Candice Xie is co-founder and CEO of Chicago-based dockless mobility systems company Veo.
Cities are planning their transportation futures now. As officials chart long-term plans for the next 20 to 30 years, they’ll consider whether they can count on the micromobility industry to help fill the protected bike lanes of the future. They’ll assess whether the industry will be able to offer accessible devices for aging communities with diverse needs and abilities. And they’ll weigh trade-offs around whether precious curb space should be used for autonomous vehicle loading or micromobility parking.
With the micromobility industry’s track record of bankruptcies, buyouts, and layoffs, cities need to know whether they can count on the industry to help achieve their ambitious transportation goals. Here are five key steps the industry must take to ensure long-term success and realize the true potential of shared mobility.
Become financially resilient
Companies must be financially responsible so cities and their residents know that alternatives to cars will be available without exception. This will require trust-building after some micromobility programs have disappeared virtually overnight. Our industry cannot rely solely on fundraising and IPOs – true financial resilience must be built on operations and supply chain practices that allow companies to take in more money than they spend. Financial resilience also requires building durable vehicles, responsibly selecting markets, and working in close collaboration with city partners to ensure micromobility programs are meeting community needs. It’s time for our industry to focus on resilience, because when cities know we’re in it for the long haul, they can count on us to offer sustainable, affordable transportation options for the future.
Make micromobility work for everyone
The 8 to 80 cities movement believes that if everything we do in a city is great for an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old, then it will be great for all people. As cities create protected bike lanes and car-free streets to achieve this vision, so too must micromobility companies adjust vehicle design accordingly. We need to focus on designing vehicle types that make it easier for riders of varying body types and physical abilities to ride. Seated e-scooters and throttle-assist e-bikes are just a few recent innovations that make it easier for riders to travel long distances comfortably while maintaining balance and control. Affordability must be front and center as well. That means offering income-based discount programs and participating in city initiatives like Oakland’s Universal Basic Mobility Pilot.
Align with cities’ climate goals
When done right, micromobility can be a climate leader. But we can’t truly call micromobility options sustainable unless the whole operation is. That means developing high-quality, durable devices that are built for the rigors of shared use – with lifetimes measured in years, not months. Micromobility companies must reuse and replace parts so vehicles can remain on the street as long as possible, and then they must recycle parts once they can no longer be used.
The industry must also efficiently charge devices through innovations like swappable batteries. Such batteries allow operations teams to zoom around on e-scooters to swap out low batteries rather than packing every scooter into a van to charge in a garage overnight. It's also key that micromobility companies partner with cities to strategically pair devices with robust transit systems to maximize micromobility’s potential as a first-last mile solution.
Foster partnerships that last
The micromobility industry must work patiently and collaboratively with cities to develop partnerships that meet community needs. This means taking tailored approaches to parking regulations and ensuring that cities have the data they need to better manage and regulate micromobility systems. We should also support cities’ community engagement efforts by leveraging our platforms to send riders notifications when our partner cities are seeking feedback on safe streets proposals.
Some companies in this industry boast about working earnestly with cities and then bully them with lawsuits behind closed doors. This short-sighted behavior will only set the industry back in the long run. The micromobility industry needs to set a new standard for city partnerships because when we can rely on each other, we can shape a better future together.
Advocate for safer streets
To realize the potential of micromobility and achieve 15-minute cities, riders need to be able to find, ride and park e-scooters and e-bikes safely. Micromobility companies should be talking to cities about policies that can support their safety needs, which might include everything from protected bike lanes and slow streets to speed limit reductions to congestion pricing. And, crucially, we’ll need the funding and political will to make these policies a reality.
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure law opens new opportunities to transform our streets. It both expands existing programs and adds new ones to support micromobility, bike parking and other key improvements to meet growing demands for active transportation. While the law increases available funding, the micromobility industry must do its part to get buy-in from decision-makers to actually implement safer streets. Many of these funds come with broad flexibility, and it will be up to the leadership in cities and states to focus investments on complete streets and away from expanding highway capacity that worsens sprawl and car dependency.
Our cities are going to experience rapid changes over the next several decades, but one thing will remain the same: Cities are going to have to make tough decisions about how to allocate limited street space with limited resources. Micromobility has great potential to help transform our cities for the better — and decision-makers will recognize that if our industry takes the steps to set itself up for long-term success.
Contributed pieces do not reflect an editorial position by Smart Cities Dive.
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