Care About Climate Change? Care About Scooters

Lime scooters in Mountain View, California.

Lime scooters in Mountain View, California. Shutterstock

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COMMENTARY | Solving our biggest global crisis of a rapidly warming planet means considering everything through the lens of potential solutions, even something as small as the electric scooter.

Micromobility is an expanding industry that is capturing the keen attention of urbanists around the world—including the much-discussed e-scooter.

Before joining the world of shared mobility, I worked in renewable energy. I had a first-hand look—not on the city street, but in farm fields and rural hills—at the regulatory challenges involved in rapidly addressing the climate change crisis with the required speed. This work had me at one point developing a relatively small 10 MW wind farm, which will produce enough energy to cover the electric needs of just 4,000 people. It took four years to permit the project; for comparison that is longer than it took us to enter, fight, and win World War II.

That is not going to cut it when it comes to combating climate change.

The recent IPCC report concluded we have 12 years to prevent the worst of climate impacts. Subsequent reports find our climate pollution emissions have continued to accelerate. Arctic melting has, as well.

Even the U.S. federal government's own report across 13 agencies of the Trump Administration paints a dire warning: kids born today will see a GDP reduced by 10 percent from climate impacts in their lives by century-end. So if there is ever a clear economic case for the retooling of our economy, energy, and transportation systems, it's right there.

I’ve had the opportunity to spend the last two years working with city leaders on innovative bike and scooter sharing programs—an emissions-free first and last mile mobility solution. Regulating a new industry can be a challenge, but now, more than ever, we need to take every possible step to curb the crisis at hand.

First, take the electric scooter itself, an under 50-pound mode of transit. Scooters stand in stark contrast to one and two ton cars, and the energy it takes to move them and space consumed to park them.

When two-thirds of trips made by car are under one mile, and a scooter can almost always get you that distance in an urban environment faster, it's no wonder we’ve seen user adoption at such unprecedented speed.

The best selling electric car in the U.S., the Chevy Volt, has sold fewer than 150,000 vehicles since 2010. People have taken shared scooters on over 50 million rides in the last year alone.

Moreover, independent studies by city transportation departments and internal company research have both found a roughly one-third, or often more, mode-shift in cities from scooters. This means one out of every three scooter rides is a trip not taken by ride hailing, taxi, or personal vehicle, and when most vehicles are still one to two ton gas burning cars, that's a big deal for climate pollution. It is also a big deal for public health, as local pollution afflicts people with health complications like asthma, and more often the urban young and old and people of color, a threat equal to a history of smoking.

There is a good case that first and last mile mobility solutions will buoy public transportation systems as well. These systems are best able to move the masses most efficiently. Scooter and bike induced mode-shift and support for public transit should have a related benefit: reducing congestion. Urban congestion, increasingly from ride hailing, costs cities and their residents hundreds of billions of dollars globally, and results in idling vehicles that inefficiently burn carbon while going nowhere.

Right now, we need government leaders at all levels to have an Apollo-like mindset to the climate crisis and, as a result, measure every major policy decision through the lens of the climate fight.  Scooters and electric micro-mobility are just one of the myriad of solutions we will need to deploy now to have a chance of making an impact on this global challenge.

We’ve done this before. During World War II, every major policy decision was put through the filter of the war effort. That allowed us to turn our economy into a giant cog of mission-oriented productivity, going for example from a production of just 3,000 bombers to a staggering 300,000 in those few years.

It’s time to make bold changes in the effort against this crisis. If this is our modern World War III, we'd better get moving, big and small, on city streets across the globe. And in the case of “disrupting technologies” bringing about new clean solutions, the more disruption the better.

Andrew Savage is vice president of sustainability and a founding member of Lime.

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