Transportation Systems Casebook/Micro-mobility

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Summary[edit | edit source]

Micro-mobility platforms are small, human and electric-powered pieces of transportation equipment such as bikes, scooters, and similar (e.g. skateboards, segway) that operate at fairly low speeds of no more than 20–25 mph. Companies offering micro-mobility services typically make them available for short-duration rental after which time, these platforms are stored in the public right of way.[1][2] Micro-mobility has become a distinct movement within the broader transportation trend towards new mobility services, which began with the 2009 advent of smartphone-enabled ride hailing services like Uber and the introduction of station-based bikesharing businesses between the early 2000s to roughly 2015. More recent dockless systems are an evolution of the station-based bikeshare and smartphone-enabled ride haling models. Dockless micro-mobility platforms began arriving in U.S. metropolitan areas in 2017, and 2018 saw large growth in deployment of dockless electrified systems. Analysts anticipate this trend has the potential to continue quick growth and may have a large impact on urban transportation.[3] Given the potential impact, municipal governments and the public sector are likely to be required to further analyze this trend, determine additional policy, and plan for incorporating more micro-mobility technologies into urban landscapes.

In the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, Metrorail transports passengers from suburban areas from as far as 20 miles to the urban center surrounding the National Mall. Though Metrorail stations are typically placed within a half mile of each other, many destinations of interest are located beyond walking distance of those stations. Micro-mobility services have disrupted the traditional first and last-mile modes on these trips, and also offer a single mode for one-way point to point trips within the urban center. A large majority of urban trips are below 3 miles, and micro-mobility is finding a niche in that space.

Annotated List of Actors[edit | edit source]

  • Private Corporations
    • Lime - U.S. dockless scooter and bikesharing startup company based in San Mateo California founded in 2017.[4]
    • Spin - U.S. dockless scooter and bikesharing startup company based in San Fransciso founded in 2016.[5]
    • Motivate - U.S. station-based bikesharing company based in New York established in 2012 in Portland, OR as Alta Bicycle Share. Operates Capitol Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. Motivate was acquired by Lyft in June of 2018.[6]
    • Jump Bikes - U.S. dockless e-bikesharing company headquartered in New York, NY (formerly station-based bikesharing company SocialBike launched in 2010), acquired by Uber in April of 2018.[7]
    • Bird - Santa Monica based dockless scooter-sharing startup founded in 2017 by a former Uber and Lyft executive.[8]
    • Skip - San Francisco based startup dockless scooter-sharing founded in 2018.[9]
  • U.S. municipalities, including but not limited to:
    • San Francisco
    • Austin
    • Santa Monica
    • New York
    • Boston
    • Chicago
    • Atlanta
    • Denver
    • Seattle
    • Los Angeles
    • San Jose
    • Greater Washington DC Area
      • Arlington County, VA
      • City of Alexandria, VA
      • Fairfax County, VA
      • Washington DC
        • City Council
        • District Department of Transportation (DDOT)
        • District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE)
        • Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
      • Nation Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
  • Community-based development organizations and NGOs

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

  • Early 2000s – 2006 station-based bikesharing schemes begin to launch at small scale internationally[10]
  • 2007 larger scale deployment including Paris’ launch of Vélib
  • 2010 station-based bikeshares launch in U.S., including Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C.
  • 2014 dockless bikesharing catches on in China[11]
  • August 2018 Chinese based firm Ofo scales back operations and laying off U.S. employees
  • Sept 2017: DDOT explores dockless vehicle options for D.C.
  • Sept 2018: Regulatory framework proposed by DDOT, Phase I extended (DDOT 2018)
  • Fall 2018: 300 additional racks (600 total) to be installed throughout D.C.
  • Dec 2018: Planned end of pilot period (DDOT 2018)
  • Jan 2019: DDOT to issue new permits to service providers under revised regulations (DDOT 2018)

Maps of Locations[edit | edit source]

  • World map
  • Metrorail system map

Policy Issues[edit | edit source]

