Is Micromobility the Next Mobility Evolution?

November 26, 2019
By Vanessa Young

Over the past few years, we’ve seen e-scooters and dockless bicycles appear in our cities. With the rise in and demand for single-occupant vehicles, is the right digital and physical infrastructure in place to support this third-speed vehicle class for the microtransit space?

What is Micromobility?

Micromobility is faster than walking, slower than cars and has been classed as a form of transport that can occupy space alongside bicycles. However, this can cause challenges for users and governments as these bike lanes are being leveraged in ways that weren’t originally intended. It is also an opportunity to be innovative with this public infrastructure by repurposing footpaths and kerbs to support transport for first-mile and last-mile travel.

Micromobility is changing the way we look at first-mile and last-mile travel by connecting people to mass transit. With cities facing rapid population growth, there will be a greater need to support citizens in moving through existing transportation networks. Although mass transit like public transport remains the most efficient way of moving large groups of people across long-distances, the issue still remains for getting commuters from and to this transit.

If getting to a bus or train is too difficult for a person, they are more likely to use their personal vehicle or could even potentially opt to not travel at all. This can cause many repercussions such as contributing to congestion on our roads, adding to car emissions and undertaking less physical exercise that would be achieved through this travel. Hence, micromobility solutions are increasing access to transportation and are becoming an important part of the multimodal journey.

A map detailing first-mile and last-mile travel pedestrians all over the world experience, an opportunity Spot Parking seeks to capitalize
Photo from CBInsights

Are Cities Equipped for Micromobility?

The industry is still very much in its early stages and has definitely come across some challenges. Vandalism, theft and injury are persistent issues with micromobility. In Australia, we have seen countless dockless bicycles end up in places they do not belong or even damaged beyond repair. The process of retrieving, charging, and balancing these vehicles can be a costly and labor-intensive procedure. As an alternative, providers are also flooding the market and streets with their vehicles rather than constantly re-distributing assets to make sure a scooter or bike is nearby when a rider wants one.

There are also issues with user compliance with the company, and company compliance with the government. For example, the Australian Road Rules specify that “the rider of a bicycle must wear an approved bicycle helmet securely fitted and fastened on the rider’s head.” This can be a challenge to obey when there are more often than not, no helmets with or near dockless bicycles. Providers are responding to these type of issues as well as those to do with parking and unlocking of assets by experimenting with a range of behavioural nudges like rewards, additional fees and mandatory educational exercises.

Governments and Micromobility Providers Both Have Important Roles to Play

Cities should welcome micromobility if it can further their city’s goals, such as improving congestion, enriching multimodal journeys and reducing citizens’ carbon footprints. Micromobility assets can also benefit governments by having them and providers determine the appropriate technical standards, APIs, and types of data to be shared. This data can help city leaders have the necessary information to make informed policy to improve their city’s mobility landscape. It will also require providers to be proactive in addressing city concerns by introducing measures to increase the safety and education of riders, as well as reduce vandalism and assets from being damaged through technology and monetary implications, like asset tracking and fines.

With the many potential benefits of micromobility, there is still the challenge of finding the balance between considering the public’s interest and seeking innovations that support the broader transportation system and those who use it. It will require the development of relationships and trust between all parties, cities, citizens and service providers, to learn from the data that is coming in, allow these assets to be used on our streets and accept new entrants to enter the market. By doing so, everyone can be prepared for this next mobility evolution, which will see multimodal travel really come into the picture and the way we move people and goods changed forever.

Modii is a part of this mobility shift. We provide foundation data to Mobility-as-a-Service providers, which includes micromobility providers, to support their digital infrastructure in becoming more efficient, accurate and connected.

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