Electric Scooters May Not Be Environmentally-Friendly After All

Oct 16, 2018

Electric scooters are taking over Indiana’s cities. They're often billed as an environmentally-friendly transportation alternative, but that depends on how you use them. 

The companies Bird and Lime have dropped scooters in five Indiana cities: Indianapolis, Bloomington, Elkhart, West Lafayette, and South Bend. Most of the people who use them in Bloomington are Indiana University students in a hurry — like Nick Martin, a senior studying marketing and professional sales. 

“Honestly it’s 'cause I’ve got a test to study for, so I kind of need to get here quickly and it’s kind of cold so I just didn’t want to walk,” he says.

Lime scooters in particular are advertised as an environmentally-friendly alternative to cars. When used as a substitute for walking or biking, however, they actually increase your carbon footprint.

What’s more, Nikos Zirogiannis, a research scientist at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, says in Indiana most of the electricity used to charge the scooters comes from coal.

“I would say that the impact here in Indiana would be worse than the impact that those scooters would have in other states around the country,” he says.

For this reason, depending on where you live, driving an electric car could even be more harmful to the environment than a traditional gas-powered vehicle.

IU senior Rosen Baylor says any form of transportation would likely be worse than walking, but it beats the crowded bus.

"From a time perspective and compared to other alternatives such as a bus, such as a car — I do think it's a bit more effective and little more environmentally friendly," he says. 

Zirogiannis says, though he hasn't crunched the numbers, most likely the bus would run whether it's at full capacity or not. So a few students taking scooters to class instead, likely wouldn't decrease the overall environmental impact. 

Those who charge electric scooters might also have to use gas to come pick them up.

READ MORE: Indianapolis Using Inspectors To Report Electric Scooter Violations

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.