Episode 10: Micromobility California

Welcome to Micromobility, a podcast exploring the disruptive potential of light weight utility vehicles. Using the history of computing as a framework we examine how these technologies will upend everything we thought we knew about the future of transport.

The host of the show is Horace Dediu, founder of Asymco.com and I’m his co-host Oliver Bruce.

In today’s episode we unpack more about the latest data on micromobility adoption, what this implies for the total addressable market of micromobility and then run over the details of the upcoming Micromobility California event.

Specifically, we touch on:

  • The speed of adoption curves for scooters compared to other technology platforms in the past.
  • The environmental impacts that we might be able to imply from using lightweight electric vehicles
  • Who will be attending the Micromobility California event, as well as who might find it interesting.
  • The details on who will be presenting.

Thanks to our sponsors Joyride.city — an awesome bike and scooter share full stack SaaS solution for businesses.

As always, please send us comments at Horace Dediu or Oliver Bruce on Twitter.

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[00:00:00] Welcome to Micromobility, a podcast exploring the disruptive potential of lightweight utility vehicles. Using the history of computing as a framework we examine how these technologies will upend everything we thought we knew about the future of urban transport. The host of the show was Horace Dediu, founder of Asymco.com, and I’m his co-host Oliver Bruce.

Oliver: And welcome back to Micromobility. I hope everybody’s doing well. Today on the call, as always, we have Horace. Did you how you going?

Horace: I’m doing great. And how are you doing?

Oliver: I’m doing really well. It’s a beautiful spring in New Zealand and the weather’s really starting to pick up and lime is about to launch here in New Zealand. We’re very excited. A Friend of mine, ex-Uber, is heading up the ops here. it’s going to be an amazing summer I’m hoping full of micromobility and experimentation as our as our cities learn what it’s like.

[00:01:00] Horace: So remind us where you are.

Oliver: I’m in Auckland New Zealand. I split my time between Auckland and Wellington.

Horace: Is this area mountainous? is it is a hilly is it flat? Is it temperate? What’s the climate like?

Oliver: Yeah, so Auckland has a Nice warm fish most of the year and then it sort of relatively flat for the most part. It’s volcanic so it’s got a lot of ups and downs, but they’re not that big. Then Wellington where I spend the rest of my time is very hilly.

Horace: The thing is great thing about micromobility is that you get different types of vehicles for different kinds of jobs. So it’s very possible I mean, Zurich that we talked with Kareem about has got very very steep hills.

I’ve actually used an e-bike from Smide to go up a mountain in the winter. It was snowing and I was still able to because there’s at this mountain next to the [00:02:00] city on top of which there’s an observatory/Hotel/restaurant. And so we made that steep Ascent using e-bikes and it wasn’t bad. These are not mountain bikes. By the way. These are City bikes.

Oliver: So you just did it on the road? Was it a hiking trail?

Horace: So it was definitely off road. They works fine. I mean you don’t have the it wasn’t rutted. It was dirt, but at the time frozen because it was so cold. There was a bit of a hustle to make it all the way. The bike is heavy, I had bags on it and was wearing business clothing so it wasn’t in any way an athletic endeavor, but you know, there was some exercise involved and it worked fine.

I mean the thing about bikes is that they they are very flexible in [00:03:00] terms of the terrain, in terms of the weather, in terms of…I mean they’ve been with us a hundred fifty years and so they’ve evolved to have you know, the gears and the tires and brakes that are up to snuff.

So we have disc brakes and we pretty thick 2+ inch balloon tires, which work in the city, but work in the country as well. Anyway, I’m not here to sell that, but I’m just pointing at you know, I’m just pointing out that if you, if you think about it, hilly environment like Wellington.

Oliver: Yeah, absolutely.

Horace: The bikes do well. So now this brings up one thing. There’s new data just came out on the one-year anniversary of bird which launched in September last year. They just hit 10 million rides. [00:04:00] Lime actually was a little bit earlier — I think in August they announced 10 million. Lime offers up bikes, e-bikes and escooters. So those three I think combined in the US reached 10 million in about a year.

So what’s interesting on that point is if you compare that to Uber and Lyft cumulative rides. I’ve got it in in a graph that I posted it. You can go see this actually on a website I just launched called micromobility.io. It’s also a conference that we’re going to talk about that in a second.

But within that within that site you see this graph. If you look at the number the amount of time it took to get to 10 million for Lyft and [00:05:00] Uber it was about about three years. Actually Lyft was out the door faster. So they looks like they got there about two and a half years vs Uber at three.

Source: Horace Dediu

The speed at which they’re climbing is much faster, right. This micromobility versus automobililty. By the way, Uber’s latest data point was ten billion rides and that’s been reached in eight years. So in about eight years, they got the 10 billion.

