Shared Mobility

Micromobiles Enter Shared Mobility: A Trend to Watch Out For

While everybody is watching the developments around autonomous cars, there is a silent technological revolution happening in the shared mobility world. New types of vehicles are developed specifically to address sharing and urban mobility purposes. Are people ready for this new category?

One of the leading research firms in urban mobility predicts that by 2020 more than 100 micromobility options will be available on the market. Vehicle manufacturers have realized that smaller, two or three wheeled vehicles, which have seating for one passenger, address the majority of commuting trips.

In the United States, about 90 percent of today’s commuting trips are done alone. Micromobility options are built specifically for city commuters. They connect us with public transit at a fraction of the price of a regular passenger vehicle.

Designers and engineers of this new category of vehicles are inspired by different lighter modes of transportation. Often they look at bicycles, a transportation option that is optimized for first and last mile travels, but this means vehicles look anything, but conventional.

Sometimes they are a hybrid between an electric bike and a car. Other designs are inspired by Segways, which then are covered to protect against rain. Yet others again look like small modular bus cubes that can or cannot be connected. They only have two shared key features: they do not fit our general notion of a passenger vehicle and they are mostly electric.

These smaller electric transportation options are perfect for shared mobility projects, especially the free-floating model. They require smaller parking spaces and can be operated with no charging infrastructure. The challenges to introduce these projects on a larger scale may lie in other areas.

Micromobility: Implementation challenges faced by manufacturers and operators

While working with city officials and the public for a micro mobility project, it became very clear that safety is on everyone’s mind. One of the vehicles for instance is classified as an electric bike, yet with a width of over 1 meter it is much wider than a traditional bike. Should this new vehicle use the bike lanes or should it share the road just like an electric scooter?

Another challenge is the operation of these new types of vehicles. People take lessons to learn how to operate vehicles, learn the rules of the road and be safe. Some of the new vehicles are intuitive to handle, others are not. If these vehicles are offered in a shared network, will the operators offer driving courses specifically designed for these vehicles?

It is fantastic that designers and engineers are working together towards developing compact, lightweight and affordable vehicles that leave a smaller urban footprint. Yet it is a bit like when society moved from horse carriage to car: people needed to get used to the new vehicles and regulations have to be adjusted to ensure the safety of everyone.

When would you use a micromobility vehicle? Share your thoughts in the comment section.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

18 Comments

  • Rodrigo Magri
    16. October 2015 at 16:44

    I did not understand how this smaller electric transportation can be operated with no charging infrastructure. Is there any example of a service around the world operating like that?
    I work with a project to build the PodCycle, an electric vehicle for 2 people that is exclusive for car sharing services. We launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money and finish our first prototype here in Brazil.
    https://www.catarse.me/evpodcycle

  • Sandra Phillips
    19. October 2015 at 16:53

    Thank you for your feedback Rofmagri. I have looked at your project and like the idea. But I can see why this may be different than the projects I know of. Your vehicle looks to me like a small electric car, so you’re correct, you probably need charging infrastructure. There are other micro mobility options though: I work with a project that is building a covered electric assist bicycle. It looks like a small car from the outside but functions like an ebike. This allows for a different re-charging strategy: the current pilots are planned around battery swaps using a service vehicle. While swapping batteries they would also clean and check on the vehicle. The other strategy is to build battery storage towers that are located at local coffee shops (next to the bikes) and people/staff can exchange batteries that way.

  • Paul Minett
    20. October 2015 at 0:50

    When would I use a micromobility vehicle? When it is available on a protected carriageway, probably just in test mode. I am worried about the safety aspects. I am also worried about operation of these in windy conditions. I can imagine them being blown over or away. A big problem I see is the pathway to introduction on anything like a useful scale. It is possible to imagine them being useful if they suddenly appeared everywhere and lots of people used them. But otherwise, it seems the process of customer acceptance will be very challenging, because the advantages really occur when there are lots of them, on protected carriageways. Interesting ideas though.

  • Sandra Phillips
    20. October 2015 at 17:22

    Hi Paul, thank you for your interesting comment. You are absolutely correct in identifying user adoption as a challenge. If you look at Ha:Mo in Grenoble, one of their approaches is to train users individually. Which obviously will slow down wide spread adoption. It will be interesting to see. With re comments about stability: Most of the vehicles are built very stable, even if less than a car. Of course if you have winds over 15knots, you probably want to reconsider your transportation options.

  • piperamirez
    4. November 2015 at 13:10

    amazing !!! we have to start using it a soon as possible and when safety standards is ready

  • opbrid
    5. November 2015 at 18:45

    Inductive charging will power this revolution. When a pod needs power it will scurry off to sit on an inductive pad until charged. Way cleaner and easier than any alternative.

