Features
8 Jun 21

The truth about Micro-mobility use

In just two years, shared micro-mobility services (docked and dockless e-scooters, bikes and e-bikes) have taken off in cities across the world but how much do we really know about their usage? Interesting research has come to light.

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A paper from EY (Ernst & Young) using data supplied by e-scooter provider Voi entitled: Micromobility: moving cities into a sustainable future and an academic paper sponsored by the Institute for Transport Planning and Systems in Zurich, Switzerland (written by award-winning academic Daniel Reck). Entitled: Explaining shared micromobility usage, competition and mode choice. Reck’s paper explores several mobility options to find out when, why and how people choose them.

The results of research can help illuminate the way forward for policy makers, city regulators and micro-mobility providers.

A fast and sharp rise in e-scooter use

The need to create a well-connected, seamless mobility experience while reducing traffic, noise and pollution is in no doubt. Within two years of the world’s first e-scooter service, launched in September 2017 by Bird in Santa Monica, USA, e-scooter sharing services have reached 626 cities in 53 countries (according to NUMO - New Urban Mobility Alliance). e-scooters have surpassed 20 million users in Europe alone [Holm Moller (T) Simlett (J), ]. Voi currently has upwards of 4 million scooters in operation in Europe.

But cities have taken different approaches and often not the best. This has resulted in early-stage providers resorting to hardware not adapted for mobility service, operating models that have been rushed through and questionable practices by users. In some cities, pressure groups have called for an outright ban of e-Scooter sharing.

The EY Climate Change and Sustainability Service practice approached Voi to conduct a life-cycle assessment of the company’s service. Voi agreed and became the first operator to share these insights publicly. The assessment concluded that Voi’s current practices yielded a 71% reduction in emissions since January 2019, which is on par with many public transport options.

France powering ahead with micro-mobility regulation

Since 2018, many cities have developed road safety codes for micro-mobility use, particularly e-Scooters. France, for example, adopted Loi d’orientation des mobilités (LOM) in December 2019. However, some local authorities have come under criticism from operators for being too restrictive. Fleet sizes are often capped at low levels and spread among too many operators. This has thwarted their ability to provide a profitable service with a positive user experience. Madrid granted licenses to 22 players, each assigned to specific neighbourhoods. Copenhagen is set to grant a license to 11 companies for 300 e-scooters each. Certain cities require all e-scooters, even charged ones, to be taken off the streets at night, increasing unnecessary CO2 emissions.

On the positive side, collaboration between public transport and micro-mobility operators is becoming common place, ranging from data sharing and passenger deals to integrated payment and MaaS solutions. A recent partnership between Hamburg’s Hochbahn and Voi aimed to improve mobility reach in suburban areas.

“Moving forward, we’ll see an increase of cities subsidising trips on routes that might not be profitable but provide social value, just as we see with public transport,” comments Diego Canales from Populus.

Distance and time of day dominate mode choice

Reck’s research applied a methodology to estimate choice between four different micro-mobility modes using empirical data. The results found that mode choice is nested (dockless and docked) and dominated by distance and time of day. Docked modes are preferred for commuting. The research also revealed a fundamental relationship between fleet density and usage.

Micro-mobility mode choice is strongly influenced by distance (positively for e-bikes and negatively for e-scooters). The morning peak strongly influences mode choice for docked micro-mobility (e-bikes and bikes) but not dockless e-scooters. At night, that choice is reversed. This suggests docked e-bikes are preferred for the commute while dockless e-scooters are preferred for other trips. Dockless e-scooters exhibit the highest utility gains from increasing vehicle densities.

e-scooters steal a march on e-bikes

A study of the mobility adoption rate in Paris (conducted by mobility research firm 6t) found that the adoption of e-scooters was four times faster than the e-bike scheme Vélib, a publicly backed and financed service. It took just six months to reach Velib’s two-year mode share. Prof. Grant-Muller from Leeds University, UK, points to the challenge of changing mobility habits, with barriers ranging from value systems, social status, infrastructure, finances and more. She points to the need to act early and target young people, encouraging them to use public transport and alternative mobility to avoid creating habits that are hard to change. The 6t study showed that in the early stages, the main drivers of scooter adoption are fun and time saved.

City regulators and mobility operators could leverage these findings by introducing multimodal ‘mobility hubs’ located close to frequently used public transport stations and employment centres. Dockless modes could be stationed and charged here to better support multimodal commutes.

*Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Authored by: Alison Pittaway