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Electric Micro-Mobility Transitions in Barcelona: Are They Good or Bad for Our Health?

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Photo: Mariona Gil / Barcelona City Council

[This article has been written by Natalie Mueller, Assistant Research Professor at ISGlobal, and Inés López-Dóriga, MSc in International Health and Cooperation]

Electric micro-mobilities (EMM) like e-bikes, e-scooters and e-mopeds, are emerging in many cities worldwide both as privately-owned vehicles and as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) operations. In Barcelona, the use of these new modes of transport has increased rapidly to almost 32,000 daily trips, representing 0.7% of total trips made in the city in 2018 (ATM, 2019). 

The increased uptake of these electric micro-mobilities, if managed well, could potentially help put the transport sector on a more sustainable trajectory, by reducing emissions. Moreover, the shared use of these vehicles is increasingly becoming popular, as it enables users to have convenient, individual, short-duration access to transport, without the burdens of ownership. There are foreseen long-term increases in the use of electric micro-mobilities in cities after the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore, it is relevant to understand the health implications of these emerging new forms of mobility. 

There are foreseen long-term increases in the use of electric micro-mobilities in cities after the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore, it is relevant to understand the health implications of these emerging new forms of mobility.

A research team at the Barcelona Institute of Global Health (ISGlobal) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), carried out a health impact assessment study to better understand the health mechanisms and impacts of electric micro-mobility use in Barcelona. We used data from the NewMob project, a mobility project funded by the Barcelona City Council that aims to analyse mobility patterns of electric micro-mobility use and gain insight into user profiles, as well as environmental and social impacts. For the NewMob project, over 900 electric micro-mobility users aged 16-65 years were recruited in the city in 2020. As part of the study, they reported on current and former transport behaviours and preferences. 

We modelled premature mortality impacts expected with a 5% and 10% increase in electric micro-mobility use in Barcelona. We accounted for the changes in exposure to air pollution and traffic hazards, and physical activity levels, while shifting from conventional modes of transport, meaning cars, motorcycles, public transport walking, conventional cycling, to the different electric micro-mobilities: shared e-bikes (Bicing), private e-scooters, and shared e-mopeds (various operators). We modelled impacts for Barcelona residents aged 16-65 years (N=1,073,592), because the NewMob project identifies this subpopulation as the potential electric micro-mobility users. We considered real-life modal shift data obtained from the NewMob surveys, indicating that currently only 4% of new electric micro-mobility trips have shifted from cars, 9% from conventional motorcycles/mopeds, 55% from public transport, 20% from walking, and 12% from conventional private or shared bikes.

Preventable deaths

We estimated that a 5% and 10% electric micro-mobility increase would represent an increase from 31,900 daily trips currently being made by electric micro-mobilities to over 276,600 and 521,500 daily trips, respectively. Shifting conventional car and motorcycle trips to electric micro-mobilities in Barcelona would result in 13 and 26 preventable deaths annually, for the 5% and 10% electric micro-mobility increase scenarios, respectively. However, shifting from walking and conventional cycling to electric micro-mobilities, would result in 17 and 25 additional premature deaths annually, respectively. 


The changes in physical activity, meaning the gains when shifting from cars and motorcycles to electric micro-mobilities or the losses when shifting from walking and cycling to electric micro-mobilities, explained these impacts and were stronger than effects of air pollution or traffic hazard exposure. 

For public transport, the health impacts depended on the exact electric micro-mobility mode shift: shifting from public transport to e-bikes and e-scooters resulted in health benefits, while shifting to e-mopeds resulted in reduced health. Again, these differences are explained by the associated gains or losses in physical activity.

The health impacts we found are in line with environmental impacts of electric micro-mobility mode shifts. Replacing the most passive modes of transport, meaning cars and motorcycles, with electric micro-mobilities, would reduce the carbon footprint and would result in health benefits. However, shifting from active modes of transport, meaning walking and cycling, that have the smallest carbon footprint, to electric micro-mobilities would have negative health effects.