  • Concerns over safety and integrity of public space (DDOT 2018)
  • Regulatory framework to include guidance (DDOT 2018):
    • Equipment and operation standards
    • Coverage in all eight wards (equity)
    • Data sharing requirements
    • Program fees to cover public administration and space management costs
    • Performance bonds and enforcement mechanisms
  • Sustainability and waste at end of equipment life (see china’s bikeshare graveyards)
  • Safety while sharing public right of way with traditional vehicles – speed limit policy
  • Impact on transportation system emissions
  • Capacity limits
  • Transit system planning

Narrative of Case[edit | edit source]

Although the concept of bikesharing dates back well into the middle of the 20th century, deployment of limited bikesharing systems did not begin to gain momentum until the 1990s.[12] Further adoption was sporadic until the middle of the 2000s, when station-based services began emerging in cities across Europe, North America, and China. By the end of 2010, station-based bikesharing services were a common feature in major international metropolitan areas, and have since continued to grow.  

It took approximately seven years of concurrent development for smartphone-enabled on-demand transportation services like Uber and bikesharing models to combine, but in 2017 and 2018 an influx of private investment helped launch numerous dockless micro-mobility startup businesses across the U.S.[13] Washington, D.C. was the site of early adoption of each of these innovations.

In the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, Metrorail transports passengers from suburban areas from as far as 20 miles to the urban center surrounding the National Mall. Though Metrorail stations are typically placed within a half mile of each other, many destinations of interest are located beyond walking distance of those stations. Riders would traditionally rely on taxis or buses for the final mile of their trips. Micro-mobility services have opened up a whole new level of personalized transportation options for residents of urban areas where systems using shared electric bikes and scooters have been deployed. Shared assets governed by D.C.’s Dockless Vehicle Program have greatly enhanced mobility within the District, not only as a supplement to heavy rail or bus trips, but also as the sole mode for many cross-town journeys. A 2018 study by VA Tech determined that the most common motivation for both dockless and docked bikeshare use was to get around faster and easier (88% of CaBi users). Less common was the practice of using the bike to get to other modes of transportation (54% for CaBi).[14]

With the exception of folding bicycles, personal bicycles are only allowed on Metrorail during off-peak hours. Therefore riders using Metrorail for morning and evening commutes need to get to their final destination (if beyond walking distance) through a mode which is present in the terminal vicinity. Buses offered the most economic option, traditionally, with taxis or later Uber drivers offering a more expensive, but often quicker option.  CaBi was the first to introduce a low-cost Personal Transportation Device (PTD) for relatively short one-way trips. A 2018 study conducted by VA Tech determined that riders of CaBi tended to be regular commuters, with little variation in time of day or routes chosen. CaBi riders were also found to be more regular riders than dockless bikeshare users, reporting six trips per month compared to 1–2.[15] The public advantage of the CaBi docked bicycles is that they are not scattered throughout the landscape, creating an eyesore, and are easily located by riders in established collection points. The disadvantage of a human-powered bicycle, however, was that a rider must exert considerable effort (and perspiration) which may not be desirable while dressed in business attire. Riders are also limited by the power of their legs, making mechanical bicycles a relatively slow option.  

When electric-assisted bicycles or (e-bikes) were introduced, they offered a faster option, easily sustaining speeds of 20mph.  As a dockless system, the bikes were found scattered throughout communities, often in odd places. This made it somewhat unreliable as a transportation mode, as riders could not count on finding a bike in any particular location.  A problem for the service provider is that of charging. Trucks need to be dispatched to collect and charge the bikes as their batteries are depleted.  Bird, an electric scooter company, has solved this problem by providing users an opportunity to earn money by taking the scooters to their residence and charging them overnight (coordinated through the smartphone application). Users embark on a sort of scavenger hunt to find the scooters in the evening, with the most depleted being significantly more valuable, and earn up to $20 per scooter after returning them to a Bird “Nest” by 7:00 am.  

