Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. This episode, we’re answering a question from a member of our Possibly Team- Iman Khanbhai.

Megan Hall: Iman, do you want to explain?

Iman Khanbhai: Sure! The other day I was heading to the mall to buy some jeans and I wondered- what would create more emissions- taking an electric scooter or getting an uber? So, Malia Honda and I decided to look into it.

Megan Hall: What did you both find out? I’m assuming an electric scooter is better?

Malia Honda: Yeah. And by a LOT. Making the electricity needed to run a scooter emits 6 grams of CO2 per mile. To do the same trip in an electric car emits about 60. And a gas car emits 400!

Megan Hall: Wow – that’s what – 70 times more for the gas car? Case closed. That was a quick episode. 

Malia Honda: Not exactly. Despite the huge greenhouse gas savings, scooters and other so called “micro-mobility” devices are creating quite a stir in cities around the world.  

Iman Khanbhai: To find out, we talked to Stephen Kurz, a mobility advisor in Amsterdam. He works for a company called Mobycon, that focuses on designing and improving mobility for everyone.

Malia Honda: He says, we’re right- in a head-to-head competition between an electric scooter and a gas-powered car…

Stephen Kurz: “Absolutely, scooter, hands down is way more sustainable. And probably far cheaper for you.”

Iman Khanbhai: But, Stephen says these scooters aren’t always the best option if there is good public transportation. 

Stephen Kurz: It’s probably still better than, yeah, driving. But it’s not an improvement on a lot of things, be it sustainability, be it use of public space. Be it because also they have to be picked up to charge, etc, etc.” 

Iman Khanbhai: Stephen says that we consider the entire life of a scooter instead of individual rides. Hopping on an electric scooter is definitely making the right choice, but there are still emissions produced by the manufacturing, transportation, maintenance, and repairing of these scooters. These emissions are small in comparison to a car, but they aren’t zero. 

Iman Khanbhai: Plus, when scooters are tossed in random places, it creates more emissions for the vehicles that drive around to pick them up and charge them. 

Stephen Kurz: we know that people don’t park them properly, like nicely and neatly.” (14:03) 

Malia Honda: But, in the grand scheme of things, the trucks that gather up the scooters and move them back to central locations produce a minor amount of emissions compared to not driving a car for every scooter trip. Think of it this way, it takes more energy to move 5000 pounds of car than 50 pounds of scooter.  

Megan Hall: And who is really using these scooters? Are they replacing car trips or are people just using them instead of walking? 

Iman Khanbhai: You have a point. I talked to a bunch of students around my campus and most are using e-scooters instead of walking or biking.

Megan Hall: So are they really cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions?

Malia: If you’re using a scooter instead of walking, you’re actually increasing emissions a little. But in many places, people are using them to replace car trips.

Iman: Researchers in Atlanta found a 10% increase in car commute times when the city banned scooters from certain neighborhoods. And another study in San Francisco found 40% of scooter and e-bike trips were replacing car trips.

Malia Honda: So yes, if you’re using scooters instead of walking, you’re not cutting emissions. 

Iman Khanbhai: But any time you use a scooter to replace a car trip, you’re making a huge difference in terms of emissions. 

Malia Honda: So I guess you’ll be scootering, not Ubering to the mall from now on.  

Iman Khanbhai: You bet! Or maybe I will even walk.  

Megan Hall: Thanks, Iman and Malia! That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Possibly is a co-production of The Public’s Radio, Brown University’s Institute for Environment and Society, and Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative.

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