  • DenverDen
    6. November 2015 at 4:20

    In order for the varied types of new mobility devices to actually work for us, they need to fit into existing infrastructures for the most part. Accommodations cannot be made for every new invention, and this is where so many great ideas fail. I have come across one of these new devices, called a Solowheel, and I have become increasingly sold on its benefits, in part, because it does fit into my world and lifestyle so much better than anything else I have found so far. A Solowheel is an electric unicycle that is ridden standing up. It can travel roughly 8 to 10 miles on a charge. It is as easy to ride as a bicycle (no pedaling required). The foot platforms can be folded in, and the device carried like a round briefcase. I am no wider when riding than I am when walking. My speed is limited to 10 miles per hour or less, the speed of a jogger, so I fit in pedestrian traffic, and the device is agile enough to be safely used among people. I ride mine to work every day, carry it up the elevator, and it rests under my desk until it is time to ride home again. Although I raise a lot of eyebrows as I ride by, the economy and utility cannot be matched. I encourage others to bravely explore these new alternatives. I am so glad that I did.

  • Pallavi Reddy
    6. November 2015 at 13:30

    Thank you for sharing your opinion opbrid! Do you think this type of charging is efficient? What about the cost?

  • Pallavi Reddy
    6. November 2015 at 13:42

    Hi DenverDen, thank you for elaborating and sharing your insights on this topic. Solowheel seems like a really interesting product – this could be one of the solutions for the first and last mile problem. I agree that the existing infrastructure cannot meet the future demand. According to you, what do you think city and transportation planners should do?

  • Pallavi Reddy
    6. November 2015 at 13:46

    Thank you for your comment piperamirez! I think safety is one of the biggest issues as far as new mobility innovations are concerned. When do think safety standards will be ready?

  • opbrid
    6. November 2015 at 14:27

    The efficiency is not bad, and getting better all the time. The main point is that autonomous shared vehicles need to charge automatically. Inductive pads in parking spots scattered around the city is perfect for this. Say you order a ride. The vehicle comes, takes you where you want to go. It does this for several people and is low on power. It reserves a nearby inductive pad, and goes there to charge until full when the cycle repeats. Easy, efficient, and durable.

  • Sandra Phillips
    6. November 2015 at 15:24

    Oprid, I agree. Inductive charging would solve many headaches around logistics of recharging. It is really encouraging to see some of this technology in use, f.i. in Berlin where the first inductive bus stations are tested. Trick as with any infrastructure is to make it ubiquitous… Are you aware of other projects that use inductive charging?

  • Sandra Phillips
    6. November 2015 at 15:36

    Hi DenverDan & Pallavy solo wheels are great ways to get around and fun. I know the solo wheels have taken off in Vancouver too. It’s a good balancing exercise as well.
    I agree that adoption rate is higher if new types of transportation fit into existing regulatory frameworks. Even if an engineering team takes all existing regulations into consideration, there is a social component to acceptance. They can make sure a new vehicle fits within every existing regulation (which is the case for one project) but other traffic participants may not be accepting of it. For every new idea there are two components: influencing the regulatory side of things and then actually convincing individuals. And the latter only happens if it meets a need, is convenient, simple and affordable. Precisely how you describe the solo wheel.

  • danrosa
    1. December 2015 at 3:58

    well said, great article Sandra – you are a true futurist! I have re-posted this onto our page at http://www.facebook.com/floatility. Stay tuned – we are releasing the worlds first turnkey light electric vehicle (or micromobility) sharing platform in Germany and Singapore very soon. North America is on our radar 😉

  • Pallavi Reddy
    1. December 2015 at 10:41

    Welcome to the community, Dan! And thanks for your comment, I’m glad you enjoyed Sandra’s article. efloater seems like a really interesting product and I think this could also solve the first and last mile solution. I am really curious know the business model, hoe does it work?

  • danrosa
    1. December 2015 at 11:37

    pretty simple…think next generation bicycle sharing systems meet Uber…but add electric, free floating mode and eventually autonomous on demand…and bingo – you have Floatility 🙂

  • Sandra Phillips
    1. December 2015 at 19:16

    Hi Dan, thanks for your comment and information about floatility. Looks great, is your service live already? I’d love to learn more how you see people using them? What is their feedback?

  • danrosa
    3. December 2015 at 9:42

    Yes we are live but not for public use until next year. The LEV is currently being used within our two demonstration systems – One in Europe and one in Asia. Our modular service/showroom/office prototype has also been completed. We are still refining and learning a tremendous amount about the importance of battery technology, telecommunication electronics and plastic material injection capabilities, so we are limiting the release of our network outside of private industry until we are 150% confident that everything is working seamlessly.

    We see them being used for first and last mile solutions attached to major city public transport stations/nodes. However demand is also coming from tourism and security services, hospitality operators such as hotels and food deliveries, and large scale industrial/manufacturing properties such as airports and factories where people need to move around more efficiently. Feedback has been positive with principle concerns being safety, convenience and affordability.

    Our major challenge is the bureaucracy and variation of regulations associated with public land, road and train sectors world-wide which predominantly govern the introduction of transport innovations….

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