Micro-mobility: The benefits and challenges of scooter sharing and beyond (Reader Forum)
Micro-mobility solutions such as scooters, bike shares, and other vehicles have flooded our cities, but many companies face mounting criticism. Rather than profiting from the “build-break-build” ethos, micro-mobility companies are being forced to navigate, sometimes at great cost, complex public and private stakeholder relationships.
Striking those ideal collaborations, including between private and public sector organizations, is key to securing dominance in the fast-growing micro-mobility market. However, there are a few considerations all micro-mobility solutions providers must keep in mind.
Here’s a closer look at the multi-stakeholder problem-solving approach we’re seeing increasingly applied by successful manufacturers in the e-scooter market:
A cross-sector partnership
Private companies offering scooter services have a legitimate right to fill the void left by public transit’s challenges in mobility for that first and last mile. But scooter safety is a problem — not just accidents on the road, but pedestrian hazards from careless riding on sidewalks and tripping hazards from scooters abandoned in random locations in between rentals. Cities like San Diego and Los Angeles have gone so far as to ban the technology in certain areas and introduce special task forces to crack down on reckless driving.
Public and private sector players must work together to ensure safe practices while realizing the civic benefits of scooter networks, everything from consumer convenience and low-cost service to easing traffic congestion and pollution.
This means getting both sides to collaborate to reduce injuries and collaborate on legislation to govern their safe use. Rather than treating scooters like advanced children’s toys, diverse stakeholders can be empowered by e-mobility companies to participate in suggesting features that will pave the way for safer roads. These partnerships can also reap proactive ROI. The New York Times predicted scooter systems in the Big Apple just might work, and cities like Seattle are setting up timelines for adoption so rules can be preemptively put in place.
Thankfully, we can leverage telematics to allay many public safety concerns. With centimeter-level GPS positioning and geofencing, companies can mitigate the risk of dangerous driving from inebriated adults to unsupervised children. And with distance tracking, SMS command capability, and speed detection, operators, as well as local law enforcement, can set reasonable thresholds for use, and prevent illegal parking and disposal of the vehicles. On top of these features, companies can further leverage telematics to disable systems until a helmet is worn and proper verification, like a driver’s license, is scanned.
Telematics can ultimately streamline inventory logistics to minimize the number of scooters lying on sidewalks and process accelerometer inputs, GPS and other data to detect dangerous riding. These are just a few examples of capabilities that exist today. But each side of the public/private partnership needs to take concrete steps to make this kind of outcome possible.
The micro-mobility manufacturer’s to-do list
E-scooter companies have the power to help a city or town to augment bus routes and ease traffic congestion. Local governments have the power to license — or bar — companies based on safety or other civic concerns. Given these mutual dependencies, here are some ways everyone can help keep the ball moving forward:
Private sector companies can do several things to help municipalities. They can share data on speed, when and where scooters are being misused or share trip start and end data to help cities understand rider patterns, and how those affect city services. This data should be shared in anonymized form — so it can be valuable without creating a government window into a private citizen’s whereabouts and activities.
The government meanwhile can do its part for the private sector by sharing public transportation ridership data, hopefully with a level of detail that is useful to a scooter company in anticipating demand and planning routes. Cities can also share financials for transparency — perhaps sharing its analysis of the per rider cost variation between the subway system, taxi fleets and scooter companies operating in the city. Those insights can help a scooter company further tailor services with the city’s financial realities in mind.
Finally, we all need to continue the cross-disciplinary effort to share long term strategic planning, especially as municipalities search for their own first and last-mile solutions. The more a scooter company knows about municipal planning, the less company guesswork and duplication of services that happen.
Success in any road safety challenge involves articulating how business and municipal interests best intersect in what can be a very complex, multimodal transportation environment. Especially in big cities, cracking the code on electric scooter adoption is easier said than done. But it’s well worth the effort and ROI in terms of better, safer transportation solutions for citizens.