8 minute read 14 Apr 2020
Three vio e scooters stand in a row.

How micromobility is moving cities into a sustainable future

Authors

John Simlett

EY Global Future of Mobility Leader

All things mobility. Innovative thinker. Entrepreneurial mindset. Strategic partner and consultant for the auto and transport industries.

Thomas Holm Møller

EY-Parthenon (EYBOX) Partner, EY EMEIA Digital Leader - Ernst & Young P/S

Strategic thinker fostering new ways to unite business science with human science. Passionate about identifying new areas of value creation.

8 minute read 14 Apr 2020

New innovations like e-scooters will be transformative for consumers and the environment — if public officials can strike the right balance.

The rise of micromobility has been an unexpected grassroots success story of recent years in the urban transport sector, giving rise to the fastest-growing mode of transport ever documented: electric scooters (e-scooters).

These e-scooters are just one of a growing range of shared micromobility options in cities across Europe, the US and Asia. Within a year of operation, electric scooters have become a mainstream part of daily travel for citizens in metropolitan areas all over the world, available in 626 cities in 53 countries, according to the NUMO mobility alliance. And just two years after launch, no fewer than 300 million trips were made globally, and expansion is predicted to continue apace.

Shared e-scooters offer users a quick, convenient and environmentally friendly way of taking shorter journeys across city centers. Their app-based, on-demand capability and shared provision have proven to be a boon for consumers — and, as we explore here and in our full report (pdf), cities and the environment benefit as well.

Reduction in emissions

51%

enabled by using swappable e-scooter batteries.

“Beyond avoiding and reducing our emissions at each stage of our value chain and achieving carbon neutrality, we are actively engaged in designing and integrating our service in a way that increases car replacement rates,” says Fredrik Hjelm, CEO of Voi Technology, whose scooters were shown to have a limited environmental impact in a full life-cycle assessment performed by EY professionals.

Combating noise and congestion

While the rapid expansion of e-scooters clearly shows the popularity of micromobility with users, it has also taken city authorities and many city residents by surprise. In cities around the world, problems with careless parking, the risk to pedestrians from inexperienced or thoughtless riders and questions over scooters’ real lifetime environmental impact have spurred debate. This, in turn, has led to increased restrictions on use and ultimately fewer mobility options for consumers.

Yet e-scooters hold the promise of being able to fill gaps in public transport routes, providing a practical and popular answer to the perennial first-and-last-mile need. They can help to reduce car usage and congestion and contribute to the more efficient use of parking and other shared public spaces. Silent when in use and low in emissions, e-scooters also promise substantial environmental benefits.

Micromobility

63%

of Voi’s users have used a combination of public transport and scooter to complete their journey.

Some cities have responded more positively than others to the challenge of managing e-scooters’ unexpected success. But overall, the evidence suggests that local authorities are enthusiastic, and see e-scooters as an important (if not yet well-understood) mode of transport.

We interviewed a number of transport officials, data providers and stakeholders in six European countries for this report: Gothenburg and Stockholm, Sweden; Aarhus, Denmark; Hamburg, Germany; Eindhoven, The Netherlands; Bordeaux, France; and Madrid, Spain. The majority of them are keen to embrace electric micromobility to help achieve their transportation goals and to explore more integrated and sustainable service provision.

E-scooters are sustainable and efficient, presenting environmental benefits. But there are a few hurdles: they must replace cars instead of bikes or walking, cities must embrace infrastructure that encourages micromobility, and scooters can’t be thrown all over the city.

A micromobility future for cities

Early lessons learned in cities are that static and inflexible rules-based regulation often cannot keep pace with such a young and fast-moving sector. Applied too rigidly, measures such as caps on scooter numbers — or in some cases, outright bans — can be counterproductive, restricting the spread of services and denying users access to the benefits available.

Making the transition to a sustainable scenario where micromobility meets the needs of cities, providers and users, depends on establishing a more supportive regulatory framework — one that is agile and flexible enough to keep the ride under control without bringing it to a juddering halt.

Dynamic regulation responds to data based on key performance measures, and is implemented through a series of incentives for good performance and penalties for underachievement. For instance, rather than a fixed cap on fleet size, a city might stipulate a flexible limit based on the number of rides per scooter per day. As demand rises, more scooters can be released, and as it falls they can be removed again. This allows for maximum accessibility with minimum disruption.

Both cities and providers need to start working together, sharing data and collaborating more closely on service provision and partnerships with public transport providers, and building adaptive infrastructure to meet future needs — around parking and safe use in particular.

Here are three actions to consider:

1. Gain from advanced data-sharing platforms

Bridging the data gap is the vital first step on the road to dynamic regulation. The German city of Hamburg is running a pilot program with Wunder Mobility, based on usage data provided by the city’s four active e-scooter providers. The result is a data dashboard that generates insights into the location, number and duration of scooter rides in the city. It is already helping the authorities to manage overall fleet numbers and distribution, to identify service gaps, and to manage scooter parking more effectively.

Data also can help inform better decisions on which providers to license. Cities faced with 10 or more providers, all of which appear to be very similar from the outside, often resort to giving permission to all in the hope that the “best” providers will emerge through the action of market forces. Using data to help short-list the most appropriate providers — by route, sustainability criteria, cost and so on — would create better outcomes for cities, users and providers alike.

2. Partner to increase urban intermodality

As micromobility matures as a sector, there is a growing responsibility on providers to make the shift from operating as discrete stand-alone services and become fully integrated parts of existing public and shared mobility networks.

Voi’s partnership with the suburban rail operator Hamburger Hochbahn aims to expand the usage of e-scooters beyond Hamburg town center. Scooters are at central and selected suburban rail stations, and users who have taken the train are offered discounts and other incentives to use scooters.

3. Create adaptive infrastructure solutions

Streets must be adapted to accommodate micromobility in designed and controlled ways. Insights from shared data also feed into decisions about adaptive infrastructure.

A single, standard-sized car parking bay can accommodate up to 20 e-scooters, so converting car parking space into e-scooter parking zones can simultaneously boost micromobility usage and discourage car driving. Automatic speed restrictions can help scooters safely share pavements and cycle paths with other users. And geofenced “no-go” areas can address pedestrian concerns over inappropriate scooter use. These can be permanent and location-based or temporary.

The path to a sustainable future

This new environment will be based on shared data, a real understanding of the lifetime impact of scooter services, aligned goals and much greater collaboration between city authorities and providers.

It’s not a journey that can be made in a single step, and there will be plenty more mistakes along the way. But with the right support frameworks in place, e-scooters can provide a real contribution to making our cities cleaner, quieter, more accessible and enjoyable — and, perhaps most important of all, more sustainable places to live.

Summary

As cities around the world strive to create a more sustainable urban transport system, micromobility has emerged as a key element of a multi-modal urban mobility transportation ecosystem. As it matures and becomes more mainstream, the micromobility user base will expand and help to reduce car use within cities. To realize the benefits both cities and providers need to start working together, sharing data and collaborating more closely on service provision and partnerships with public transport providers, and building adaptive infrastructure to meet future needs.

About this article

Authors

John Simlett

EY Global Future of Mobility Leader

All things mobility. Innovative thinker. Entrepreneurial mindset. Strategic partner and consultant for the auto and transport industries.

Thomas Holm Møller

EY-Parthenon (EYBOX) Partner, EY EMEIA Digital Leader - Ernst & Young P/S

Strategic thinker fostering new ways to unite business science with human science. Passionate about identifying new areas of value creation.