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On The Road

Micromobility 101

Everything you need to know about micromobility from what it is, to how it can affect getting around your city.

by Alex Kelly

If you’ve travelled through a major U.S. city recently, you may have noticed a new fleet of micromobility options. Gaining popularity as manufacturers rush to disrupt the transportation market, micromobility is a new trend that is poised to break into the Canadian market; Ontario initiated a five-year e-scooter pilot study at the close of 2019. With that in mind, we lay out the basics for you.

Micromobility, defined

Micromobility can be a catch-all term for various device types, but typically includes e-scooters, electric bikes, and pedal bikes, whether docked or dockless. Electric scooters are the fastest-growing micromobility device on the market, and often find themselves in the heart of controversy as cities try to figure out a model of best fit.

A micromobility device is typically connected to the user via a mobile app, which will provide location services as well as facilitate rental transactions. Riders unlock the device via their phone, and are charged based on the length of time they use the device.

Key players in the industry include Bird and Lime, with ridesharing companies, such as Lyft and Uber, entering the market as well. New companies are racing to join, with Indian bike rental startup, Bounce, raising $105M in a new round of funding, while others report massive amounts of growth. Uber’s entry in the market, Jump, reported five million trips over eight months throughout its European markets.

The shared micromobility movement appeals to many. Environmental pundits love the zero-emissions electric (or self-propelled) nature of the devices, while some urbanites claim micromobility options reduce congestion, giving users car-alternatives for shorter trips. Municipalities struggle with implementation, citing issues related to accessibility, traffic flow disruption and safety concerns, signifying that there are larger issues that need to be solved for micromobility to move into the future.

Future outlook

While micromobility has had some growing pains, the outlook is promising; several major funding investments and acquisitions have taken place. Industry leaders — such as Spin— continue to expand into warm-weather markets, while research and design continue to evolve micromobility in new directions. Recent developments that have been encouraged by municipal regulations include accessible options to service all types of riders.

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Safety concerns are complex for micromobility devices. E-scooters often travel on sidewalks, in bike lanes, and alongside vehicle traffic, creating confusion for all road users. There are increasing movements to regulate micromobility devices, and ensure the deployment is well managed.

Both Toronto and Ontario are reviewing their options through pilots and trial studies. Researchers are also diving deep, trying to understand safety issues as devices rapidly show up on city streets. Preliminary studies have shown that e-scooters aren’t any less safe than other similar transportation options, but require a supportive infrastructure to be successful.

Staying safe

Whether you’re a rider or a driver, micromobility solutions require awareness — particularly as regulations evolve to support them. Riders need to ensure they prepare before they go, by downloading the device app and familiarizing themselves with the rules, as well as the process.

While helmets aren’t mandatory, they are a good idea. Some e-scooter companies offer rebates on helmets to encourage usage. When you’re on your ride, be especially mindful of all other road users. Choose to ride on the sidewalk? Make sure you watch out for pedestrians, ride slowly to maximize reaction time, and follow all posted signage.

If the device is dockless, you can leave it anywhere when you’re done with your ride. Look out for others, and make sure the paths aren’t blocked. Unless otherwise noted, scooters are a one-person ride, and should always be used sober.

For drivers, the influx of devices can really impact traffic flow. Give users ample space while passing, and treat them like any other vulnerable road user. In certain destinations, tourists are major users of micromobility devices, and may not be familiar with the local rules of the road. Be prepared to react to the unexpected.

Micromobility is still finding its footing in many communities, but is a promising transportation alternative. Stay on top of your community’s stance on them, and check them out when you travel — you never know what (or who) will roll by!

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