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Developing Successful Micromobility Programs
Kicking the Tires: Lessons for Building a Micromobility Program
In Part 1, we reviewed the first generation of micromobility pilot programs, with special attention to equitable distribution to transit deserts in lower income neighborhoods. This article takes a holistic view of developing successful micromobility programs.
Without a doubt, e-scooters and e-bikes are popular. However, many operational problems persist with respect to safety, parking, and supportive infrastructure. How can communities and campuses start?
Manufacturers use something called a “Whole Product Wheel” to determine how a core product and associated goods and services work together in delivering a compelling product. For example, the customer experience with a new computer is not just a piece of hardware, but the software, customer support, training, peripherals, and internet service. What if we apply the same thinking to scooters?
In the graphic, the product wheel revolves around the product (scooters) and product goals, in this case the ability to satisfy short trips, provide access to transit and design for safety (note: goals will vary from place to place and have an influence on how the supporting elements are crafted). For shared scooters to succeed, there is a collection of supportive elements needed to create a sustainable service model. With the results from pilots, we can begin to understand the elements of a successful program.
What’s next for Micromobility
At this point in testing and scaling pilots, there are three main drivers for program development. First, cities need to address the three main challenges: safety, infrastructure, and parking. Second, and somewhat overlooked, is the fact that micromobility is still evolving. While scooter share quickly eclipsed e-bikeshare in early pilots, pedal-assist bikes could have greater impacts as an alternative to driving and congestion relief. Finally, commuters are beginning to purchase their own scooters and e-bikes; micromobility is more than just shared systems.
Safety: Scooter injuries and fatalities are on the rise. In 2018, Austin TX enlisted the Centers for Disease Control to study factors related to scooter crashes. Two main takeaways were the high proportions of incidents involving head injuries for riders not using helmets (45%), and incidents that occurred on a rider’s first trip (30%). In a recent study in San Diego, nearly half of the patients tested for alcohol were above the legal limit. Nearly 52 percent of those assessed for drug use tested positive. In all safety studies, riders were by and large not wearing helmets.
One trend is a move towards understanding the root causes of crashes. Virginia Tech is working with Spin to outfit scooters with sensors and cameras to better understand circumstances related to crashes and falls. In August, Skip launched a sturdier scooter better suited for shared fleets. Others are testing training sessions, larger wheels and disc brakes that are easier to use.
Infrastructure: Two items dominate infrastructure discussions. First, discussions as to whether scooters belong on sidewalks, in bike paths or in the street. Second, the condition of infrastructure, namely potholed streets, has led to finger pointing as to who holds responsibility.
The manufacturer Bird launched a program to help host cities upgrade infrastructure, however ceased funding when audits showed cities were not using funds as intended.
Many pilots showed the utility of scooters in first/last mile access to transit, which points to a need to prioritize walk and bike upgrades leading to stops and stations.
Parking: The dockless model promotes ubiquity, but is a primary complaint related to clutter and improperly parked vehicles. Cities and companies have been trying to resolve parking through incentives and penalties. Moreover, cities are creating designated parking areas on sidewalks and in streets.
Over the past six months, entrepreneurs have introduced scooter racks that serve as parking and recharging stations, in effect solving two problems at once. Spin posted a job for Head of Real Estate Partnerships to work with commercial, multifamily, and retail sectors. This could point to future arrangements where parking is offered on private properties in addition to public rights of way. Some cities, including Austin, TX, have begun requiring dedicated micromobility and shared vehicle parking spaces with land development projects in areas where use of such devices are prevalent.
There is a discernible trend towards companies offering multiple types of vehicles. Both Uber and Lyft are increasing fleets of scooters and e-bikes. Envoy Technologies are offering amenity fleets for individual buildings and development complexes that include electric cars, mopeds, and electric bicycles.
There are also companies that offer Do-It-Yourself shared-use programs. Ridecell offers turnkey operations including apps, vehicles and operations. Any organization, from a University to a local advocacy group, can build and manage its own scooter share fleet. In fact, public transit agencies could introduce vehicles as part of public transit’s mission to provide environmentally sustainable transportation.
Entrepreneurs are also testing new designs to produce lightweight, durable and affordable scooters for sale. The University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has found that electric scooters could represent an annual revenue opportunity of between $34 and $42 billion by 2025. If you are looking at micromobility overall, both shared and owned models increase demand for safer infrastructure and an integrated role in the transportation system
Program Development Takeaways
Looking forward, WGI will be paying attention to several areas:
Continued evolution: A new company, TryShared, has released a new vehicle that is a hybrid e-scooter and bicycle. This sit-down model promises longer distances and smoother, safer rides.
Walled Garden versus open mobility as a service: As large companies such as Uber and Lyft begin to add scooters and e-bikes to their offerings, transit and mobility agencies are seeking ways to ensure open access. Travel planning apps like Transit aim to aggregate all public and private services in one app. Large companies are signaling opposition, and instead keeping their collection of ride and vehicle share solely within their own app. As the number and variety of mobility services grow, it’s important to have open access to all providers for maximum choice and convenience.
Insurance and liability: Los Angeles was the first city to require insurance from scooter companies. Increasingly, those companies want riders to obtain coverage. However, few health care and auto insurance carriers are willing to consider dockless bikes and scooter risks due to potential risks. Time is likely a factor as more data rolls in for proper risk characterization and underwriting.
More attention to the trip making (not just the vehicle): Travelers crave more options for short trips, in particular those that are too far to walk, but too cumbersome for a short drive. These trips, between 1 and five miles, comprise a lot of local trips – and related traffic congestion. However, riders are reluctant to switch modes until they feel safe. New infrastructure is key to helping people make the switch.
In closing, dockless mobility represents a form of transportation with heaps of potential. It is rare to see transportation and technology combine in such a way to offer a new way to get around, while simultaneously offering a solution to the last-mile problem. Dockless mobility may be only a few years old, but citizens, municipalities, and even building owners are quickly learning to adapt to find ways to maximize its potential.
At WGI, we’ll help your community develop integrated micromobility plans and policies to capture benefits, limit risks and expand choices. From pilot project design to overall mobility planning, we can help you test, scale and incorporate innovative transportation into your community plans.
If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can read it here.
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