Driving

The future of micromobility: How short, shared rides are disrupting car travel

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Has your city caught onto the electric scooter craze? Alternative electric methods of travel are popping up in cities across the U.S. and they’re whizzing in with their own set of rules (and controversy).

Collectively known as shared micromobility, these new transportation trends offer alternative ways to travel short distances — and with 60% of all trips in the U.S. being under six miles, the opportunity for disruption is huge.

Keep reading to learn more about how micromobility is disrupting car travel across the U.S. and why you may not want to go carless just yet – or jump to our infographic for a visual guide.

Types of micromobility

Micromobility refers to small, lightweight vehicles driven at speeds below 25 km/h (15.53 mph). This type of transportation is designed to replace short car trips with a more eco-friendly option, while addressing other challenges such as traffic congestion. Micromobility also offers first/last mile solutions, helping to reduce the distance between a traveler’s origin/destination and the nearest transit station/stop.

Like most industries, the growth of shared micromobility has slowed in recent months due to COVID-19. However, many experts predict that these types of transportation will rebound and society will be spared from #scootergeddon.

While many modes of micromobile transportation aren’t new, smart technology is making them more accessible. Rather than buying a bicycle, you can borrow one for a short period of time and end your rental (and responsibility) once you arrive at your destination.

Here are popular modes of micromobility in cities today:

Bicycles

Cycling has many health benefits both for the rider and the local environment, as it reduces the need for car travel while improving mental well-being and health. Sustainable cities aimed at curbing their environmental impacts are encouraging citizens to hop on a bike through smart infrastructure projects such as protected bike lanes and cycling superhighways — more on that later.

 

E-bikes

Get the benefits of a bicycle without all the pedal pushing on an electric bike, also known as an e-bike. Battery-powered pedal assist lets you travel faster and more flexibly, especially when faced with hills and inclines. This form of travel is used in many of the shared bike systems in U.S. cities today.

 

Dockless scooters

The e-bike came first, but dockless scooters made bigger headlines when they rode into cities unannounced (no, seriously — the companies didn’t tell city officials they were coming). The multibillion-dollar industry has made city travel easier and arguably more fun, but the scooters haven’t been as quickly accepted as e-bikes in most metro areas due to safety concerns and their tendency to litter the streets.

 

E-skateboards

Skateboards are the next transportation trend going electric. London launched e-skateboards in summer 2020, which are predicted to be especially popular on and around college campuses.

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How infrastructure can enhance micromobility

Forward-thinking cities will develop micromobility paths and more protected lanes to allow riders to safely use alternative transportation. Here are some of the ways infrastructure can be optimized for micromobility:

 

More protected bike lanes

Data tells us that more people would bike to work if they felt safe doing so. Protected bike lanes designed specifically for bicycles help increase safety on city streets and have been doing so for years. Demand for more of these lanes is on the rise as micromobility travel is up — one bike trail in Philadelphia saw a 417% increase in use during COVID-19.

Protected bike lanes also permit other low speed vehicles, such as skateboards, a car-free lane to ride on. In turn, these protected lanes give sidewalks back to pedestrians.


Cycle superhighways

Beyond protected bike lanes, bike freeways enable commuters to ride bicycles at higher speeds without streetlights or vehicle congestion. They’re essentially bike paths designed for longer distances to make commuting easier and safer for bikers.

This infrastructure is already popular in notable bike-friendly European cities such as Copenhagen and London. As more Americans opt for micromobile travel, expect to see more of this infrastructure.


Car-free streateries

COVID-19 has brought the rise of car-free “streateries” to America. Roads near local restaurant and shopping districts have been closed off to car travel in order to expand outdoor dining space and give more room for social distancing.

These areas also promotes micromobility transportation, which enables visitors to get closer to their destination than if they traveled by car. Micromobility also helps prevent them from getting stuck in gridlock traffic or searching for parking.

 

Data-sharing platforms

The rise of app-based micromobility has also generated a lot of real-time data. Cities that collect and analyze the numbers can manage fleet numbers, identify service gaps and get a handle on parking issues associated with e-scooters, e-bikes and more.

This data also helps fill in gaps over how micromobility is being used, and in which neighborhoods. Do low income communities have access? Is micromobility being used to complete first/last mile trips to and from public transit stops?

 

Geofenced “no-go” areas

Geofencing allows cities to control where shared e-scooters and bikes are able to ride. Some California cities have already seen success blocking shared mobility from “no-go” areas, such as Beverly Hills. The technology disables or slows down the device once it enters a prohibited area, enforcing city ordinances and protecting popular pedestrian areas.

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Electric scooter laws in the U.S. today

The e-scooter market is predicted to reach $41.98 billion globally by 2030, and companies like Uber, Lyft and Ford have already invested heavily — so it’s safe to say that, despite some legal setbacks, shared micromobility isn’t going anywhere. However, certain modes of micromobile travel, such as electric scooters, aren’t legal everywhere yet.

E-scooters were first introduced in California, and cities across the state have responded with varying degrees of regulation. San Francisco even banned them for a short period of time before bringing them back with stricter rules (like banning them from sidewalks).

In Pennsylvania, vehicles that don’t have turn signals aren’t permitted on roadways. This law has effectively banned scooter use throughout the state. Other major metro areas are still testing e-scooter use out to see whether or not they’ll approve mass use. Miami extended their e-scooter pilot program this February, and Chicago’s pilot program kicked off this summer.

Here are e-scooter laws in the top 10 U.S. metropolitan areas:

Cities Legality Notable restrictions
New York Legal Manhattan is a no-go zone
Los Angeles Legal Beverly Hills is a no-go zone
Chicago In pilot program Not permitted on sidewalks
Washington DC Legal 10 mph speed limit
San Jose Legal Not permitted on sidewalks
Boston Illegal N/A
Dallas Legal Midnight curfew
Philadelphia Illegal N/A
Houston Legal 15 mph speed limit
Miami In pilot program 18+ age limit

 

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For many metropolitan areas, e-scooter adoption does come with its share of risks that need to be minimized. How can consumers safely use this transportation and be covered in the event of an emergency? Los Angeles was
the first city to beta test e-scooters, and today it has some of the toughest insurance requirements as a result.

Today, this insurance requirement is placed on the company rather than the consumer. In the future, as popularity and use rises, this could change. For example, if you rent an e-scooter for a monthly fee as a way to get to and from the bus stop every workday, you may be required to purchase your own insurance (similar to a car insurance policy).

For a closer look at how micromobility is disrupting car travel and how it may evolve in the future, check out our infographic below.

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