There was seems a lot more than 10 million, but these things are growing at like 10x a year. So, yeah, you know it’s possible. It’s possible. The trajectory starts to level out. For Uber it began to flatten out about about two years ago and that was [00:06:00] because they essentially pulled out of China and the speed of growth has declined a little bit.

If you were to imagine it as a line, but it’s on the logarithmic scale. So Lyft is still on such a scale. It’s a little bit shallower lying on the a logarithmic scale and they hit 1 billion in about seven years so, you know, they’re quite a bit below below Uber.

Oliver: Yeah, Lyft has pursued that strategy of staying inside the US and that’s that’s that’s meant that they they don’t have the the rapid growth of you know, Asia and Latin America.

Horace: Right, but that’s the whole point in in looking at [00:07:00] these trajectories and you’re saying okay 10 million, but what’s next year’s going to look like? It’s not going to be 20 million. It could be a hundred million and it could be a billion the year after that.

So these guys I think are very much trying to get on those types of scales. And the fuel that’s making it possible, I mean, the amont of capital needed is actually less than what we saw attracted into Lyft and Uber. The efficiency, is that although you’re buying scooters, you’re not paying acquisition costs for drivers. And so the interesting thing I think is, so here’s a point about growth rates. What I try to do is put these ramps up so they’re all zeroed to the same point [00:08:00] so when you’re looking at them, we know who’s steeper is the one who’s faster.

Of course they may have started different times, and when you bring them to the same zero then then you can compare the growth rates and and clearly the the scooter rates are faster than the car sharing rates, but I also compare them to what I call the platform adoption ramps.

Now these platforms are computing platforms, and I’ve been collecting these over the years. I used to call this the ‘race to a billion’. It could be customers or users or installed base. This figure was put forward at the time when iOS and Android were fairly new. So the question was who was going to get to a billion?

So this is between 2008 and 2012. This was a really really [00:09:00] interesting race to follow. In order to illustrate it better, I began to dig up all the old data for all the different adoption rates. Everything from AOL which is like a story from the 90s to the personal computer, which is a story goes and going back to the 80s to things like BlackBerry, the iPod, Nokia, Spotify, iTunes, Facebook and then various things like imode even which disappeared but was hugely exciting in Japan as a sort of alternative internet on the phone, things like Windows Phone, Windows, being an operating system for phones as well. And even the game platforms that we versus the Xbox vs. Sony.

So you you know, you have historic patterns and they’re exponential that are all trying to get up [00:10:00] to 1 billion and actually the first to get there was actually Android. Android got there in about 20 quarters, so about five years or so. And so in five years Android got to a billion, iOS took about two years longer. So these are the the trajectories and the shape of the lines starts out, vertical and then begins to slow down and taper a little bit and if if it gets flat then it’s not growing anymore.

This is cumulative, on a logarithmic scale if you go from 1 billion to 1.1 billion, it doesn’t look like much but here’s my point. If you if you put the adoption rates of dozens and dozens of computing platforms or social media platforms or gaming platforms or online services platforms put those next to transportation and these transportation trajectories of rides. They’re different [00:11:00] measurements. One is measuring billions of users. The other one is measured in billions of rides. That’s what’s getting monetized.

That’s fundamentally the transaction being is being tracked because that is you know, obviously these companies are measuring the things that they make money on. I’m not saying they’re equivalent. What I’m saying is if you look at the shape of the curves, they’re very similar.

What you can do with that shape is make a prediction. So it would look like the car sharing competitors are on the trajectory to get to a hundred billion rides before the growth begins to slow down so that you know, you’re not going up 10x every year or even 10x every few years.

You’re sort of growing in the. five to ten percent which is not a bad growth rate, but it’s not going to move the needle on the scale. So the question then is will will the scooter guys be saturating at that level? Will [00:12:00] they grow even beyond that?

Right now it’s too early to tell. They’re only one year in. And why is this important? It’s important because first of all you add these up together, so there’s not just one or two scooter companies. There could be dozens.

You know, we have to assume that the the entire Market is the sum of all these together because we’re looking at micromobility as a whole as a substitution for potential other mobility, or you know potential for disrupting automobility.

The thing is that it does begin to add up right? So you’re you’re looking at China, for example, I don’t have the similar numbers but I do have one data point for China which is that bike-sharing users were at 400 million after three years. The bike sharing data is actually on the platform graph not on the cumulative rides graph because we haven’t heard about the cumulative number of rides although you can sort of estimate given the the active [00:13:00] users and the utilization.

