What does London stand to gain from more people travelling on bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters? In this section, we look at the potential benefits for Londoners of an increase in the use of micromobility to get around.
The Mayor of London has set a target for London to be carbon neutral by 2030. Transport in London contributes a significant share of the city’s carbon emissions, with all transport (including for industrial uses) making up 25.2 per cent of all of the city’s emissions. 70
Evidence about carbon emitted by different types of vehicle continues to grow, and this is a quickly moving field. In this report, we seek to provide a summary of the evidence as it stands. The emissions of vehicles will vary depending on a range of factors, including the source of energy used to produce and (if applicable) fuel them, how long a vehicle lasts before it has to be replaced, and even the level of congestion in a city. Interestingly, shipping micromobility vehicles from one country to another does not significantly affect the emissions of that vehicle over its lifetime unless it is shipped by aircraft.
Different types of transport are associated with different levels of carbon emissions for the same distance travelled. For instance, one study suggests that a privately owned car with a conventional (combustion) engine will emit 162.0g of CO2 per passenger per km (pkm) travelled over that vehicle’s lifetime (see figure 2). This compares with 91.4g CO2/pkm for a bus with a battery electric engine, and 248.8g CO2/pkm for a taxi with a battery electric engine.
Most modes of micromobility emit considerably less than a privately owned car, with a privately owned bike emitting the least (90 per cent less than a private car) and a shared e-scooter emitting the most (34 per cent less). The relative emissions of different modes varies between contexts of different cities and as technology improves. For instance, one recent study by EY, sponsored by e-scooter operator Voi, found that their e-scooters in Paris emit the equivalent of 35g CO2/pkm – considerably lower than the estimate described by the graph above. This may be due to differences in methodology, context of operations, the improvement of technology, or some mix of the three.
Variation in the emissions of different types of micromobility vehicle are mainly due to the emissions associated with producing each vehicle and the distance it travels before it needs to be replaced, any operational services associated with using the vehicle, and the fuel required to operate the vehicle (if any). In general, electric micromobility vehicles tend to have higher emissions than human-powered vehicles because of the production process and the requirement of fuel, much of which is generated using fossil fuels. It is worth noting that the extraction of raw materials required for the batteries of electric micromobility vehicles is also associated with both environmental and social costs.
Shared micromobility vehicles tend to have higher emissions than privately owned vehicles. 71 This difference is due mainly to two factors. One is that some shared vehicles have relatively short life spans due to a range of factors including improper use and vandalism, meaning that each vehicle travels a shorter distance than a private vehicle before it has to be replaced, generating carbon in doing so. At the same time, shared vehicles are often built to be more robust than many private vehicles. The other factor is that shared vehicle schemes require vehicles to be regularly transported to a different part of the city to keep up with where demand for vehicles is likely to be. For instance, if someone rides a shared bike from a densely populated area where their office is based to a less densely populated area where they live, then the operator of that scheme may need to transport that vehicle back to where they picked it up so that someone else can access it easily. This generates carbon emissions. On the other hand, shared micromobility schemes can enable more people to access public transport (see ‘How travel in London could change’, above), which could support wider mode shift from driving private cars.
The emissions profile of shared micromobility vehicles could improve over time if a higher proportion of electricity is produced using renewable means 72, if more robust vehicles are developed which have a longer lifespan, or if other efficiencies due to better technology are realised. Work is currently ongoing on these fronts, for instance to increase the lifespan of e-scooters from the current average of between two and five months to up to three years. 73 Evidence suggests that new iterations of shared e-scooters have a considerably smaller carbon footprint than the previous generation. 74 Increasingly, operators are using electric vehicles to transport the e-bikes or e-scooters that they are responsible for, further reducing their emissions. Continuing technological development, in combination with the growing proportion of electricity in the UK that is generated via renewable energy sources, could mean that the gap between the carbon emissions of a privately owned car and e-micromobility, including shared vehicles, will continue to grow.
