Micromobility is The Future of Vehicles

Photo from Have A Go

When people hear the word vehicle, the first things they’d probably think of our cars, buses, and maybe even airplanes. Each vehicle has its own uses but the most popular mode of transport has always been a car. But recently, there has been a new addition to the vehicle industry, and we call them micro mobility vehicles.

On Feb 2019, e-scooter company Lime raised $310M and their competitor Bird raised $300M bringing both their valuations up to $2B. Both companies hit the $1B valuation in less than 2 years, making them some of the fastest unicorns to date.

Micromobility startups are extremely valuable and for good reason. They have the potential to disrupt the entire vehicle industry. These things may be small, but they pack a gigantic punch.

What exactly is a Micromobility Vehicle?

There are a couple of different types of micro mobility vehicles, but the most notable ones are e-scooters, e-bikes, e-unicycles, and e-skateboards.

Most people’s introduction to micro mobility vehicles is the e-scooter. These are kick scooters that are fitted with motors that can allow you to go up to 20km/h. The two most popular e-scooter startups Bird and Lime allow you to rent e-scooters by the minute.

If you live in Asia especially in China or Japan, e-bikes are extremely popular. But for the rest of the world, there’s a good chance you have never encountered one. Just like an e-scooter, an e-bike attaches a motor to a bike allowing you to ride up to 40km/h, almost as fast as Olympic cyclists without having to give it as much effort. Just like e-scooters, startups are also jumping into the e-bike scene. Most notable is the company Jump (Which was bought by Uber) and also its competitor Lyft.

The others are e-unicycles and e-skateboards. Not many startups have tried to monetize probably because they’re difficult to secure due to their small size. These e-unicycles and e-skateboards can’t go as fast as e-bikes and are harder to balance than e-scooters, but they excel in being more portable than the other options. Many are small enough to carry around and some are even small enough to fit into your bag.

These vehicles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes; allowing them to adjust to whatever your needs may be.

Why would I use one?

If you’re the type that prefers to drive a car to school or to work, you’re not alone. Maybe you live in a neighborhood far away from buses and trains of the like, or maybe none of these commute vehicles stop near your office. Either way, it’d be pretty difficult for you if you chose to commute instead of driving. But doesn’t it seem like a waste to drive 100% of the route just to save you from suffering through 40% of it?

Now you don’t have to worry about the 40%

Enter the micro mobility vehicles. These vehicles are designed for short distances of around 8–15km. Although they normally won’t be able to bring you all the way to your office or university, they can make the trip to the bus or train station a lot more convenient.

First Mile and Last Mile Problem. Photo from CBInsights

So that 40% of your trip that bothered you before? You don’t have to worry about that now. You won’t have the comfort of sitting in your car the entire ride, but with the amount of money you’ll save, and with the ability to dodge and weave through traffic, it might be worth your while to jump onto an e-scooter instead of your car.

The Car Industry Is In Danger

The idea that the car industry could be in danger is hard to believe. Today’s world is completely reliant on cars and traveling to most places without a car can seem completely unbearable especially for the many countries that don’t have good public transportation systems. Almost every fast food restaurant has a drive-thru (Even coffee shops like Starbucks have drive-thru’s now). It’s come to the point where even families that barely earn enough to buy their food are forced to buy cheap cars just to live day-to-day.

The data doesn’t lie either. It seems like more and more people are buying cars than ever before.

Photo from Statista

Be that as it may, with the way things are now, we can’t sustain the growth of cars within our cities. A report from the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs state that by 2050, 68% of the entire world’s population will live inside cities. That’s a 24% increase from the amount we have today. It’ll prove difficult for cities to improve their road infrastructure at the same rate that vehicle ownership will grow in the next couple of years.

Automobiles are also currently one of the largest contributors to pollution.

According to the EPA, motor vehicles collectively cause 75 percent of carbon monoxide pollution in the U.S. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) estimates that on-road vehicles cause one-third of the air pollution that produces smog in the U.S., and transportation causes 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. has 30 percent of the world’s automobiles, yet it contributes about half of the world’s emissions from cars. — Linda C. Brinson

Electric cars are a possible solution to this problem, but it will prove difficult to properly implement electric charging stations especially in third-world countries. For many countries, electric cars will be nothing more than a pipe dream for the next couple of decades.

It’s becoming exceedingly harder and harder to own a car

In the United States, the vast majority of people seeking to move during rush hours use private automotive vehicles, for two reasons. One is that most Americans reside in low-density areas that public transit cannot efficiently serve. The second is that privately owned vehicles are more comfortable, faster, more private, more convenient in trip timing, and more flexible for doing multiple tasks on one trip than almost any form of public transit. — Anthony Downs

It’s hard to argue with the fact that cars are pretty convenient. Whether you’re just driving to work, or driving cross-country, they can get you anywhere and allow you to sit inside comfortably protected from the elements. Although, it’s becoming exceedingly harder and harder to own a car. It might be hard to tell right away, but you’ll start to notice that using a car is becoming more and more difficult.