It’s not clear-cut. I think this is where I’m trying to get to. As we dig into the data more and more and more and more data is coming available about micromobility. We’re trying to actually understand the size of the market. How many trips, how many miles, how many dollars, how much time. These are the main quantities that I’m trying to measure.

There are ways to do this because transportation data about current modes is abundant, and therefore we have a sense of the demand. So the two trillion trips being taken in the United States for example every year and we know the proportion of those that are automobile and not automobile.

But then you ask yourself, well, is it possible? Is it conceivable [00:14:00] that half the rides taken by people are going to be on other vehicles than cars? That is the fundamental question. What’s the addressable market of trips? It might actually might grow as new modes are introduced. Of course because cars induce their own demand the number of cars in the number of trips grew tremendously.

It’s not exactly that there’s a finite demand. The demand is very much a function of the modes out there.

I’m putting out a hypothesis that micromobility can capture as much as half of the of the transportation market, whether that market is in trips, miles, [00:15:00] dollars or time because these are the things that are fundamentally the economic drivers. Ultimately, they’re the drivers of carbon, energy and ultimately climate change. Imagine transitioning half-half the transportation burden away from fossil fuels. It’s really impactful.

Oliver: It also happens that that’s the worst stuff. I mean if you if you think about it, it’s like highly inefficient car use in cities versus the longer distance stuff where the cars actually functioning quite well.

Horace: That’s the whole point. Using 4,000 pounds or 2,000 kgs to transport 100 kilogram payload is grossly grossly inefficient.

I mean to you’re using 90%+ of the energy to move the vehicle not the [00:16:00] payload. We’re not telling people to stay home. We’re not telling people to travel less. We’re actually expecting them to travel more through this new modes. We expect people to take more rides. To take more trips to do more stuff.

We might see an increase in productivity. We might see decrease in congestion. On top of that, we’re going to see that it’s two to three orders more efficient. It’s actually very beneficial.

I’m not positing that this Market will grow because of the virtue that’s created. The market is going to grow because the economics are so favorable. The economics are ultimately reflected in energy and energy is ultimately reflected in emissions. This is so much more efficient.

We will be looking back on this period of time when we’re [00:17:00] driving around in these enormously inefficient vehicles. Even if they’re electric they’re inefficient, right? It’s just that they’re just too big and too heavy given what the job is. So that’s what this is all about. The thing is, we can say all we want about this, we can argue, we can we can make the case in theory, but what I’m trying to do is is work out the exact time that this will take.

The exact quantities involved. Is it going to be 50% or is going to 30%? Are we going to disrupt this business through substitution or through new markets? This is a very subtle but important point because you know, you don’t have to compete head-to-head. If you compete head-to-head and substitute the incumbent responds, but if you compete in the new market, the incumbent doesn’t feel pain. So this is this potential here for these vehicles not to not to appear on anyone’s radar.

But anyway, that’s my kind of objective for [00:18:00] the next few months. Nail down some of the quantities involved for trips, distances, dollars and time. These are all things we can measure today, and then we have to ask how much is going to go to micromobility?

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Horace: Okay, next thing.

Oliver: Well, that’s that’s that’s a great introduction for the Micromobility Summit there Horace.

Horace: Yeah the summit so you guys. I don’t know how this is going to come out in sequence but in September I did a summit in Copenhagen. It was amazing. We had a hundred people the year before we had probably 30–40 people. The year before was the first micro Mobility event ever.

It was the first time the word was ever used in public as far as I know and you know it was double to triple the size. It was another great success.

We’re going to double and triple again, [00:21:00] and we’re going to do it in another few months. And so I’m super excited to announce Micromobility California. Micromobility California is going to be branded this because we’re doing it in California, but I think it also means something because California is the home of micromobility in the United States.

W e’re gonna bring it in January 31st. It’s going to be in the Bay Area. We’re going to bring it to Richmond, which is the northern coast of the Bay. It’s actually a historic industrial area where Liberty ships were built in World War II. It’s where Ford put a manufacturing plant that it was used for the model A and then later for the Jeep during World War II. The Jeep is the iconic small vehicle. Not quite micro, but it’s an iconic vehicle that was arguably very instrumental in winning the war. We’re going to actually hold this in the [00:22:00] factory that built the Jeep.

So it’s coming January 31st. Mark your calendars. You can sign up and register on the website micromobility.io. This is a new website. We’re going to use it probably for multiple purposes. But right now micromobility.io is registered with us. We can get you signed up and it’s going to have a capacity for a thousand people. I don’t know how many will come but we’ve started to ticket. We started ticketing about five days ago. Two of those were the weekend so we really were running for three days. We’re already at over 60 people signed up and we have early bird tickets that are almost sold out. So so it’s going very quickly very fast.