Evidence from a study covering a selection of cities in Europe suggests that people who cycle on a daily basis emit much less (84 per cent less) carbon from their daily travel than those who don’t, with those who cycle or walk more often emitting less still than those who do so less often. 75 According to this study, those who cycled more often were most likely to emit less carbon in their travel to or from work or education and for social or recreational trips, though there was a smaller difference for their shopping and personal business trips and business travel. Taking into account the carbon generated by making the vehicle, charging it, and disposing of it, this study found that carbon emissions from cycling can be more than 30 times lower for each trip than driving a fossil fuel car, and 10 times lower than driving an electric one. People who live in cities who switch from driving to cycling for just one trip per day reduced their carbon footprint substantially; by what the authors claim to be the equivalent of a one-way flight from London to New York each year.
Encouraging people to use privately owned cars less often and micromobility and public transport more often would therefore reduce carbon emissions from transport in London.
In 2021, the UK made history by recording its first ever case of air pollution as a cause of death. 76 The coroner ruled that poor air quality had made a ‘material contribution’ to nine year old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death. Air pollution is estimated to have caused 3,600 to 4,100 deaths in London in 2019. 77 The effects of air pollution on human health are varied, with longer term health effects ranging from severe coughing and exacerbating existing respiratory issues, all the way up to asthma, pulmonary disease and lung cancer. 78 Studies also suggest that air pollution can stunt the growth of children’s lungs. 79 Over the pandemic, it has been found that living in an area of poor air quality was correlated with higher COVID-19 mortality rates. 80
The key forms of dangerous pollutants emitted by road transport are Nitrogen Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Lead, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Polychlorinated Biphenyls. 81 These all primarily come from the exhausts of petrol and diesel road vehicles. 82 If more people opt for different modes of transport, or switch to electric and low emission vehicles, there would be better air quality in London.
The second factor that effects air quality is congestion, many combustion engine-based vehicles are less efficient when operating in a stop-start fashion. This is because stop start driving with lots of acceleration and deceleration, and stops and starts forces the engine to operate at its lowest efficiency, as it forces the engine to work harder. 83 If there were fewer cars and other large road vehicles on the roads, there would be less congestion for the remainder – thus increasing air quality.
The London environment strategy states the Mayor aims for London to have the best air quality of any major city by 2050, with the plan being to reduce car use and move to a zero emission transport system by 2050. 84 This includes measures like supporting the use of zero emission-capable taxis, electric buses, supporting low emission freight and an expansion in electric vehicle charging points. Micromobility solutions like bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters could also play a major role, as being electric they do not themselves at the point of use emit any of the harmful chemicals that are harmful to human health. Micromobility vehicles go further than electric cars to achieving reduced pollution in London by requiring less energy to power the same number of passengers over the same distance. 74
Although emissions and air pollution from road transport have been declining in recent years, in London, privately owned cars currently emit 8,133 tonnes of NOx a year, 1,245 tonnes of PM10, and 661 tonnes of PM2.5. 86 These are the three most dangerous emissions caused by road transport. As described earlier in this report, two thirds of car trips in London could be cycled in 20 minutes or less. To get a sense of the order of magnitude of how much of an impact could be had if people switched from driving these trips to using micromobility, consider the following calculation. The calculation assumes that (1) the car trips that could be cycled in 20 minutes or less tend to emit approximately half as much as the average car trip, (2) that with a shift to micromobility in the future, 20 per cent of these trips were made via micromobility instead of by car, and (3) that travel by micromobility results in a two thirds reduction in emission of harmful pollutants. A rough calculation tells us that this could result in a reduction of harmful pollutants of about 361 tonnes of NOx, 55 tonnes of PM10 and 29 tonnes of PM2.5.
The use of road vehicles in London, measured by the total distance travelled, has been steadily increasing over the last decade. Total road kilometres travelled increased from 30.1 million in 2009 to 36.4 million in 2019, 87 with London drivers on average spending 149 hours of 2019 in traffic, costing the economy an estimated £4.9 billion. 88 High volumes of traffic are correlated with reduced quality of life and economic productivity, as studies have shown that being stuck in congestion on the way to and from work makes people less happy and productive. 89 Where cycle ways have been implemented in London, one study found that they did not have a negative impact on congestion.