Traffic is getting worse and worse. In 2015, the average commute for Americans went up by 24 seconds.

As city populations grow, traffic is only going to get worse and worse.

“Peak-hour traffic congestion is a result of the way modern societies operate, and of residents’ habits that cause them to overload roads and transit systems every day”, — Anthony Downs, an American economist focusing public policies and administration.

Rush hours happen due to the fact that humans all want to do to the same things at the same time. As the workforce grows, so will the number of people who need to drive to work at 7 am, drive home by 6 pm and then go out on Friday nights. Traffic could eventually reach a level where it’s too unbearable for most people to handle.

Census data also shows that the American commute is getting longer and longer.

From Washington Post

In the same manner, finding parking is soon going to be extremely difficult, this can be seen in China’s megacities today. In this article by Jin Zixiong, he states

A report by THUPDi in association with the China Urban Transport Committee shows that Beijing has 4.4 million private vehicles, but only 1.93 million parking spaces. Similarly, the southern city of Shenzhen has 3.24 million cars competing for just 1.11 million available spaces.
Some major cities in China have taken measures to restrict car purchases and have created tens of thousands of parking spaces over the past years. However, finding additional space to do so in China’s already dense cities is challenging and expensive.
— Jin Zixiong

As our cities expand, we will soon start facing the same problems that China has been facing for the last couple of years.

The next generation is relying less on privately-owned vehicles

This paper published by the Ohio State University states that millennials are buying 30% fewer cars than the previous generations. The paper also says that of the respondents who do not own a car, 42% responded it was due to financial reasons, but 58% said it was because they do not need to own one.

“The problem that many towns suffer is that, in trying to accommodate traffic, they have allowed streets to become so heavily dominated by vehicles, that those streets have lost their primary purpose, which is as places that attract people, that attract investment, that attract spending.” — Ben Hamilton-Baillie

There has also been a push for countries to build roads that bring control back to the people instead of being dominated by cars. The UK has implemented “Shared Spaces” in many of its roads. These are roads devoid of any traffic signs and pedestrian crossings that pushes drivers to acknowledge their surroundings and pedestrians more carefully. Many countries have also been implementing road diets by shortening their roads in order to increase sidewalk space.

Micromobility vehicles are going to become a crucial tool in shifting the public away from cars

For a lot of people, owning a car will soon become more of a burden than a comfort. As time goes on, more people will start looking for alternatives for their automobiles. Whether you like it or not, micro mobility vehicles are going to become a crucial tool in shifting the public away from cars.

What does the future of micro mobile commute look like?

The first scenario involves a mainly micro mobile commute. This leverages micro mobility vehicles and public transport. For this, you use your e-scooter to bring you to the bus station. Then your e-scooter folds and fits snugly into your backpack or bag. Then once you get off at a station close to your office, you hop on your e-scooter and just ride all the way there.

Another possible scenario is that one can use both an e-scooter and a car at the same time. This will be especially handy if the place you’re going to either has easily congested routes or terrible parking. What you can do is drive your car up to somewhere close to your destination and park there, then you take your e-scooter the rest of the way.

For some trips, you can even ride your micro mobility vehicle all the way to your destination. Most e-scooters have a battery that can get you as far as 15–20km on a single charge, and you can expect this to get even higher in the future.

Once e-scooters become more prolific, it’s possible we’ll start seeing e-scooter charging stations too. Allowing you to park your e-scooter and juice it up while you’re at work.

Pitfalls of Micromobility

Of course, micro mobility has its pitfalls. The most notable of which is its accessibility. People suffering from motor impairment such as those with injuries, disabilities, or even just old age will find it difficult to use these vehicles. Just like regular scooters, bikes, skateboards, and unicycles, these vehicles require someone with an able body to ride it. Many e-scooters even have trouble carrying someone over 100kg (220lbs); although, this problem will most likely be fixed once their technology gets better.

If your country has terrible roads, you might find it difficult to use these vehicles. Most notably, if your country’s roads don’t have good support for bikes or scooters, then using e-bikes and e-scooters won’t be any different. If the roads you’ll be traveling are rough, it might also make your rides more uncomfortable. While it’s not impossible to use them, it will be difficult.

We can look to China to see how far micro mobility has gone. e-bikes have become a part of many people’s daily lives and have been a necessity to combat the rising issues with owning an automobile.

It’s not a question of whether or not micro mobility vehicles are going to take over the field, they have already won. The industry is getting larger and larger each day, and it’s all about which company will take the reigns.

Will transportation companies like Uber and Lyft end up beating their competition? Or will a new startup pull up and dominate the industry? The possibilities are endless. Either way, micro mobility is here to stay.