Micromobility, evolution or revolution?

“It is cold outside…” ; “This train will never arrive…” and “What time is the next bus?” These are usual thoughts of many people when it comes to commuting. Indeed, as modern transportation started at the end of the 1800s’ in London before flowing all over the continents, we always had to adapt to the transportation modes more than they were adapted to us.

A few years ago, though, people started to hail electronically chauffeur companies like Uber instead of picking-up a taxi. Cars and bikes sharing options appeared in major cities. Then, two years ago, scooters appeared in California: the transportation options were adapting to us and people say it’s a revolution!

The Context

Over the last 10 years, I have travelled to many cities, some of them huge and extremely populated like San Francisco, London or Paris, others a bit smaller like Dublin, Lisbon or Lyon.

Everywhere, I have been able to notice the same pattern: traffic congestion.

McKinsey, through their mobility series offers precious statistics confirming this. From 2010 to 2016, congestion in major capitals has raised over 10% with a peak over 30% for Los Angeles and New York.

Ireland has not escaped from this phenomenon and Dublin has become in a few years, the third most congested city in the world with an average of 246 hours lost per driver, which would account for more than 1 hour per day according to the Irish Times.

The Challenge

With more and more crowded towns due to the concentration of jobs and facilities in single places, cities concentrate wealth and also over-growing challenges for citizens to live together.

Users, with ever changing needs, lack flexible options to go from point A to point B quickly and easily. Their total cost of ownership of a car, including its insurance, fuel and parking, has become higher than ever (you can check this EU calculator to understand the cost of ownership of your vehicle)

Public transport offer a good alternative to driving a car but sometimes lack accessibility and convenience. They have also a certain schedule and only run through a predicted journey. Late at night or early in the morning, they are often infrequent and insecure in some areas.

Taxis or their private alternative like Uber, Addison Lee or Kapten (ex Chaffeur-Privé) can be pricey for some and also struggle with traffic. What is the point of paying for a ride when you can walk faster than the cab stuck in traffic?

Most of the journeys in towns are no longer that a few minutes or a few kilometres.

Logically, people have started to seek solutions to facilitate their mobility and electronic scooters appeared in 2018 as the perfect mode of transportation to cut the traffic and offer a renewed sense of freedom to their users.

A struggle for the legislator

Being able to commute faster, cheaper and greener should make most of us, users, happy. However, the apparition of new technologies in our roads is not without consequences.

Not every country is starting equally in the mobility space.

Nordic countries have been leaders for decades and have in principle a substantial architecture to support “new kids on the block” like the electronic scooters. In other countries, they have just started to appear in the middle of vehicles and sometimes on sidewalks bringing chaos.

Legislators have just started to understand the size of the challenge. The Economist in their article by Arthur House, describes the chaos existing in Los Angeles right now among pedestrians, car users, vans and scooters. A nightmare overlooked by the authorities despite the ban imposed by the Major of Los Angeles.

However for as cheap as $2.20, the author was able to ride his 1.6 kilometres journey in 7 minutes, a performance in one of the most congested city in the planet.

But, users are not always disciplined enough to have a 100% safe mode of transport bringing a form of conflict among vehicles, bikes and pedestrians.

So some towns like London or Dublin have completely banned micromobility for now. Indeed, the Irish Times explains that the Minister for Transports in Ireland, Shane Ross, has asked the Road Safety Authority (RSA) to research what is currently being done in other European countries to see how this could be replicated in Ireland.

An opportunity to think about the future

According to Le Point magazine, up to 40,000 scooters could be on Parisians’ streets before the end of 2019. A law already approved by the French Sénat will be discussed and voted during the summer by l’Assemblée Nationale, the French Parliament.

Indeed, some cities have started to create legislation to allow scooters to enter safely in their market. In Paris, the operators will have to pay a €50 to €60 tax for every scooter introduced to the market in order for the authorities to manage better the risk involved with the presence of those 15,000 scooters.

A fine of €135 has also been proposed for anybody spotted using sidewalks with an electronic scooter. At a speed up to 30km/h, this is certainly a danger for pedestrians that could generate a lot of issues if left unregulated.

A win-win situation for everybody

Congestion, lack of parking, security and pollution are never-ending problems to cities. They need to be overcomed so city dwellers can have a better quality of life. Indeed, towns need to offer more options to reduce congestion and offer a sustainable future to their citizens.

Users, more and more driven by on-demand solutions are keen on new technologies and pushing for more mobility solutions. Encouraged by the availability of new modes of transportations, they have started to change their habits and use more and more diversified mobility options.

Cities and their citizens including micromobility users and operators need to work all together to solve this challenge. They need to find an adequate balance between the benefits proposed by new technological solutions and the necessary risk management approach that cities must have over time.

Recommendations

Taking a holistic view of the situation

Cities need to prioritise solutions that offer a safer and cleaner way to commute for their busy citizens. They need to fight bad behaviours and look after the health and safety of their citizens.

Riders want solutions that are close to them and available immediately. They want total reliability on the machines they ride, the highest level of autonomy and be protected during their journeys.

Technology providers such as Lime, Bird, Uber (Jump), Scoot, Lyft or Ford (Spin) and others have a critical need to manage better their assets to scale in an easiest way.

McKinsey notices in their latest micromobility check-up from January 2019 that if a scooter is economical after 4 months, it may not even last this amount of time depending on how riders care for them.

Using the future of technology to improve management platforms

A clear and predictable management platform of the scooters, including at 100% visibility level of their use with their location and profitability rate per day is essential to ensure technology companies continue to offer an increased level of mobility options to their users.

Machine Learning and AI could definitely help prevent accidents and avoid collision with objects and pedestrians. Centimetre-level accuracy technologies would also dramatically improve the behaviour of riders.

Those technologies have started to appear in the market and their development is key to the development of more secure and optimised mobility solutions.

A vision for seamless mobility

From users, technologists and urbanists, everybody wants to participate in the debate and discuss what their vision is of this evolution of mobility.

McKinsey in his “Integrated perspective on the future of mobility” has identified the five key indicators of success for seamless mobility below.

Availability, Affordability, Efficiency, Convenience and Sustainability.

Their simultaneous improvement will bring benefits to every actor and will define a better vision for the future of our cities. Numerous technology improvements need to be made in order to reach this ambitious goal.

McKinsey article insists on the improvement needs for the four trends below: better connectivity through IoT devices, more autonomy for vehicles with autonomous driving, more sharing options like car-sharing and a stronger electrification of road transport.

For now, this is the time to take each step at a time with specific questions to be addressed. The main one is how to allow new mobility options to integrate into preexisting infrastructures or how to develop necessary ones to allow a co-existence between users?

Only together, as a group, we will manage to change the face of our cities, and make them more human, greener and more accessible to everyone. This is an exciting challenge, one that defines a generation, one that can transform an evolution into a revolution. Are you ready to take off?

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