A 55% shift from public transport 

Currently, the largest proportion of electric micro-mobility trips in Barcelona are the ones that are shifting from public transport (55%) and walking (20%), while the smallest proportion is shifting from cars (4%). This is the opposite of the desirable modal shift of shifting passive modes of transport to electric micro-mobilities for environmental and health benefits. The current “pull” policies that make electric micro-mobility use in Barcelona attractive, for example the available sharing systems, the relatively cheap-access, the good distribution of vehicles across the city, seem to attract especially pedestrians and public transport users, a trend that has potentially been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the distrust in public transport that it generated.

Given that walking and cycling are known to be most beneficial for good health outcomes, for public health promotion, active transport policies should always be prioritised. We believe that electric micro-mobility policies should be defined as complementary and not as competitors to active and public transport strategies. To increase health and environmental benefits, Barcelona needs more rigorous “push”policies that restrict and disincentivize private car and motorcycle use in the city, such as superblocks, low emission zones, or further reducing on-road car and motorcycle parking, in order to stimulate modal shifts from cars and motorcycles to, first and foremost, walking and cycling, and secondly, to electric micro-mobilities. 

To increase health and environmental benefits, Barcelona needs more rigorous “push”policies that restrict and disincentivize private car and motorcycle use in the city.

Safety concerns

There are important concerns regarding traffic safety and injury risk and whether current infrastructures can support the influx of electric micro-mobilities. For the uptake of electric micro-mobilities to function well in the overall urban transport system, clear rules and regulations need to be established and people need to be made aware of them. These regulations should provide designated road and parking space for each mode of transport in order to avoid conflicts and ensure traffic safety for all road users. Currently, in Barcelona, e-scooters and e-bikes are required to use bike lanes, or specific authorised roads with established speed limits of 30 km/h, but not sidewalks. E-mopeds are required to use roadways and dedicated parking spaces. The use of helmets is mandatory for e-mopeds and e-scooters. However, non-compliance of these established rules can be observed quite frequently and enforcement of regulations needs improvement .

As a final consideration, electric micro-mobility may be a mobility facilitator for multiple, potentially vulnerable collectives, such as elderly people who do not have the physical strength for conventional cycling and appreciate the electrical assistance of e-bikes, families who may benefit from transporting their children in e-cargo-bikes, residents who live in the city’s periphery or suburbs, and finally, groups that during and after the COVID-19 pandemic prefer individualised transport. Facilitating mobility for these collectives through electric micro-mobilities, could benefit their health and well-being, also through additional health pathways that the authors did not consider in the present analysis, such as reduced stress, increased enjoyability, flexibility and autonomy. 

Photo: Carlota Serarols / Barcelona City Council


The growth of electric micro-mobility use in cities, including Barcelona, is likely. If managed well, and mode shifts indeed occur from the most passive modes of transport, meaning cars and motorcycles, electric micro-mobilities can likely provide health and environmental benefits. On the other hand, mode shifts from walking and conventional cycling should be avoided as these shifts were found to be detrimental for health. To fully potentiate positive health and environmental impacts, electric micro-mobility policies should be developed complementary to active transport strategies, should integrate and connect electric micro-mobilities well into the existing transport system, facilitate shifts from the most passive modes of transport by making electric micro-mobilities attractive competitors in terms of time, money, ease of use to cars and motorcycles, and provide a clear legal framework and enforcement in terms of correct use and parking of electric micro-mobility vehicles.


Inés López-Dóriga, Guillem Vich, Sarah Koch, Sasha Khomenko, Oriol Marquet, Oriol Roig-Costa, Carolyn Daher, Davide Rasella, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Natalie Mueller, Health impacts of electric micromobility transitions in Barcelona: A scenario analysis, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Volume 96, 2022, 106836, ISSN 0195-9255,