannot or prefer not to drive, including those who are elderly, disabled, or low-income.
  • Safety: There is concern that e-scooters can pose a threat to pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users, particularly in densely populated areas. Some studies have reported high rates of e-scooter-related injuries and accidents.
  • Congestion: E-scooters can contribute to increased sidewalk and street congestion in densely populated areas, leading to conflicts between pedestrians and riders.
  • Equity: Access to e-scooters can be limited for certain populations, such as those who do not have access to a credit card or smartphone.

A few academic studies that have looked at various aspects of e-scooters and micro-mobility are:

  • “Electric Scooters and Bikesharing: Impacts on Public Transit Use and Physical Activity.” (2020) by M. Shaheen, C. Cohen, R. Jones, and L. Banister. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, volume 137.
  • “Electric Scooters and Public Space: Understanding User Experiences and Perceptions.” (2020) by K. Blanke, M. Rosales, and A. Manaugh. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, volume 142.
  • “The Environmental and Health Impacts of E-Scooters: A Review.” (2020) by E. Moretti, S. Mandaville, K. Froehlich, and M. Jerrett. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, volume 83.
  • “The Impacts of Electric Scooters on Physical Activity, Health, and Safety.” (2021) by B.A. Baumeister and K. Brien. Journal of Transport & Health, volume 19.

These studies provide a good starting point for exploring some of the benefits and drawbacks of e-scooters and micro-mobility, but there is much more research being done in this field, and the findings are constantly evolving.

These findings suggest that the impact of e-scooters and micro-mobility is complex and context-dependent. So it’s important to consider the potential benefits and drawbacks in a comprehensive and nuanced manner, and consider various aspects such as safety, accessibility, and actual rather than perceived sustainability.

A personal perspective from the editor.

Being a recent immigrant into the area that may well be termed “scooter central” – Southbank along the Yarra River Melbourne – and looking out my apartment window, and in the surrounding streets and shared paths along the river, I’ll give a non-academic perspective. It’s not based on surveys or rigorous double-blind testing, but simply personal observation.

It’s my view that e-scooters are principally for people to have fun on. They ‘double-dink, helmets seem optional, the rule about not riding on footpaths it totally ignored, and they simply get discarded like McDonald’s wrappers when the fun had been had. Their mothers never insisted on them putting things away in an orderly way when you finish using something!

Sure, some do get used for commuting. A recent Bicycle Network count done on one city entrance from7am – 10am on a Tuesday, recorded 319 cyclists and 26 scooters. Probably almost all were commuters, and all were acting in an orderly way. But visual observation along the river path – particularly or a weekend, and it’s hundreds of ‘fun trips’ and not an office-backpack or briefcase in sight.

In summary

Let’s hope those evaluating the Melbourne trial are not too swayed by the commercial operators data, and get on the streets themselves and observe the actual behaviours as well as all the academic research.

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2 Responses to Scooting around

  1. scotty says:

    I also think most riders are joy riders. I regularly commute through docklands , I see couples on them weaving around pedestrians.


    • WATAG says:

      Thanks for your comment Scotty. As a resident living in the city area, I can totally confirm your experience. Scooters are being put forward as a way to ease transport congestion, and yet it appears they are mainly used for people to have fun. They don’t contribute to people’s fitness at all so can’t be recommended on the basis of better health outcomes either. We don’t allow joy-rides through the streets using go-karts, and scooters are not much different in their effect on the streets, pedestrians and cyclists.


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