RYAN CITRON, NAVIGANT RESEARCH. E-bikes, e-scooters, and shared EVs help cities transition to clean energy. Smart cities must do their part.

Navigant analyst
Contributor Ryan Citron is a Research Analyst at Navigant Research

Understanding the relationship between energy and transportation is vital for city policy development. Sustainable cities are increasingly looking to use cleaner forms of energy while simultaneously reducing traffic congestion. While electric vehicles (EVs) generally provide a cleaner form of transportation over their gasoline counterparts, they do not inherently improve traffic congestion.

However, if EVs are part of a carsharing program, they can solve both the emissions and congestion problems at the same time. Additionally, other electric mobility (e-mobility) devices, such as electric bicycles (e-bikes) and electric scooters (e-scooters), can help to reduce roadway gridlock while also contributing to the broader transition to cleaner forms of energy in cities.

Together, these e-mobility devices represent some of the most dynamic developments in the smart city industry.

EV Carsharing replaces personal vehicles

It is estimated that every vehicle employed in a carsharing fleet replaces approximately four to eleven privately owned vehicles. Removing these excess personal vehicles from the road can help to significantly reduce traffic congestion and air pollution in heavily populated cities.

While EVs do present some logistical challenges for carsharing, they also allow the service to differentiate itself from competition as well as gain support from city officials looking to promote clean transportation initiatives. EVs represented an estimated 16 percent of all vehicles in carsharing services in 2014, and this figure is expected to rise consistently year-over-year.

E-scooters ride in on new business models

In addition to the congestion reductions associated with traditional direct-to-consumer sales models for e-scooters, these devices are helping cities reduce traffic congestion through e-scooter sharing programs. E-scooters are also improving city energy efficiency through a new battery swapping business model from Taiwanese manufacturer Gogoro.

Gogoro scooter
Gogoro scooter and GoStation battery swapping site (Gogoro photo)

In terms of vehicle sharing, the iconic city of Paris, France will be implementing an e-scooter sharing program in the summer of 2016. The rental program will consist of around 1,000 e-scooters from the German manufacturer GOVECS and will be managed by EV rental firm Cityscoot.

Paris is hoping to avoid repeating the incidents of summer 2015, when driving bans had to be instituted and pollution levels in the city of lights briefly surpassed those of Shanghai. Barcelona, Spain was the first European city to introduce an e-scooter sharing program in 2013, and London, England is expected to be the next target for Cityscoot if the Paris project proves successful.

In the United States, San Francisco-based Scoot Networks is a rapidly growing e-scooter sharing company that now has close to 400 e-scooters for use in the Bay Area at over 35 locations.

A new business model in the e-scooter industry is helping to both reduce congestion and drive city energy efficiency. E-scooter startup Gogoro offers its customers a battery swap network to use on a citywide basis, removing the range anxiety common with most forms of EVs. Gogoro will be expanding its program (which is currently only available in Taipei, Taiwan) to Amsterdam in early 2016.

Aligning with Amsterdam’s smart city initiatives, Gogoro is aiming to become more of an energy company rather than solely an e-scooter manufacturer. The company’s GoStations are cloud-connected and are expected to coordinate with electricity grid demand in the city, charging batteries only at times when energy demand is low.

If the company’s business model can prove successful in Amsterdam, there’s no limit on the number of large Western cities that could adopt Gogoro’s e-scooters and battery swap network. The company sold over 4,000 of its e-scooters in its first few months of operation in Taiwan using an infrastructure base of 125 GoStation battery swap stations spread across Taipei.

E-bikes are in the fast lane

Germany bicycle bike highway
Germany is building 60 km of dedicated bicycle highway (Metropole Ruhr photo)

While e-bikes are still considered to be in the early adopter phase in the United States, they are commonly used as commuting devices in Asia and many Western European countries, displacing millions of cars from city roads every year. Western Europe will account for an estimated 1.7 million e-bike sales in 2016.

Germany, the largest e-bike market in Europe (with nearly 500,000 e-bike sales in 2014), recently opened bicycle highways that are expected to span over 100 km (62 miles) of track. German regional development group RVR estimates that the new bicycle tracks will remove 50,000 cars from the road every day, drastically reducing traffic jams and accelerating the transition to cleaner transportation devices.

E-bikes help commuters travel longer distances and easily conquer hilly terrain at low costs, advantages that are helping more and more commuters make the switch from cars to e-bikes. Cities eager for e-bike sales to flourish in their jurisdictions must have the adequate bicycling infrastructure in place, such as protected bike lanes and bicycle highways.

Smartest cities will invest in e-mobility infrastructure

While many solutions are available to city planners and managers for transitioning toward cleaner energy sources and reduced traffic congestion, e-mobility devices provide a comprehensive, unique, and citywide approach to achieving this goal. E-bikes, e-scooters, and EVs in carsharing schemes all contribute to fewer and cleaner vehicles on the road.

Cities that have implemented the necessary infrastructure (i.e., dedicated bicycle lanes, EV charging stations, etc.) are more likely to encourage widespread adoption of these devices by their citizens, which will in turn make these cities more sustainable, open new economic opportunities, and enhance quality of life.