Written by: Sara Dennis
In the last few years the rise of electric scooters, shareable bicycles (both electric and regular), etc. has been hard to ignore. These mobility services deemed ‘shared micro-mobility’, are changing the way we think about transportation and the infrastructure it uses. For one, they’re clearly popular. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), there were 35 million micro-mobility trips taken in 2017 in the United States alone. In 2018, the number more than doubled with a total of 84 billion shared micro-mobility trips. Shared micro-mobility isn’t only popular in the US though, shared bicycles are the 3rd most popular mode of public transit in China, and there are scooter and shared bicycle companies on every continent.
They’re popular, but are they efficient?
Of course it depends on where you are going, but in general, yes micro-mobility is efficient. In the US more than half of car trips are less than 5 miles, and the average American loses about 97 hours a year due to traffic congestion. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has even said that “During rush hour, it is very inefficient for a one-ton hulk of metal to take one person 10 blocks” (Financial Times). If more people are using micro-mobility options to go short distances, there are less cars on the roads, less traffic and less emissions caused from cars idling.* Furthermore, micro-mobility exists in spaces already occupied by bicycles. While cities may add more multi-use trails and lanes to roads, no new specific infrastructure is needed to support micro-mobility.
Even so, mass transit is still the most effective way to move large amounts of people, but oftentimes there is a sizeable enough gap between the take-off point/destination and the public transportation, that dissuades people from taking public transportation – termed the first/last-mile problem. Micro-mobility can help close this gap by making it easier (and possibly more fun) to get to your public transportation option. Additionally, micro-mobility is usually cheap, and thus more affordable and accessible than owning a car. NACTO reported that 30% of micro-mobility companies provided discounted memberships for low-income people by the end of 2018. To further advance accessibility, cities can also require companies to distribute scooters or bicycles evenly throughout neighborhoods, or in specific low-income neighborhoods, to ensure that underserved areas have fair access to them.
While some cities have banned scooters, many cities are embracing the various micro-mobility companies that approach them. Personally, we’re excited for the future and possibilities that micro-mobility can bring. What do you think about micro-mobility? Is there anything keeping you from trying it out?
*Note: Shared mobility should in theory reduce greenhouse gas emissions as they are much lighter and energy efficient to operate than cars. However, there is an unknown carbon impact from the use of vans and trucks to collect, charge and redistribute e-scooters and e-bikes.
1. Shared Micromobility in the U.S.: 2018. National Association of City Transportation Officials, 2019.
2. The Micromobility Revolution: How Bikes And Scooters Are Shaking Up Urban Transport Worldwide. CB Insights, 2019.
3. Zarif, Rasheq, et al. “Small Is Beautiful: Making Micromobility Work for Citizens, Cities, and Service Providers.” Deloitte Insights, Deloitte , 15 Apr. 2019.