As the two-wheeled vehicles take over our streets, the rise of electric scooters, or e-scooters, has all the makings of a new culture war.
With more than 750,000 privately owned e-scooters in the UK, the nation is developing a “love-hate relationship” with this increasingly popular form of transport, said The Guardian. Although private e-scooters remain legal only on private land, the sight of commuters zipping around urban areas has become increasingly commonplace.
Fans of the e-scooter say they are convenient, environmentally friendly, and “exciting”. However, critics, such as the Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens, regard them as “horrible” and “stupid”.
Here are the main arguments for and against the e-scooter.
Pro: safer than bikes
Riding an e-scooter may look risky to some but, according to a joint report by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and e-scooter operator Neuron Mobility, e-scooters are actually five times safer than bikes on UK roads.
The differential with motorcycles is yet more stark: electric scooters have an incident rate of 0.66 collisions for every million miles travelled, while with motorbikes there is an incident rate of 5.88.
Con: dangerous to pedestrians
E-scooters are usually silent, so for people with disabilities, particularly the visually impaired, the rise of e-scooters is particularly worrying and is affecting their “ability to use public spaces”, said The Guardian.
The number of pedestrians injured after being hit by e-scooters was nearly four times higher in 2021 than the previous year, according to The Independent. A total of 223 walkers were injured in Britain in 2021, including 63 who were seriously hurt – up from 57 pedestrian casualties in 2020, which included just 13 serious injuries.
Pro: environmental benefits
E-scooters come with many environmental benefits: they have no exhaust emissions so they are carbon-free at the point of use. Neither do they add to traffic congestion.
And because they run on batteries, they can help to reduce poor air quality and urban congestion, noted SOUK, which can make neighbourhoods more pleasant to live in.
Con: environmental issues
However, the actual riding of e-scooters tells only part of the story of their environmental impact: if e-scooters are “pulling people out of cars, they’re more sustainable”, but if people are using e-scooters for journeys they might have walked, or cycled, they’re a “net loss”, because manufacturing e-scooters is a “resource-intensive endeavour”, said The Guardian.
A 2019 study by researchers at North Carolina State University concluded that, taking into account emissions produced by manufacturing and transporting e-scooters, they typically produce more emissions per passenger mile than a standard bus with high ridership, an electric moped, an e-bike or a standard bicycle.
Similarly, noted Euro News, a study in Paris showed that at 0.6 kilos of CO2 per ten kilometres, e-scooters emitted six times more than the Metro.
Pro: accessible for many
For those with physical issues that prevent them from riding a bike or driving a car, e-scooters can be a welcome way to get around individually. “Anyone can ride a scooter – it’s more democratic than a bicycle,” an enthusiast told The Guardian.
They are also a more affordable way of travelling than a car or public transport, which is helpful to those on lower incomes, provided they can acquire a scooter in the first place.
Con: cost of purchase
“Electric scooters are pricey, especially the high-quality ones,” said Electric Scootering, because the batteries are “expensive and hard to produce, so scooters that offer a long range will be quite expensive”.
Prices for budget models range from around £350 to £450, while mid-range scooters cost around £700 and high-end versions can pass the £5,000 mark, according to Expert Reviews.