It remains to be seen to what extent Londoners who have been able to work from home during the pandemic will return to their usual place of work as case numbers fall. Whatever transpires on the city’s streets congestion is likely to continue to be significant in the medium term. It is clear that cycling, and other modes of micromobility, can play a significant role in supporting those Londoners to travel to and from their place of work, helping to reduce car journeys and so reducing congestion. 90
Improved access to sustainable and active modes of travel
Getting around London is easier for some Londoners than others, based on where in the city they live. A range of factors, including higher population density in the centre than in outer London, tend to make it a quicker area to travel around without a car, with services more likely to be within walking or cycling distance and public transport hubs close by for trips further afield. About one third of Londoners live in areas with the lowest public transport accessibility levels, a measure used by Transport for London to gauge access to public transport, combining how long it takes to walk to the network (e.g., bus stop) and typical wait times for a service. 91
Access to micromobility is also unevenly distributed in London at present, with residents of inner London more likely to cycle than those in outer London (see Part 3 below). Improving access to micromobility could help all Londoners, and especially those in outer London, to travel around their local area more easily or to use public transport to travel to other parts of the city or elsewhere.
Currently, cycling is the most used form of micromobility in London. The most common purpose of a cycling journey is for commuting to work. 92 Over 10 per cent of cycle trips in London are made in a social capacity, 13 per cent are made for shopping, while eight per cent are made to travel to a place of education. 93
Newer forms of micromobility, such as e-bikes can enable people to travel farther for the same amount of physical exertion than they would be able to on a conventional bike. Meanwhile, e-scooters, which do not require the rider to pedal, could appeal to a wide portion of the population, including those for whom the physical exercise required to cycle doesn’t appeal. In addition, providing short term rental for micromobility is one way to reduce the financial barrier to using a bike, e-bike, or e-scooter. Cycling tends to be used for shorter distance trips than private cars (see the section ‘Where we are now,’ above). Inner London is better suited to shorter trips than outer London because of its higher density of people, shops, services, and offices. Much cycling infrastructure has historically been built to suit the needs of commuters who travel in and out of inner London, with a radial pattern of cycle lanes surrounding the centre of the city. The needs of people seeking to travel locally, especially in outer London, for instance to school, to the doctor, or to visit neighbours, has been paid less attention (see the section ‘Distribution of the benefits of micromobility’).
Approximately 61 per cent of the trips made by the average Londoner are either for education (e.g., the school run), shopping and personal business, or leisure. 94 Many of these trips are likely to be relatively short, to local schools or businesses. A minority of these trips are taken via micromobility. If better infrastructure, such as cycle lanes and safe, secure parking for micromobility were provided locally, more of these journeys might be possible on micromobility for more people. There is evidence that recent investment in cycling infrastructure in European cities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in cycling in those areas that it was introduced. 95 In response to a survey in 2016, 17 per cent of cyclists in London cited improved cycling infrastructure in the city as a reason that they had started cycling. 96 The introduction of well-planned Low Traffic Neighbourhoods which join up with each other and existing cycle networks is one way of improving cycling infrastructure in London; Centre for London will consider this topic in a forthcoming report. Across London, improving access to micromobility could make a significant difference, providing people with more choice about how they travel in their area
Many journeys involve the use of two or more types of transport, such as cycling to a train station and catching a train to within walking distance of your destination. Increasing access to micromobility could open opportunities to take these kinds of trips to more Londoners. Areas with a combination of relatively poor access to public transport and relatively high population density are concentrated in outer London. 97 Here, improvements to cycling infrastructure in areas surrounding transport hubs such as train stations could enable considerably more Londoners to access public transport, increasing the travel choices available to them.
There are reasons to think that the availability of shared vehicles can help to improve access to micromobility as a mode of transport in areas where space for parking infrastructure tends to be scarcer, such as in inner London. For instance, Santander Cycles, a subsidized shared bike scheme in London, has a staffed hub at Waterloo station where, before the COVID-19 pandemic, it facilitated an estimated 1,300 cycle trips each day. 98 Where parking space is more constrained, TfL argue that shared schemes such as this can provide a ‘space-efficient alternative to complement standard cycle parking facilities’. 99 At Waterloo Station, TfL estimate that providing equivalent levels of cycle parking for private cycles would require over two square kilometres of additional space. Additionally, many existing homes do not have space to comfortably fit a bike, e-bike or e-scooter. Increasing the availability of shared vehicles is one way to improve access to micromobility for people who live in such homes, alongside providing cycle hangars for private micromobility vehicles on residential streets. Shared micromobility schemes can be delivered in a variety of ways, including docked and dockless models – one potential delivery mode is mobility hubs (see Box 3).
