Micromobility, as a definition, refers to a personal vehicle that can carry one or two passengers, travels under 15mph, and is ideally suited for trips of 5 miles and less. Bicycles are the most common and most well-known example. However, micromobility includes more than just bikes, other devices include, e-bikes, scooters, e-scooters, e-skateboards, and more.
Micromobility is one of the fastest-growing branches of transport. In recent years, popularity has also been driven by shared or rented bike and scooter schemes, such as those offered by the world's biggest mobility provider, Lime. In 2018, in the US alone, 84 million trips were made on shared mobility modes.
Read on to learn about the benefits of micromobility and post-pandemic, the potential for growth in the industry.
In this article:
- The Benefits of Micromobility
- Improving traffic & air pollution
- Helping to solve the first & last mile problem
- Lowering costs & adding convenience
- The impact of the coronavirus crisis
- The future: micromobility in a post-COVID-19 world
The Benefits of Micromobility
Improving Traffic & Air Pollution
Epidemics of congestion and pollution are currently being caused by rapid urbanization around the world. This is then placing increased demand and strain on many cities' transportation infrastructures. According to Forbes, Americans spent 99 hours sitting in traffic in 2019. On a societal level, traffic has many negative consequences, including heightened personal stress and frustration, and it can even lead to higher crime rates. With 46% of traffic caused in the US by cars on trips less than 3 miles, and considering micromobility devices are naturally suited to journeys of 5 miles and less, there is enormous potential for micromobility to help reduce congestion.
Environmentally, congestion also has severe ramifications. Traffic is one of the leading causes of pollution within cities, and with air pollution leading to the deaths of 7 million each year, reducing the number of polluting vehicles on the road is a top priority.
Micromobility devices present users with a more environmentally friendly travel option than that of other vehicles such as private cars. Although battery-powered micromobility devices like e-scooters do consume energy, a recent study suggests that shared scooter schemes on a per-mile basis produce about half as many grams of greenhouse gases as cars.
Helping to Solve the First & Last Mile Problem
Transportation planners are well aware that mass transit is the most efficient way of moving large numbers of people over distances. However, public transportation comes with the challenge of how to get users to and from a transit station or stop in the first place. Commonly known as "the first and last mile problem."
Micromobility provides a convenient and affordable solution to this problem. For instance, a user can ride a shared device to a bus or train stop, and then do the same thing on their return journey. Known as multimodal transportation, the combination of different mobility options in this way helps to encourage sustainable travel and pulls users away from potentially using a private car.
Lowering Costs & Adding Convenience
For users, micromobility devices provide them with a cost-effective way to travel. In fact, a study by Lund University of Copenhagen showed that it is 6 times more expensive to travel by car than by bicycle.
Convenience wise, micromobility has been boosted in recent years by the increase of shared bike or scooter schemes. Such schemes provide users with high levels of freedom, allowing the user to pick up and drop-off devices where it suits them, and removes the responsibility of having to own a device. The shared micromobility market is rapidly growing, and a recent report estimates the global bike and scooter rental market to rise to nearly $7 billion by 2026.
The Impact of the Coronavirus Crisis
The urban transportation industry was hit hard by the recent coronavirus pandemic, public transit ridership has experienced severe declines around the world. Interestingly, for micromobility, the impact has been mixed.
On the one hand, health concerns over the safety of public transportation have seen the purchase and use of personally owned vehicles skyrocket. For instance, VanMoof, a Dutch e-bike manufacturer, has reported an increase in sales of 50% compared to the year before. Similarly, in Australia, the city of Melbourne, also reported a surge in the number of bikers on cycle paths. In contrast, safety fears over the potential for virus spread on shared devices meant that several players in the micromobility industry temporarily removed their services from cities.
As lockdowns eased, the potential for shared micromobility schemes to help was seen. Lime, introduced Lime Aid, which provides free services for healthcare workers and law enforcement officers in several cities around the world. Similarly, Amsterdam based Dott, made their solution available for healthcare workers and supermarket personnel to safely get to work, without having to use public transport.
The Future: Micromobility in a Post-COVID-19 World
As the world begins to pull away from the height of the coronavirus pandemic, questions will be asked of the transportation industry, and what should be done longterm to encourage sustainable travel. Already, as cities seek to reduce car usage, infrastructures and services are being updated to support sustainable travel. In Rome, the city has recently launched its first-ever e-scooter scheme due to a new focus to lessen the city's environmental impact. Likewise, a change in priorities has resulted in the UK Government, announcing that that trials for allowing scooters on public roads would be brought forward to June 2020 (rather than as originally planned in 2021).
With the positive effects of lockdowns on air pollution well-cited and nervousness around public transit safety, it is almost certain that cities will look for more ways to reimagine mobility within them. As a convenient, sustainable, and flexible travel option, micromobility has vast potential to be a real winner. This is reflected in the estimations of market size. Recent analysis by Berg Insight suggests that in the case of the shared scooter market, although COVID-19 will cause lower than expected ridership numbers in 2020, it will not have a long term impact. By 2024, it is suggested that 4.6 million shared scooters will be in operation worldwide, a rise from 774,000 in 2019.
In recent weeks the world's first teleoperated scooter fleet pilot was launched, which effectively sees the scooter "delivered" to the rider. The development of such technology provides a glimpse of how the industry may evolve in the future, and it's through this evolution that micromobility will play an increasingly prominent part in the transportation systems of tomorrow.