Electric scooters have several advantages over bikes in that they require virtually no effort, can be ridden by women in skirts, or men with messenger bags or other garments/accessories which may otherwise impede the ability to pedal.  For both dockless bikes and scooters, DDOT has recognized the need to discourage riders from leaving the PTDs in areas which block pedestrian traffic or otherwise take away from the visual enjoyment of the landscape. New regulations which are expected to go into effect in December, 2018, will require them to be secured to something when not in use.  This will not prevent them from being a scattered eyesore along thoroughfares, but it will prevent them from being left in open spaces.    Safety is a concern as these devices are integrated into existing traffic. Scooters are not allowed on sidewalks in D.C., as these nearly silent scooters travelling 20 mph pose a significant risk to pedestrians at a walking pace.  The scooters are forced onto the streets, where riders are expected to wear helmets and any other appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as would be typically used by cyclists: goggles, gloves, reflective clothing.  However, few scooter riders seem to be taking this seriously. Riders are often seen in dark-colored business attire, with no PPE, and little regard for their lack of visibility by drivers of automobiles.  

According to some surveying, the public perception of micro-mobility deployment appears to be favorable by a majority of approximately 70 percent favoring with 30 percent unfavorable.[16]

Conclusion: the proliferation of PTDs in D.C. has provided urban travelers with a low-cost, flexible option for short trips (under 3 miles) and last-mile connections from other modes.  The physical presence of the bikes and scooters has forced DDOT to implement policies which provide for safety of users and pedestrians and preservation of aesthetics. Riders are not afforded the same level of safety and security as when riding in a car, bus or train, but that is not preventing growth in micro-mobility. Indeed, if San Francisco is any indicator, where a 2018 announcement for 5 e-scooter permits was met with proposals from 12 entities, growth seems likely to rise sharply.[17] The primary motivation for using micro-mobility is that it is the fastest way to navigate a dense urban environment on trips less than three miles. Low-income inner-city riders have not yet embraced the technology, and continue to rely on buses or walking for local trips.

Lessons Learned[edit | edit source]

  • Docked bikes are most often used during peak commuting hours by a demographic which reports having at least a Bachelor’s Degree and makes in excess of $100,000 per year.[18]
  • Dockless scooters tend to crowd public spaces and block walkways.
  • DDOT is requiring unattended scooters to be locked to prevent them from being left in open areas.
  • Scooters are not compatible with pedestrian traffic.
  • Riding scooters on public roads may be a more hazardous activity than riding bicycles, which are more visible and capable of traversing larger obstacles.
  • Users are required to bring their own PPE, however few do, and several fatalities have resulted.
    • Jacoby Stoneking, killed in Dallas, TX[19]
    • Carlos Sanchez-Martin, killed in D.C.[20]
  • There is a risk of oversupply of services and equipment.
  • Service providing companies are engaging in aggressive competitive behavior with public policy implications, particularly with regard to legislation.
  • The rise of dockless micro-mobility is a result of the convergence of technologies leading to innovation.  

Discussions Questions[edit | edit source]

  • What level of regulatory oversight should cities provide to ensure the safety of micro-mobility riders and pedestrians?
  • Does the presence of dockless PTDs detract from the architectural the aesthetics of city landscapes, e.g., in Washington, D.C. the National Mall?
  • Are high-speed scooters and electronic-assisted bicycles compatible with human-powered cycles or vehicular traffic?
  • Why are bikeshare programs under-utilized by low-income residents with no other mode available?
  • How can cities transfer the costs of the additional public administration workload to the service providers?
  • Is micro-mobility a passing venture-capital-inspired bubble?
  • What is the likely impact on city transit systems and ridership?

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

  • Populus Technologies. “The Micro-mobility Revolution: The Introduction and Adoption of Electric Scooters in the United States.” 2018.
  • Transportation Officials. "NACTO Policy 2018 Guidelines for the Regulation and Management of Shared Active Transportation." July 2018.  
  • Virginia Tech and the District Department of Transportation. "D.C. Dockless Bike Share: A First Look." Spring 2018.  
  • The Economist. "How bike-sharing conquered the world." December 2017. Beijing.

List of Works Referenced[edit | edit source]