As e-scooters have grown in popularity around the world, they’ve sparked questions about their practicality and their impact on the environment and public health. Dr. Robbie Chaney and Dr. Jeff Glenn researched the behavior of 1,070 scooter users in Provo to discover the answers. Here’s what they found.
E-Scooters have arrived in Provo. They wait at street corners for riders, take the riders to their destinations for a small fee, and wait again at different street corners. They are simple, fast, and popular. Since the day the first e-scooter showed up in Santa Monica, California in 2017, these new transportation alternatives have captured the attention of cities all over the world. As they’ve grown in popularity, they’ve sparked questions about their practicality and their impact on the environment and public health.
To discover the answers to these questions, BYU professors Dr. Robbie Chaney, Dr. Jeff Glenn, Dr. Greg Macfarlane, three student co-authors, and Austin Taylor working for Provo City researched the behaviors of e-scooter riders in Provo. They worked with the city of Provo to analyze data from a survey they sent out to all registered Zagster users, four months after the s-scooter company began a share program with the city.
To measure the effect of e-scooters on the environment, one question asked respondents if, on their most recent e-scooter trip, they would have walked or driven to their destination if the scooter wasn’t an option. Of the 1,070 survey respondents, 40% indicated that they would have walked, and roughly 25% (28.5%) indicated that they would have driven a car. Dr. Chaney said, “It’s important to reduce car use by a quarter, but we also don’t want to reduce walking.”
Dr. Chaney also mentioned that e-scooters have a shorter shelf life than anticipated. “The shelf life is a year, maybe two, and the scooters break and need to be replaced. Manufacturing, driving them around, and maintaining and fixing them all have an environmental impact.” Provo has recognized this issue and now the current scooters in use are more durable than the original ones introduced in 2019.
Provo is experiencing many of the same challenges that other cities have with e-scooters. There are difficulties with regulation, injuries, pollution, and e-scooters being parked incorrectly. There is also a lack of education or awareness of Provo City’s regulations of e-scooter use. The majority of the survey respondents did not know that it is illegal in Provo to ride e-scooters on the sidewalk. Of the riders who were aware of this requirement, some chose to ride on the sidewalk because they reported feeling unsafe riding on the road, especially on roads where bike lanes don’t exist. An increase in education and scooter and bike friendly infrastructure could mitigate many safety risks.
The challenges and questions surrounding e-scooter use are reminiscent of the reactions surrounding other new technologies in the past, and time may be required for proper regulations and understandings to come into place. As Dr. Glenn said, “We need to learn as much as we can about e-scooters, and let that knowledge inform policy so they stay available and so we can take advantage of their positives.” With more information about how riders are using e-scooters, researchers will be able to help cities safely use them in ways that will help and not hurt the city.
This research project was a great opportunity for mentored research. The three student co-authors took an active part in gathering and interpreting data. Mannon Christianson, one of the student co-authors, encouraged fellow students to become involved in mentored research, especially if they are planning on going to grad school. She said, “Don’t be intimidated! There’s a reason it’s called mentored research, the professors help you every step of the way and want you to have these experiences.”
To read the full report on the research, follow this link to the peer reviewed article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Considering the Potential Health Impacts of Electric Scooters: An Analysis of User Reported Behaviors in Provo, Utah.
The research on e-scooters has revealed that e-scooters have the potential to positively and negatively impact the environment and public health, and Provo could benefit from an increase in rider education on safe e-scooter use and infrastructure. Cities can take advantage of the new technology by becoming aware of the risks and benefits connected to it.