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Bird Two Set to Launch as Skepticism of Green Claims by E-Scooter Companies Mount

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By Jorge Casuso

August 2, 2019 -- As Bird prepares to roll out its new generation of e-scooters this fall, a new study from North Carolina State University (NCSU) found such vehicles may not be as green as they've been touted to be.

Bird Two, which was unveiled by the Santa Monica-based company on Thursday, "ushers in a new era of micro-mobility" that enhances safety and benefits cities, officials said in a statement announcing the launch.

The new vehicles feature "the industry's longest lasting battery and self-reporting damage sensors, anti-tipping kickstand, anti-theft encryption (and) puncture-proof tires," officials said.

The small vehicles that users ditch at the end of their trips will continue to reduce the number of cars on the road while providing a "zero-emission" alternative to driving, company officials said.

“We think of Bird as a full-on sustainability company,” Melinda Hanson, the company’s head of sustainability, told the website Fast Company in April.

“The first step, of course, being that we are providing zero-emission transportation to all of our riders.”

The Bird scooters may not pollute while they zip through cities like Santa Monica, but the NCSU study found they leave behind a carbon footprint that is not insignificant.

"Dockless shared e-scooters are touted as a solution to the last-mile problem, a means to reduce traffic congestion, and an environmentally preferable mode of transportation," said the study published Friday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

But factors contribute to carbon emissions that are often unaccounted for and remain largely unseen, according to the study.

Researchers found that "environmental burdens associated with charging the e-scooter are small relative to materials and manufacturing burdens of the e-scooters and the impacts associated with transporting the scooters to overnight charging stations," the report said.

The study also surveyed a small sample of e-scooter riders to see what mode of transportation the scooters replaced.

Nearly half of the respondents (49 percent) said they would have biked or walked, a third (34 percent) said they would have used a car, while 11 percent would have taken a bus.

(Surprisingly, researchers found that buses on busy routes create less pollution per rider than e-scooters.)

A more comprehensive survey conducted by the City of Santa Monica found that half the respondents said they ditched their car, while 38 percent said they rode the scooter or bike instead of walking ("City Survey Finds E-Scooter, E-Bike Riders Are Affluent, Live Outside City," May 10, 2019).

The NCSU study found one of the ways to reduce the carbon footprint is to produce longer lasting scooters that cut down on the need to manufacture new ones.

Bird officials said new features on the new generation scooters "make servicing and maintaining the vehicle easier and more efficient," company officials said.

Another way to reduce the environmental impact is to collect only those scooters that need recharging, researchers said.

Bird Two's battery has "over 50 percent more capacity than Bird One's battery," according to company officials, who have not said whether they plan to alter the vehicle collection policy.

Last month, the city reduced the number of scooters Bird can operate in Santa Monica from 500 to 250.

The move came after continued complaints about improper deployment of the devices, response time and maintenance, planning officials said ("Santa Monica Grounds 250 Bird Scooters Amid Complaints, Inaccurate Data," July 16, 2019).

In April, Bird announced it is purchasing renewable energy credits and carbon offsets in an effort to to mitigate the energy used to deliver and charge its scooters.

NCSU researchers said if e-scooter companies are determined to reduce their carbon footprint, they need to deliver "longer product lifetimes, reduced materials burdens and reduced e-scooter collection and distribution impacts."

Unless such steps are taken, "claims of environmental benefits from their use should be met with skepticism," the study concluded.

The full study can be viewed here

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