Massimiliano Claps
Max Claps (Research Director, IDC Government Insights)

Micro-mobility is changing how people move in European cities. It increases efficiency, environmental sustainability, and affordability of short trips. But there’s a long way to go to seamlessly integrate scooters, bikes, and mopeds in sustainable, affordable, and convenient city mobility ecosystems.

Challenges such as safety, urban space usage, equality of access, data sharing, and different physical and social realities must be addressed to take full advantage of their potential.

Mobility is a key ingredient of city quality of life and economic growth. Cars are still at the center of moving in European cities. But cars for city mobility are inefficient, dangerous, and cause pollution. Most private cars move around cities with only one occupant. Most of the time, they occupy valuable urban space by sitting idle in a parking lot or street curb. And they are used for short trips. Urban mobility accounting for 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in Europe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), road transport is also responsible for 30% of particulate emissions (PM) — pollution that causes respiratory diseases and deaths — in European cities. Road traffic accidents in the European Union (EU) claimed about 25,600 lives and left more than 1.4 million people injured in 2016; 38% of fatalities were inside urban areas. Congestion is estimated to cost €100 billion — or 1% of the EU’s GDP — annually.

Technology and business model innovations in car-centric transportation will not be enough to solve those problems. Ride-hailing and car-sharing services create induced demand, which will increase traffic. Electric vehicles (EVs) will help eliminate road transport emissions, but they will not solve congestion or safety problems. Connected and autonomous vehicles can make traffic more efficient and safer, but they will take years to become available and affordable and then they will create induced demand, too. More efficient, safe, and sustainable city mobility will require an integrated ecosystem that includes public transportation and, increasingly, micro-mobility options for short trips.

The Benefits of Micro-Mobility

Micro-mobility vehicles are most efficient for short trips; for instance, trips with moped-sharing services in Italy average 4km. Research has found that if, globally, cycling rates can rise from their current level of 6% to around 14%, urban carbon emissions will drop 11%. Other benefits include healthier lifestyles and less congestion. Bicycles and mopeds can also be used for last-mile delivery, thus reducing traffic and pollution caused by trucks. Because of these potential benefits and competition to gain a share of the future mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) market, bike-sharing, scooter-sharing, and moped-sharing services are on the rise across Europe.

Companies, such as Bird, Spin, Scoot Networks (recently acquired by Bird), Voi, Circ, TIER, JUMP, Lime, eCooltra, COUP, Mobike, nextbike, and MiMoto have established presence across Europe. And the ecosystem is not only limited to bike-, scooter-, and moped-sharing companies. Several other industries are involved in investing in, regulating and delivering the services, such as cities, ride-hailing and ride-sharing companies (Uber acquired JUMP), engineering and real-estate companies, railway companies, OEMs (Ford owns Spin and Bosch owns COUP), mobility as a service aggregators, and insurance companies.

The Challenges of Micro-Mobility

To harness the benefits of micro-mobility cities must work with the ecosystem to address several challenges:

  • Rider safety. E-scooters and e-bikes that can travel at 25kph or more are not regulated in most European countries.
  • Efficient and safe usage of urban space for both riders and other citizens. Sharing the road with cars, even in a dedicated lane on the curb, does not spare riders and pedestrians from accidents. Also, free-floating (or dock-less) bike- and scooter-sharing services favor user convenience but have resulted in sidewalks not being accessible for pedestrians or people with disabilities because of abandoned and vandalized devices.
  • Affordability for all. Bike-sharing and scooter-sharing services are not expensive, but they are not yet financially self-sustaining. Commercial operators look for the most densely populated areas in city centers to make a profit. Thus, they risk leaving out suburbs that are already ill-served by public transport.
  • Integration with the city mobility ecosystem. GPS trackers, IoT devices, and mobile apps, enable service providers to know where people start and end trips, travel paths and durations, and which vehicles are active or parked, or require maintenance or recharge. Commercial operators use the data to rebalance where people need vehicles the most, adjust pricing, and offer discounts and memberships to frequent users, but they have limited incentives to share data with cities that could use it for urban planning.
  • Alignment with city urban and social attributes. Hilly terrain or roads in poor conditions are not well suited for e-scooters and e-bikes. Mopeds are more widespread in Mediterranean countries because of favorable weather. Women use e-bikes more than men because they can take longer trips, carry more things, and make multiple stops. All these factors must be considered to maximize usage of micro-mobility.

Shared micro-mobility is the fancy new trend in cities globally. More mergers and acquisition, product and service innovation, and legal battles will take place in the next two years. E-mopeds, e-scooters, and e-bikes won’t be the panacea for last-hundred-meter connectivity, where walking will remain the most convenient, safe, and environmentally sustainable means of transportation. However, e-mopeds, e-scooters, and e-bikes will be an integral part of future smart cities’ people and goods mobility for the last 1 to 5 miles.


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