Perspectives

Riding the Micro-mobility Wave: Challenges, Solutions, and Shaping Sustainable Cities

Multi Authors
Dec 18, 2023 / 5 min read

Mobility and sustainability have been closely linked for decades, with electric vehicles, car-sharing, and micro-mobility making up some of the most impactful trends of the last decade. More recently, however, the sustainable mobility landscape has shifted from one of abundant business opportunities to one rife with reputation and policy obstacles. 

In this article, we explore micro-mobility as a sustainable transportation solution, break down the perception and policy obstacles it faces, and recommend actions micro-mobility providers can take to drive policy change. 

Micromobility’s pandemic past and future outlook 

Micromobility – the use of hired transportation like (e-)bicycles or (e-)scooters – seems to represent an opportunity to combat large cities’ congestion problems, especially when looking to the future. Its share of total mobility worldwide is projected to increase to nearly 20% by 2035. 

The COVID-19 pandemic initially caused a lull in micromobility usage due to a reduced need for transportation within cities. The pandemic also reduced ridership of public transit, which has struggled to rebound to pre-pandemic levels in part because of increased transit crime rates in cities like San Francisco and New York. Now, micromobility is back in full swing, having become an ideal solution for consumers who want a private mode of transportation that is safer (by crime rate) than public transit and more affordable than driving, especially when gas prices are high. About 30% of respondents to a 2023 survey from the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility report they plan to increase their use of micromobility or shared mobility in the next decade.   

A perception problem 

So, what is hindering more people from considering micromobility as a viable mode of transportation? Barriers include a lack of recent bike-riding experience, inadequate integration with established public transit systems, and safety concerns about sharing roads with vehicles and pedestrians. These frustrations may be related to variations in adoption between specific communities and the general population. In some areas such as Washington D.C., research shows underserved communities can benefit from increased educational outreach, spatial access to vehicles, and discounted fares to encourage the use of e-bikes and e-scooters. In another instance, Spin, a San Francisco-headquartered electric scooter and bike service dominant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is primarily used by local college students but sees little uptake among the broader local population.  

There is also a disconnect between the uses of and value created by micromobility and the perception of that value among the general public and policymakers. For example, occasional e-scooter riders commonly associate them with leisure activities concentrated on weekends and evenings. Non-riders, meanwhile, have negative safety perceptions that stem from not knowing how to ride vehicles, though according to a 2020 study by the International Transport Forum, “e-scooter riders do not face a significantly higher risk of road traffic death or injury than cyclists.” Inconsistencies in regulations, such as sidewalk bans and parking limitations, between different cities reflect this disconnect and create confusion among new users, discouraging new sign-ups. 

The role of public policy 

City governments play a significant role in promoting or discouraging usage of micromobility through regulation and urban design (see Paris’s overwhelming vote to ban e-scooters, and Austin, Texas’s potential micromobility regulation). On the other hand, cities like London and Santa Monica are focused on making their streets more bike-friendly and designating emissions-free zones to reduce the usage of private gas cars. 

An increase in state and local rebate programs in the U.S. is also helping to incentivize e-bike sales, which in unit numbers have in fact outpaced electric car sales. Especially with the help of rebates, consumers can more easily afford e-bikes than EVs and can save money on gas by using gas-powered cars for fewer trips, showing policy can have a real impact on consumer choices. The result is already promising: a Denver study of early rebate users found that lower-income users who received vouchers used their e-bikes 50% more than standard voucher recipients. 

How micro-mobility companies can enact change 

Micromobility providers need to work together with city governments to ensure leaders understand the positive impact of their services on the community and to implement changes that will encourage adoption, from integrating micromobility into existing public transit to creating safer routes for users. Plans of action differ by company and market, but a broad roadmap that Trilligent could design for your company looks something like this: 

First, research and understand local communities. Learn the habits, needs, and pain points of your key market. Some ways we can achieve this are to conduct interviews, organize focus groups, and design surveys to help develop a narrative rooted in your local context. 

Second, identify your allies. Joining – or creating – interest groups or associations with a clear focus on sustainability and transportation spaces makes it that much easier to influence public policy. These groups can share existing research and resources with experts and other micromobility providers to amplify messages. 

Finally, create vivid case studies and awareness campaigns. In addition to research and data, bring your impact to life by building out cases that show the real-world benefits of micromobility, connecting people to the services they need most in a sustainable way. Trilligent can help you identify initiatives and programs such as zero-emission zones and rebates that have been used by cities around the world to promote the usage of e-bikes and e-scooters. We can use these to build campaigns that raise awareness among policymakers, for example, of how introducing shared micromobility beyond downtown areas can support lower-income residents by expanding their access to jobs, education, and services.  

RELATED ARTICLES

Perspectives
Can the Future of Work Help Save Our Planet?

May 26, 2023 / 4 min read
Perspectives
Creating a More Sustainable Future Through Tech
Iana Pervazova
May 12, 2023 / 5 min read