Elsparkcyklar: Fallstudie från Los Angeles (gästskribent)

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Elsparkcyklar är en högaktuell fråga i många av världens städer, inte minst från ett miljöperspektiv. OmEV har skrivit om elsparkcyklar tidigare. Senaste uppdateringen gjorde vi år 2019, länk. Dagens nyhetsbrev är skrivet av doktoranden Liridona Sopjani, design- och miljöforskare på KTH. Liridona har genomfört en studie på elsparkcyklar och tillhörande ekosystem i Los Angeles. I nyhetsbrevet ger hon en uppdatering kring elsparkcyklars miljöpåverkan, samt återger resultaten från hennes studie i Los Angeles.

The consequences of our designs: a look into electric scooter service systems

Skrivet av Liridona Sopjani (KTH)

The electric scooters we have been seeing in the streets promised us a sustainable mobility future – a more ecological way of moving people. The idea of shared electric scooters as mobility service was born in Santa Monica, Los Angeles in the summer of 2017. From 10 electric scooters at first, in less than two years, one operator alone spread in more than 120 cities worldwide [1], including many other new operators emerging and noted worldwide today. This unprecedented spread and accelerated growth has been both supported and questioned by the public as well as stakeholders alike. At first glance, e-scooter-supported mobility appears as an innovation much needed in the urban transport menu cart. They are electric, easy chargeable, occupy little space, require minimum infrastructure, and are easy to deploy, accessed by users at any time and dropped anywhere. A deeper account of the e-scooter business ecosystem, however, appears to reveal a starters flavour to the future public dilemmas for which we are making design decisions today.

System design comes with system impacts

Besides the device itself being contestable from an environmental point of view, there are other net negative impacts of the overall idea of mobility with e-scooters. A study by Hollingsworth et al [2], shows that the environmental burdens in relation to charging are small relative to materials and manufacturing burdens of the e-scooters, transporting the scooters to overnight charging stations, as well as redistributing them. Distribution, use, and collection for recharging, as a whole, do not reduce environmental impacts from the transportation system in various city contexts due to operational and managerial implications. Further, if we talk sustainability, sharing existing mobility products is different from adding new ones constantly. The e-scooters have been advertised as a sustainable solution because they are shared. The problem is that the positive symbolic value of sharing has made many services presentable as more ecologically-sustainable [3]. Sharing goods is often confused with on-demand personal services [4]. Here we are referring to the difference between peer-to-peer reuse of existing products in comparison to business-to-consumer adding new products into existing infrastructures e.g. platform economy. E-scooter devices are a newly added mobility-enabling product into the already heavily burdened city infrastructure, even if they are used by multiple users. Keeping adding new stuff in our cities increases consumption of resources and energy, in one form or another e.g. rebound effects of consumption, if other existing harmful mobility modes are not replaced.

Logistics of shared electric scooters have not been examined thoroughly

More concerning for the future of access-based services such as e-scooter services are their logistics. In a case study (under publication) using primary and secondary data conducted from multiple stakeholders about electric scooter services in Los Angeles city, we show that starting from the operations, the workforce, the use of public streets, the non-users, the political environment, and costs borne to external parties all appear to be relegated in the back of hindsight. The implementation of such solutions in our cities is more challenging than we thought.

We identify organisational, managerial, and operational challenges faced by many actors including operators and users of such services e.g. product design problems, loss of total control over the fleet of devices, management of the fleet size and externalities of damaged devices, and operational problems due to organisation between multiple actors. Due to lack of proper operations management, maintenance, and of control, batches of e-scooters have been damaged and abandoned in rather inaccessible areas. Our study results show that it has been easier to add more new scooters in the streets rather than manage and reclaim discarded or damaged scooters. With ‘free’ parking and sufficient space for discarding overly damaged scooters, even waterways have turned to permanent storage spaces of broken e-scooters. These costs have been externalised to the city’s utilities. This has added cost to the city management e.g. impoundment, storage, and cleaning of streets from abandoned e-scooters. Furthermore, access to spaces for charging and repairing as well as stocking the fleet, which initially were not provided by the operators, working conditions and support for the employees, compromise of safety due to unfair pay in relation to the job demands as well as low margins and farther collection distances due to competition for labor show as key challenges experienced by workers. For city-wide governance, we identify critical emerging challenges such as lack of spatial designation for riding, dropping, and parking e-scooters. Lack of available permits for such business models affects cities ability to issue immediate citations or lawsuits against inappropriate placement of e-scooter devices throughout the city.

E-scooter services involve more than their users

E-scooters are operating on public space shared by many diverse people and needs. They have been rolling in the sidewalk, the bicycle lanes, and public space, entrances, and all corners of city spaces used by other users such as pedestrians, senior citizens, people supported by mobility devices, parents with strollers, and cyclists. Therefore the support towards the electric scooter services has been affected by the perception of people that their space has been made less safe to walk and engage in. Namely, the unregulated operations have been a source of tensions and conflict among various user groups. All of this is potentially linked to the “park anywhere” narrative, which is also a key indicator of user attractiveness due to flexibility offered. Thus, meanwhile users of e-scooter services have enjoyed a huge flexibility, very many others have been burdened. There are tradeoffs between operators and wide-policy support e.g. contradictory policy designs appear as a challenge regarding the regulation of shared mobility services in general. The study finds that there is a lack of coordination within individual policy frameworks creating challenges such as designing regulatory responses on-the-go meanwhile operators expand. This is possibly related to the multi-stakeholder involvement in the public space and its effect in establishing right regulations for services that utilise versatile modes of mobility. The electric scooter sharing service is a multifaceted, multi-stakeholder interest issue because it is a political space as well as public space that is disrupted and in which many private and public actors are partaking.

Thus, it appears that the idea of shared service systems like these is a costly affair for many parties involved directly or indirectly. The problem is that transportation is a crucial system for humans and even the new alternatives seem to be less considerate of their overall system implications. When we design the alternative sustainable future we need, we are dealing with multiple systems at once and multiple stakeholders affected outside the user segment targets of specific businesses. Fast product development processes may very well be responsible for our inability to reflect and be intelligently considerate of the potential implications of our designs, designed by us, for us. Though, designers and developers need to begin thinking in systems and not just the segments which they serve. Anything marketable seems to fly on the globe, but is everything marketable socially desirable and intelligent?


[1] Inc. 2019. länk

[2] Hollingsworth, Joseph, Brenna Copeland, and Jeremiah X. Johnson. ”Are e-scooters polluters? The environmental impacts of shared dockless electric scooters.” Environmental Research Letters 14.8 (2019): 084031. länk

[3] Frenken, Koen, and Juliet Schor. ”Putting the sharing economy into perspective.” A Research Agenda for Sustainable Consumption Governance. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019. länk

[4] Fast Company. 2015. länk