Electronic scooters may soon be the preferred way to cruise around the streets of Portugal.
In Faro, a beachside town in the south of the country, 200 shared scooters are now available via Bolt, a vehicle service that also provides car rentals throughout the region. Scootering is considered one of the city’s most cost-effective and convenient transportation options. Customers front 1 euro to access the scooter and then spend 15 cents per minute, or pay for a day rate of 19 euros.
This is not the first time Faro has seen scooters on the streets. In November 2019 – after only ten months in operation – scooter company Voi removed their vehicles due to a lack of profits. But Bolt officials and Faro’s Mayor, Rogério Bacalhau, seem confident that the endeavour will be different this time around, even serving as a model for the rest of Portugal.
For now, there are only about a dozen pick-up and drop-off points offered in Faro, but it is possible that location options may expand after the high season. Neither Bolt nor Bacalhau have announced whether that decision will be made based on profits generated within a certain timeframe.
Other European countries have also begun to offer scooter options to tourists and locals alike, advertising it as a convenient transportation alternative. Proponents state that scooters help mitigate congestion on roads and create options in areas where public transportation is scant – all in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. A representative from Bacalhau’s office called this service “positive for cleaner mobility”, while a Bolt spokesperson believes that it addresses the need for a “greater awareness of people to move in a sustainable way”.
But just how sustainable are these vehicles? When looking at the amount of energy scooters consume while in use, it may seem as though they are an efficient and environmentally friendly mode of transport. But the life of a scooter, from start to landfill, indicates otherwise.
Scooters are often manufactured in China and transported to Europe, leaving an enormous carbon footprint. And although slowly increasing, their lifespan is still incredibly short; they are not built for inclement weather or cobblestone streets, sometimes becoming ruined even after just a short time on the road.
An article breaking down the sustainability of the service specifically notes the issue of constant maintenance required to keep this system going. Vans, usually fuelled by diesel, are tasked with scouring city streets to find scooters low on battery and in need of a recharge. After being picked up and serviced at a warehouse, the scooter then goes back out the way it came. It is worth noting that its carbon emission per kilometre stands at 126 grams; in comparison, an electric car emits 92 grams while covering the same distance.
Some companies have fitted their scooters with changeable batteries, subverting the need for them to be transported and serviced elsewhere. But this does not necessarily mean the environmental impact is lessened. Instead, these companies purchase and use huge numbers of lithium-ion batteries – known all too well for their origins in toxic mines and inability to be recycled, among other ethical issues.
Scooters & Safety
Safety is another reason why scooters may not be the greatest addition to the roads of most European cities. In August 2018, a 92-year-old woman was struck and killed by a scooter in Barcelona. And since January of the same year, eleven scooter-related deaths have been reported throughout Europe.
European cities are considering laws to regulate where and how scooters can be used. These vehicles can travel more than 50 kilometres per hour but possess very few safety measures, leading some countries to contemplate banning their use in bike lanes, on streets, or sidewalks. In Paris, riding a scooter on the pavement may result in a fine of up to 135 euros, and blocking the pavement or parking inappropriately could subject an individual to a 35 euro penalty. In the future, France plans to give cities autonomy when it comes to regulation, meaning further measures could be just around the corner.
Meanwhile, locals are complaining over an issue stemming from one of the conveniences of the system. Part of the appeal of these scooter rentals is that the rider can take them almost anywhere without needing to dock them at a recharging station, meaning that they are often unceremoniously dumped in parks and on the middle of sidewalks.
Drunk scootering has also become an issue for locals and tourists who think this is a way to circumvent penalties from driving a car while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Last July, police in Munich apprehended 24 intoxicated scooter drivers within 24 hours; between June and August of 2019, 418 people throughout Germany were caught and reprimanded for riding scooters while drunk. Helmut Dedy of the Association of German Cities suggested to the Guardian that many people do not take scooters very seriously, even if they are riding on the road: “There are people who enjoy using these vehicles, but many regard them as toys rather than [a] means of transport”.
As tourism in Europe begins to pick up for the new season, consideration for safety and environmental impact may become increasingly necessary as electronic scooter rentals gain popularity – and before Faro jumps the gun on spreading this model to other Portuguese cities.