Micro-Mobility Perspectives: Industry Buzzword or Infrastructure Solution?

Marie Kress

Posted on: 15 Oct 2019

Author: Marie Kress, Business Analyst

For many people, micro-mobility is the entry point for understanding the continued development of urban mobility. In 2019, micro-mobility is a buzzword and topic which is almost omnipresent in newspapers, industry events and in people’s minds. Generally, micro-mobility refers to a category of transportation modes which are focused on very light, mostly electric propelled vehicles like electric scooters, shared bicycles, or other modern vehicles, but also includes traditional last-mile solutions like walking and non-electric kick scooters. The Mobility-as-a-Service industry needed an effective solution for the last-mile problem for a while already and micro-mobility seems to have established itself as a new stream to bridge this gap.

It seems that these days, electric scooters have moved to the center of attention in discussions around micro-mobility. The public opinion is rather split about the benefits and the right for e-scooters to exist in cities. But also, in a bigger context, micro-mobility is opening a lot of new questions for regulators, operators and users which need to be addressed in order to provide a well-functioning mobility offering.

As it can be observed in the skyrocketing funding raised by micro-mobility startups throughout the past few years, the hype around scooter sharing is big. However, this should not be mistaken with these companies actually operating on a profitable basis and a sustainable business model. There is no doubt that the urban mobility landscape will undergo significant number of changes with new modes of transportation. Nonetheless, in order to ensure a sustainable growth of the newly shaping urban mobility ecosystem, companies should consider factors beyond the core functionality of their business model. It is becoming increasingly clear that micro-mobility solutions do not represent a sustainable business model when introduced in cities as an independent solution, but rather calls for close collaboration between the operators, municipalities and legislators in every region.

Many questions need to be addressed like: who is being held liable in case of an incident? The user or the operator? What restrictions regarding the usage should be enforced towards users? Should operators require a minimum age and enforce stricter rules about driving under the influence for scooter users?

A further question which is yet to be solved is the scalability of micro-mobility services across different geographical areas. Micro-mobility is intended to bridge very specific mobility needs, which are structured differently in different cities. Therefore, it will be observed if a few global players with the best platforms or a broad variety of small local platforms will prevail in the long run. For the best adaptation of micro-mobility in cities, the current modal split in cities needs to be carefully evaluated and micro-mobility options added in the best possible way to increase the overall level of service for users and reduce the risk of cannibalization of working mobility modes by newly introduced options. This can be observed very well on the example of scooter sharing schemes across Europe today. In some cities, they are fully allowed, whilst they are strictly regulated to geofenced zones and/or certain operational times in others or fully banned in some cities, depending on the local legislation and base-situation in terms of urban mobility.

The whole situation calls for an empowerment of cities and municipalities to effectively plan and structure the mobility ecosystem and sets a base structure for all new operators and players looking to join the local mobility system. This raises another new trend of open data platforms for cities. Los Angeles is already making an example by moving into the direction of open data platform with their new project for Mobility Data Specification (MDS), which is supposed to allow municipalities to manage scooter and bike sharing schemes by tapping into the location data of vehicles and keeping track of legislation violations, e.g. activity outside of allowed hours of areas or traffic rule violations.  Any new micro-mobility offering, independent on whatever form the new vehicles might be presented in, could be required to register the vehicles through the MDS in order to get a permission for operation in the city. This on the one hand allows for better research on mobility usage and thereby better transport planning for cities as well as overall improvement of level of service for customers. It will be seen how successful the first cities will be with those experiments, but it is surely a hot topic to keep an eye on in the near future.

Overall, the entire movement is all about shifting the focus back to the users and create mobility and cities for people and not vehicles.

The importance of this topic has also been recognized by the European Commission, which hosted a conference in Ljubljana on 14th of October on the topic: “Micro-mobility: the next big thing?” To bring together relevant stakeholders in the mobility industry for meaningful exchange on how to move forward in the space of micro-mobility. The conference was opened by the EU commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc. She shared her standpoint on the situation around micro-mobility and gave a positive outlook. She believes, that: “Micro-mobility is here to stay”. She was also the moderator for the two main Panel Discussions, which gave further insight into regulatory and business views of mobility stakeholders. Dominick Moxon-Tritsch from Bolt clearly advocated mandatory open data sharing of all players involved in the micro-mobility ecosystem. He clearly stated the need for regulations in order to facilitate a functioning mobility environment. If there are 15+ players active in the micro-mobility sector like in Madrid, these services are bound to be commoditized. Bolt is one of the players in the industry, who, as stated by Violeta Bulc: “has made it – big time” and they are very optimistic regarding future developments and are clearly in favour of a more regulated market with shared transportation data. Matej Čer, owner of Avantcar, who is operating Slovenia’s first large-scale shared mobility service, emphasized the importance of a clear vision for all micro-mobility offers. He stressed that this business model bears much more complexity than opening a shop where products or services are offered. Micro-mobility is becoming a part of a city’s infrastructure and thereby has much more impact on urban life. It is important to envision the situation in 10 years and from there go back and evaluate the right steps to take now, patience is the key to a sustainable business model in the micro-mobility area.