Few can disagree: Electric scooters and bikes are a far more environmentally friendly way of getting around a city than cars. So why is it that rental bikes and electric scooters keep ending up in inner-city rivers around the world?
It’s not only a problem for the rental companies, but also for the environment.
The banks of the Seine in Paris have become a kind of graveyard for dead electric scooters and rental bicycles, their once-bright colours washed out and dim, covered in mud and algae.
And it’s not just Paris that suffers from this problem.
Market leader Lime admits that several dozen of its scooters and bicycles in Paris and Marseille have ended up in the Seine and in the Mediterranean, respectively. Lime says it recycles the vehicles and the majority can be reused.
Other cities in Europe and North America are suffering from similar problems. In Amsterdam, a city famous for being cycle-friendly, the authorities fish between 12,000 and 15,000 bicycles out of the canals every year.
However, the majority of these are not rental bicycles. Rental companies prevent this by demanding relatively high deposits and copies of ID cards and credit cards. Most of the bikes that end up in the canals are stolen or broken.
So how big a problem is this? It’s hard to say. Most cities have no concrete statistics on electric scooters and rental bicycles. France was one of the first European cities to embrace them, but it’s not clear whether the problem is worse there than elsewhere.
In Paris, a start-up called Guppy is on a mission to relieve the river of the many rusting vehicles lurking on its bed by groups of volunteers using magnetic fishing rods.
But who is responsible for putting them in there in the first place? Again, no one really knows.
In Marseille, local media reports have blamed schoolchildren who were just fooling around. According to Lime, the situation in Marseille is not worse than in any other cities. It’s possible that the problem gets worse at certain times, such as during the holiday season.
But it can’t just be children throwing bikes into the river. Disgruntled pedestrians? Mindless rioters? The Liberation newspaper has speculated that it could even be rival companies throwing each other’s models into the water. But there is no evidence of this.
The fact that e-scooters and bicycles are ending up in the water is not only bad for the rental companies, but also for the environment.
“Lithium batteries contain environmentally hazardous substances that are dangerous and toxic to the aquatic environment, ” says Anita Schmidt of Germany’s Institute for Materials Research and Testing.
However, it would probably be several years before these substances started leaking from a battery under the water. That would be the amount of time it would take for the dangerous substances to start penetrating the outer casing of the battery. – dpa