A new wave of micro-mobility is surging through American streets and sidewalks. The term refers to docked and dockless bikeshare systems, e-bikes, e-scooters (some now with seats), hoverboards and single wheel rollers. They are exploding onto the urban scene. If you don’t know company names like Lime, Bird, Spin, or Jump Bike, for example, you will soon enough.
Looking ahead to 2019, three intersecting mobility trends to watch: integration, information and infrastructure.
First, people are—more and more—integrating their traditional transportation options (driving, rideshare, transit and old-fashioned walking) with so called “last mile” options, including bike- and scooter-sharing services. A whopping 88 million rides were taken on 42,000 bikeshare bikes in the 55 largest systems last year, with that number expected to keep soaring in 2019.
Bird and Lime report 10 million and 11.5 million individual scooter trips respectively over the past year. Lime says 40 percent of their city-based scooter trips start or end at a public transportation hub. Investors are placing big bets on the continued popularity of e-scooters, with more than $900 billion invested in scooter companies just in 2018. Both Uber and Google’s Alphabet Inc. invested in Lime, for example.
Second, traditional transportation providers (e.g. legacy car companies and transit agencies) are getting into the game by integrating with new mobility providers. Ford Motor Company recently invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Spin, an e-scooter company, and Ford also sells its own branded e-scooter through a company called Ojo. Just this month, General Motors unveiled two electric bikes to go on sale next year, and Lime announced a car sharing service in Seattle. It plans to scatter 1,500 Lime-branded cars around the city to pilot a free-floating car sharing program.
More than two dozen transit agencies across the U.S. are exploring partnerships with Uber and Lyft to offer “first- and last-mile” solutions connecting to mass transit. The city of Monrovia, Calif. is subsidizing Lyft rides, so travelers can go between any two points within its boundaries for a mere $0.50 (at 53,000 trips and counting), to expand mobility choices, address parking shortages and spur economic development.
We can hail an Uber from our phone, find a nearby e-scooter and even track a city bus in real-time. Now we can open a single app that allows us to access the myriad transportation options in our immediate vicinity. These apps will get better, cover more options and generate a treasure trove of big data in the coming year.
Cities like Denver and Austin offer an all-in-one transit app where users subscribe to one platform to access all their transportation options, from transit to scooters. Next up for 2019, Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio are expected to offer similar apps. Detroit, too, will be the home for a pilot mobility data project to help create a standard for cities and mobility companies to collect data—via origins and destinations, travel time and usage, and neighborhood usage. An app from researchers at the University of Maryland “gamifies” commuting by rewarding commuters with points that generate monetary prizes (like Amazon gift cards) for using public transportation and carpooling instead of driving alone.
More people accessing more types of transportation, moving through more spaces (including roadways, bike lanes and sidewalks) will create even more demand for upgraded infrastructure.
The number of protected bike lanes in the U.S. doubled every year since 2009—and cities are pursuing even more bike lanes to ease congestion and promote livable communities. At the same time, cities are starting to place strict limits on the numbers of bike share and scooter share permitted in service. Some rogue companies are operating without approvals, much like Uber in the early days. The Los Angeles Times even reports “scooter vigilantes” are waging guerilla war on dockless scooters, setting them on fire, tossing them off balconies or dumping them in the sea. Also, expect a push to both expand and widen bike lanes to accommodate more throughput from scooters and other devices. Perhaps they even get rebranded as “multi-use” lanes.
The Road Ahead
While not without challenges (safety topping the list), the rise of cheap, fun and omnipresent new mobility options is a good thing at many levels. It’s good for urban renewal, mobility equality and economic innovation. It’s good for mitigating traditional roadway congestion. And, it’s good for the environment—especially in the face of the devastating health and economic effects of climate change. Lest you think these alternative transportation options are just a passing fad, buckle up … the ride is about to get a lot more interesting.
John F. Fitzpatrick co-manages Stratacomm, a D.C.- and Detroit-based strategic communications consultancy specializing in transportation, energy and environment and infrastructure. He prefers to bike to work, but sometimes takes a bus/metro combo, Uber/Metro combo or he drives. He’s actively considering an electric car—and looks forward to a future where one will eventually drive him. You will, however, never catch him riding a scooter, hoverboard or single wheel roller.