Micromobility is Just Getting Started

Micromobility has gone through a period of rapid expansion, contraction and everything in between over the past five years.  As scooter operators began to introduce their services into cities, there immediately sparked the possibility of new modalities serving as catalysts for sustainable modal shift and alignment with public policy goals.  However, as shared fleets convulsed and shifted across the continent, there left much to be desired.  As a result, the ecosystem experienced its share of frictions and pain points.  

The COVID pandemic only intensified this dynamic, first with service shutdowns and then with incremental re-launches. However, the silver lining throughout it all was the fact that cities and municipalities took notice and seriously began to consider micromobility as part of their sustainable mobility toolboxes. As momentum is now building across the landscape, we look at the four reasons why micromobility is just getting started.  

Consumer Demand

Consumer demand across the micromobility value chain over the past four years has seen one of the most dramatic shifts across the entire mobility landscape. As we emerge from the COVID pandemic and ridership declines across all shared modes, there are many indicators that point to a resurgence in the consumer demand for micromobility. According to the latest Fluctuo European Shared Mobility Index, the European shared mobility sector has seen a 20% increase in ridership levels in Q3 2022 when compared to the same period in 2021

In addition, shared micromobility ridership in the U.S. nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, according to a report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).  NACTO Executive Director indicated in a statement that “Shared micromobility’s ongoing recovery and growth are signs that people have permanently adjusted their travel behavior”.  Finally, the global micromobility value pools are expected to grow 9% per year to reach around $260 billion by 2025, according to the latest report by McKinsey.  

Infrastructure

The investment and expansion of infrastructure is another indicator of the maturity of the micromobility market, and how cities and municipalities are now taking shared modes seriously.  During a recent webinar hosted by America Walks, Janette Sadik-Khan, former New York City Transportation Commissioner and Principal at Bloomberg Associates spoke about the trend in some areas of reallocating street space for people instead of cars is good for business, and that a trend of of cities lowering speed limits could make streets safer for pedestrians.  

Also, there are grant funding opportunities for cities linked to 2021’s infrastructure package, including the Safe Streets and Roads for All program, with $5 billion intended to help prevent roadway deaths, and Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grants, which have $1.5 billion available in 2023.  

Micro-Mobility for Europe (MMfE), the EU-wide organization of e-scooter operators recently published a position on the integration of micromobility within SUMPs (sustainable urban mobility plans) and expansion of shared mobility infrastructure.  In the position paper, MMfE calls for introducing pop-up bike lanes, which is one step towards redistributing urban space equitably. Ideally, these bike lanes are separated from traffic with more than just paint.

According to shared mobility expert Augustin Friedel, multiple European cities have reallocate road infrastructure for creating bike lanes and parking areas dedicated for e-scooters, bikes, and mopeds.  The micro mobility parking infrastructure is now being expanded in cities across Europe to so-called mobility hubs, where citizens could also find other modes of shared mobility or access to public transit.

Policies & Regulations

Micromobility policies and regulations are another area in which the sector is receiving clarity and support from the public sector.  Most e-scooter operators have been begging cities and municipalities to provide better direction as to how devices are to be operated in public spaces, number of fleets, and consistency and harmonization.  

What we are seeing now is a transformation and maturity by policy makers to clarify original regulations that were initially drafted when micromobility entered the scene several years ago.  As such, many cities in North America and Europe are undertaking a “reboot” of their legislation, considering factors such as sidewalk riding, parking, speed limits, age restrictions and other factors.  

The New Urban Mobility Alliance has compiled a comprehensive list of policies across the globe that provide a better picture into the current status of how micromobility is being regulated in the public realm.  Also, The International Transport Forum has drafted a position paper analyzing regulations that support non-motorised mobility in Bogotá and Mexico City. It reviews the promotion of bicycles as a sustainable alternative to cars and the rapid implementation of cycling lanes as a substitute for public transport under the Covid-19 crisis. It also discusses the renewed interest in support for dock-less micromobility sharing systems.

Tenders & RFPs

The wide proliferation of micromobiltiy tenders and RFPs indicate that cities and municipalities view shared modes as an integral part of the sustainable urban mobility landscape.  We are now seeing new tenders being published on a weekly basis in 2023 across Europe and North America, all of which are seeking to better regulate and position micromobility within wider public policy goals.  The wider trend is a pivot away from short-term pilot projects to multi-year operational concession agreements between providers and cities.  

The new tenders & RFPs now being released just in the past six months indicate the direction in which the public sector is going with regards to closer collaboration with (and higher expectations of) private shared providers.  These main components of the new tenders now place greater emphasis on: 1.) fleet sizes, 2.) maximum number of operators, 3.) sidewalk riding and parking compliance, 4.) speed and age limits, 5.) data sharing and 6.) city center geofencing zones.  

Conclusion 

We have been through a tumultuous time in the wider mobility ecosystem, but even more so within the micromobility sector.  For a while, it was questioned whether the industry would even be able to sustain and recover.  While there are indeed challenges ahead, such as profitability and comprehensive business models, there is much reason to now be bullish.  The combination of 1.) strong consumer demand, 2.) new infrastructure, 3.) smart policies & regulations and 4.) wide proliferation of public tenders & RFPs give a clear indication of a strengthening and maturing market.  And one that is here to stay!

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