Electric scooters, bikes, and mopeds seem to be on every street corner, waiting for commuters, travelers, and those just looking to sightsee to take advantage of their convenience, affordability, and accessibility. These vehicles are the newest micromobility solution — already implemented in more than 60 cities and driving a shift in transportation that is greatly impacting our cities and infrastructure.
While there are few criteria that define micromobility, it is often characterized as transportation using lightweight vehicles such as bicycles or scooters, particularly electric ones. Micromobility has some incredible benefits — including the ability to provide a solution to the first mile/last mile problem as well as helping to reduce congestion and improving air quality — however, a few valid concerns around regulation have emerged after introduction in several cities across Europe, the U.S., and Asia.
Benefits and challenges include:
1. Integration is integral, but not always done - Micromobility works best when it’s integrated into the public transit system from the very beginning to ensure it complements other transportation modes and infrastructure. Unfortunately, many cities have not done this, for several reasons, the primary being that the new tech infrastructure that supports micromobility is challenging to add to the older systems. other reasons could be that cities have limited or no access to manageable and flexible system to help connect the micromobility world with the public transit world, or a lack of information from mobility providers — including the billing and riders accounts — resulting in the use of multiple apps to request and pay for rides.
Additionally, since micromobility operators are most often tech companies, when micromobility isn’t fully integrated into the transit system, they’re unable to provide valuable insights into the usage of their services, including pain points, demographics, usage and more. Without integration, other issues like theft, vandalism, parking, storage and even weather conditions can arise and cause greater roadblocks.
2. It’s a simple solution to underserved transit areas - One of the most pressing challenges facing public transportation today is the first mile/last mile problem: when a commuter is over a walkable distance from their necessary transit stop, whether that be from their home or to their destination, and there are no alternative secondary transit routes. Micromobility not only provides an easy, efficient, and fun way for commuters to get around, but it also allows for individuals who live in areas that have been historically underserved by public transportation to have greater access to more modes of transportation.
3. Safety can be a challenge for users and other travelers - Like integration, some cities simply lack the infrastructure needed to accommodate micromobility vehicles. Travelers riding an electric vehicle often must either use road lanes (which are used by trucks, cars, and buses) or sidewalks (which are used by pedestrians), making it a dangerous situation for all parties involved. The most viable option to ensure micromobility users and others are safe is bike lanes. While some cities are constructing or expanding their bike lanes or using specific traffic regulations on speed and safety gear, there are still gaps in infrastructure that are causing safety issues to arise.
4. There’s a potential to alleviate traffic congestion - While research and data that officially proves this statement is still forthcoming, many cities report massive improvement to traffic congestion when micromobility was introduced. Additionally, since many cities have not yet fully integrated micromobility, we could see even better impacts on traffic congestion once micromobility is fully established.
5. When data is involved, robust security protocols are required - If one of the goals of micromobility is to help alleviate public transit system problems, sharing data with municipalities is a necessary component. Therefore, robust security protocols based on specific, well-justified needs must be implemented to protect this data and anonymise it. Modern encryption technology like this exists, AI being one example, and has been built to ensure the highest security standards are maintained, even in a business that collects so much user and usage data.
6. Micromobility means less driving and gas emissions, and better air quality - In 2019, there were more than 130 million micromobility-powered rides in the U.S. Now, imagine if those trips had been made with a car. With the introduction of micromobility, there is a great potential to reduce the number of times a commuter uses their personal vehicle which in turn lowers gas emissions and improves air quality in cities.
While these six benefits and challenges barely scratch the surface of the benefits and challenges of micromobility, it’s clear that this shift in mobility has the potential to change the way we think about traffic, transportation, quality of life, and even the environment. As more and more cities begin to deploy various modes of micromobility, it is important to continue thinking critically about these new mobility solutions to bolster infrastructure and benefit users in the most impactful way.
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