Making the Case for Small, Shared, Electric Transport Modes

Tony Dutzik, senior policy analyst with the Frontier Group, presents three environmental reasons to support shared bikes and scooters, and why cities that have adopted climate plans should accommodate these small, clean, shared vehicles.
July 4, 2018, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"In my home city of Boston, you can now find an increasingly madcap array of small vehicles on the streets and sidewalks – regular bikes, e-bikes, electric scooters, hoverboards, manual and electric skateboards of various kinds," writes Dutzik in a blog post for the Frontier Group. "There are even electric unicycles."

At the same time, app-based shared mobility is making some of these new types of vehicles available to anyone with a couple of bucks and a couple of minutes to download an app. The dockless bikeshare and scooter-share revolution has come quickly – often causing controversy along the way.

All these electric (and human-powered) vehicles and devices "have radical implications for our cities, and for our efforts to curb transportation’s contribution to global warming," he writes. "The environmental case for shared electric vehicles rests on three ideas."

  • First, that electric vehicles are vastly more energy efficient than internal combustion engine vehicles and can run on clean energy.
  • Second, that sharing vehicles eliminates the inherent incentive to drive that comes with having a vehicle sitting in your driveway that you are already paying for.
  • The third – and probably least frequently discussed – idea is that internal combustion engines and individual ownership force a design logic on our vehicles that limits our opportunities to make them more efficient. 

In a lengthy April interview with The New York Times in Venice, Los Angeles, where Bird has built its new headquarters, founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden makes the equity case for sharing these vehicles.

“Not everyone can afford their own electric scooter,” he said. “We shouldn’t discriminate against people that are renting versus owning.”

His point is a valid one. In the days since the Birds, as well as the Lime and Spin scooters have disappeared from the streets of San Francisco, one can still spot occasional electric scooters in the bike lanes, but without the names of the scooter-share companies.

Last words go to Dutzik:

A future in which small-scale electric and manually-powered mobility can work its transformative magic is one in which our cities must make a bold commitment to reallocating space on our streets – giving small, slow, light vehicles at least as much priority as big, heavy ones – and renegotiating the rules of how we all get around.

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Published on Thursday, June 21, 2018 in Frontier Group
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