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.