Micromobility bikes and scooters can transport far more people at a much lower infrastructure construction and maintenance cost.
The word ‘micromobility’ was only invented in 2017, but in just a few years this field, which includes e-bikes, e-scooters, bike and scooter share schemes and a range of other light electric vehicles has grown into a multi-billion dollar market.
What is driving this rapid growth? Put simply the benefits from going micro is too big to ignore! In this article, we’ll explore some of the main ones.
Reduced Car Usage
The United Nations estimates that 55% of our planet’s population currently lives in cities, but that this will rise to 68% by 2050.
Our cities are already choked with cars and will only suffer further if we try to add any more.
Current ICE (internal combustion engine) cars are noisy and polluting. Electric cars will partially alleviate these problems, but will still take up just as much precious space in our ever more crowded cities.
Micromobility is not a gimmick, but a serious mode of transport. It’s also an ideal ‘first mile / last mile’ solution when combined with public transport.
Detailed studies of land use in American cities have shown that in some cases over 60% of the entire city area is sacrificed for on-street and off-street parking and streets (including footpaths). In the case of downtown Houston Texas, the total is an astounding 64.7%, compared to just 2.6% for green parks.
Micromobility bikes and scooters, which comfortably fit in much narrower bike lanes, can transport far more people at a much lower infrastructure construction and maintenance cost.
Micromobility’s future in Australia can be described
in one word… growth, because all of its stars
appear to be aligning.
Cities around the world, particularly in car-centric countries like the USA and Australia, continue to spend billions of dollars and to destroy households and neighbourhoods to widen motorways. But multiple credible studies have long since been proven that this is a total waste of money, not to mention all the social and other costs incurred.
That’s because of ‘induced traffic demand’. Time after time, the newly widened motorway is soon just as congested as it was before the billions were spent. Why? Because people make decisions based upon time and convenience.
If a motorway is widened, more people will choose to live further out, or take a job further from their current home, or swap their existing commute from public transport to driving.
Conversely when road space is reallocated to micromobility, motor vehicle traffic reduces. It’s not all just transferred to parallel roads either. Total traffic reduces as though it has evaporated. In fact, ‘traffic evaporation’ is a widely used term for a phenomenon that has been repeatedly seen in cities around the world, especially when they tear down inner city motorways.
Micromobility solutions produce vastly lower greenhouse gas emissions. This is not just in their usage, which can be up to 100 times more energy-efficient per kilometre travelled.
It’s also the case in every stage of their lifecycle, from the lower emissions required to extract vastly fewer base materials for each vehicle, to the smaller size and lower carbon footprint of the factories required to manufacture the vehicles. Then there are vastly lower transport emissions required to ship the vehicles to their destination market. About 150 – 200 e-bikes and 500 – 600 folding e-scooters can fit into a standard 40-foot shipping container that would only hold two cars. Then there are vast space savings in the retail locations where each vehicle is sold. Car yards have huge areas of heat absorbing, polluting run-off inducing, ugly asphalt and concrete, whereas micromobility solutions can be retailed inside regular, human-scaled stores.
Then there’s the most obvious emission savings during the vehicles’ working life. But finally, there are further emissions savings when it comes to end of life recycling of much smaller, simpler micromobility vehicles.
An often overlooked but fundamental benefit of micromobility is social equity. Put simply, our method of transport to school, work, childcare, shopping and all of the other journeys we need to do every week is literally a means to an end.
The less time, effort and money that we need to spend to solve this problem the better! At face value, cars can travel faster than micromobility vehicles. But in reality, they’re already slower door to door in many inner city environments when you factor in traffic congestion and the time is taken to find a carpark at your destination.
But when you start looking at the full financial costs, not just the obvious ones such as purchase, finance costs, fuel, repairs, registration, depreciation and insurance, but add in traffic fines, parking fees, the added costs that every house and store that has to provide parking is passing on to their consumers and so on, the total cost is staggering.
These costs are the same whether you’re earning $40,000 or $140,000 per year in wages. So the proportion of your income that goes to owning and maintaining a car is much greater if you’re on a lower wage.
There comes a point where people simply can’t afford to run a car. In car-centric cities (ie every city in Australia…) this leads to restricted job opportunities due to reduced mobility, so creating a vicious spiral.
By comparison, micromobility solutions are much cheaper to buy and run. So they’re far more affordable for someone on low wages or even on a pension or other social security payments.
Quite apart from the economic social inequity issues, cars also impose a huge barrier of social isolation. Cars have changed streets from social gathering places, which they were for thousands of years until the early 20th century, into ‘traffic sewers’.
It’s hard to interact with other people on the street when you’re in a steel cocoon, hidden behind tinted windows. But people riding bikes, scooters and other micromobility devices can easily make eye contact and converse with pedestrians, shop keepers and others on the street.
Notwithstanding occasional space conflicts with pedestrians, they’re also travelling at ‘human scale’ speed, which greatly lowers their risk of causing death or serious injury to others. This makes them less threatening.
Quite apart from the covid pandemic, western society was already in a slow motion health train wreck. In large part due to our poor diets and lack of exercise, life expectancies are actually leveling off and even declining due to the diseases of affluence, diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and obesity.
These are all long term chronic diseases that are expensive to treat, crippling our health budgets. Micromobility, particularly e-bikes and other devices that require some human powered input, are a great form a low-intensity exercise that can be incorporated into everyday routines. No need to pay for gym memberships and set aside specific time.
In addition to personal health benefits, more micromobility in a city and less motor vehicle traffic equals improved air quality and lower noise pollution.
Both of these are blights upon our cities that have proven negative impacts upon our health. Not just the more obvious physical impacts but also upon mental stress levels.
Then there’s the most dramatic health benefit of all – road toll reduction.
Motor vehicles are deadly. By contrast, micromobility in itself is much safer. The main risk is being hit by a motor vehicle, which is one reason why building separated infrastructure and reducing speed limits is so important.
According to the World Health Organisation, worldwide, one person is killed every 25 seconds in a motor vehicle accident. That’s an annual road toll of about 1.35 million people. Within the USA 42,060 people were killed in traffic deaths in 2020, an increase on the previous year, even through there were 13% fewer miles driven due to covid restrictions. Australia has seen about 1,200 deaths and 32,000 serious injuries per year in recent years.
The vast majority of these deaths and injuries need not occur and every percentage shift in our transport mode share towards micromobility solutions will help to reduce this carnage due to micromobility vehicles travelling at slower, safer speeds and having much lower mass, meaning that in the event of a crash, impact forces are far lower and far less likely to cause death or serious injury.
When you look at any one of these major benefits: reduced car usage, reduced congestion, reduced emissions, social and health benefits, there are clearly huge advantages in shifting our society to using more micromobility for transport.
Add them all together and the advantages are compelling.
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About the Micromobility Report
Every new activity needs a forum through which its new products and the latest trends can be shared and discussed. The Micromobility Report aims to be that forum, under the tag line, ‘Go Further With Less’.
Its content is arranged under four main menus:
- Products will cover every relevant form of bike, scooter and other LEV (light electric vehicle).
- Infrastructure will cover a wide range of topics including bike and scooter share systems, end of trip facilities, integration & data, planning, design & education, policy & funding, mobility as a service (MAAS) and more.
- Recreation will include all forms of micromobility tourism and recreation including rail trails and MTB parks.
- Features will include the latest companies and products, Annual Guides focused on key micromobility topics and opinion articles.
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