Box 3: Mobility hubs
One way to improve the availability of shared vehicles, including bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters, is the provision of mobility hubs, located within walking distance of a substantial number of people.
Mobility hubs are public spaces where shared vehicles, such as bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters, and shared cars are parked together to be picked up and dropped off. By connecting people with shared modes of micromobility, they can also connect people to public transport – for instance, someone who lives a long walk from a public transport hub may be able to pick up a shared bike at their local mobility hub and shorten their journey.
CoMoUK, who provide accreditation of mobility hubs, describe their three key characteristics:
- Co-location of public and shared mobility mode.
- The redesign of space to reduce private car space and improve the surrounding public realm.
- A place or sign which identifies the space as a mobility hub which is part of a wider network and ideally provides digital travel information. 100 Mobility hubs could play a role in improving micromobility infrastructure in London which could help to reduce the barriers that some people in London face to accessing shared micromobility.
Improving access to local services and to public transport will benefit Londoners. It will also benefit businesses, who stand to gain from increased footfall if people are able to travel more easily in their area. While there is little robust evidence on the impact of investment on active travel infrastructure on businesses in the UK, the growing body of case study evidence suggests that they deliver significant benefits to consumers and businesses. 101 To illustrate one way in which better infrastructure could improve business in an area, one study found that tourists in Australia who used e-scooters were able to visit more destinations in a day and spend more money on the local economy. 102
Good public transport has also been found to be associated with better access to services and a higher chance of being employed. 99 Further, increasing access to micromobility can itself have benefits for the health of Londoners by enabling more people to travel in a way that involves physical activity. Riding bikes and e-bikes is associated with improved physical health. 106 E-scooters don’t require riders to pedal, so if e-scooter journeys replace to a substantial degree those that would have been taken by riding a bike or e-bike could have negative consequences for the amount of active travel people do. 99 However, riders are likely to walk more by riding an e-scooter than driving a private car, especially if they use it in conjunction with public transport. Generally, enabling more people to switch from driving a privately owned car to riding micromobility is likely to come with health benefits for Londoners.
Case study: Utrecht Stationspleinstalling (Station bicycle parking garage)
In August 2019, the Dutch city of Utrecht opened and completed its station bicycle parking garage. With space for 12,500 cycles, the Stationspleinstalling is the largest bike parking garage in the world, and is designed specifically as a part of the station to fully integrate cycling with the wider transport network. 108 This is important as 40 per cent of visitors to the station arrive via bike. 109 The project was jointly financed by the state-owned railway infrastructure company, the City of Utrecht, the Dutch Ministry of Transport and the European Union. 110 Construction of the site had to take place in stages to allow the station to remain fully operational during the building phase.
Built on three floors, the building is designed with ramps and cycleways to allow the entire site to be traversed via bike. An automated signage system directs cyclists to the most convenient available parking spot. 111 The underground level has integrated access to the platforms, making it easy to cycle into the garage and take an onward train. 112
The Stationspleinstalling offers a vision of how cycling and other forms of micromobility can be more integrated with public transport infrastructure. By providing an easy way to securely store bikes at the station, it is easier to use a bike to get to the station, or to go from the station to another destination. While some stations in London have bike storage, it is often limited or located a distance from the station itself. The difference the Stationspleinstalling offers is how tightly integrated it is with the station, since it is possible to ride a bike directly into the garage, which is attached to the station, simply and securely store it for the day, and walk down a set of stairs directly to the platforms
While a parking facility on this scale will not be possible at some London stations, especially those in inner London, the Stationspleinstalling offers lessons for the kinds of features that are likely to encourage more people to use micromobility and public transport together.