Oliver: I mean, yeah, there’s some big names have already signed up. I mean I saw Steve Sinofsky, board [00:23:00] member of A16Z is going.

Horace: Yup Steve is coming. Jean Louis Gassee. We’ve got a lot of folks from the Apple community coming. We’ve got venture capital coming. We’re going to have a panel session with scooter CEOs.

We’re going to have a city panel with city planners and city regulators and try to work out their interests and understand their needs. We’re going to have a program on vehicles, we’re going to have demos of vehicles. It’s a big enough space, with an outdoor area as well, so you can come and test ride a lot of the vehicles out there.

I’m also pleased to announce that one of the key sponsors for the event is Honda. Honda is a gold sponsor. I just want to do a shout out to Honda because [00:24:00] not just because they’re sponsors but one thing that you have to appreciate is that Honda was the one of the first mass market, low-end scooter companies. These were mopeds, not scooters but the Super Cub is the most successful vehicle of all time. Super Cub sold over 70 million, maybe 80m units over its life. It’s still in production and it mobilized Asia, mobilized Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore. It mobilized people before they have cars. Probably Vietnam as well.

What’s interesting about the Super Cub is it was a motorcycle in a sense, but it was a moped in the other sense meaning that it [00:25:00] didn’t have gear shifting.

So you sort of had a very simple transmission very similar to a moped, yet it had enough power on board to get you going for kind of the Long Haul. So check it out if you don’t know about the super cub. Anyway Honda was there in the early years in 1960s with a microvehicle very much classifiable as micromobility device because the rule is, is it under 500 kilograms? Does it have a motor and is it primarily used for for utility as opposed to Recreation? And so those that those fit the bill.

Today, of course, it would be electric because that technology has moved on and I think the super cup would make a great electric vehicle, but I think they were they are adapting it as well.

I think yeah, but one that they’re planning to release,

Oliver: We’ll see if we can get them to bring it.

Horace: They’ll make a lot of sense. And also in the same category would be like another [00:26:00] great. Japanese product is the Toyota iRoad, which is a three-wheeled vehicle. That is very small. And very very unique electric vehicle it tilts, you know when it turns and I love it.

It hasn’t been commercially available. It’s been in Prototype form or another one. You know, it’s been it’s been an demoed since 2005 but it shows that there’s a lot of opportunity out of Japan. So so I’m happy to say about you know, Honda will be there. Hopefully, we’ll draw a few more people out of the OEM Market to come and sponsor us.

Oh, I do know people from Ford are coming. Which of course is branding the the bike sharing in San Francisco the Ford go bike. Yeah, and [00:27:00] if so, by the way, I have access to the data set for Ford. Actually anyone does. You can download it. Which shows all the trips taken on their system because it’s run by Motivate and Motivat operates the bike sharing in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington DC and I think Charlotte North Carolina at least right?

And so Motivate covers all these regions and they were just acquired by Lyft. So, you know small world right? You’ve got Ford, Lyft, Motivate. Everybody’s into my into micromobility. Uber of course bought Jump. Jump I have data on, in terms of the trip profiles for Jump users in San Francisco.

Speaking of which I’ve got Lime ebike, scooter and bike data, Bird data, [00:28:00] Jump e-bike and Scoot data.

Oliver: Scoots a bit different aren’t they? They use the more traditional form mopeds don’t they?

Horace: That’s right. That’s right but they’re actually going to the Kick Scooter model as well, which is super frustrating by the way, because they started out in 2012 or so. They’ve been at it for six years and you know, they started out with mopeds and and Twizy which is a four-wheel vehicle. I know Michael the CEO and I asked him to contribute the data for their scoot Network knowing that they’ve been approved to be a supplier of kick scooters. I don’t know what to call them anymore, but [00:29:00] these bird like devices and along with along with. Let’s skip there. They have the franchise in San Francisco. Now, what would what is this all about? Well during this event in January. We’re going to release the first analysis of the San Francisco micromobility space, actually the whole Bay Area, right because Bird for example is in Oakland. We have lime everywhere. Anything from San Jose to Berkeley, right all that. This is a giant area, you know, it’s hard to believe how big it is and and it’s not just San Francisco.

San Francisco is a tiny minority compared to the Bay Area. So we have data. We’re starting to put it together to be able to [00:30:00] compare these in what I call the spectrum of distance, the spectrum of where they compete and distances traveled coupled with the volume data, which is how many rides there are. We’re starting to really finally get an analytical handle on this story.

A lot of people are focused on utilization and monetization and unit economics. I’m more focused on trip distances, travel speeds and travel distance plus the overall size of the market. So competitively and economically speaking you want to hit the target in ride volumes and frequency of rides. That’s called utilization. You also want to get your pricing worked out and you want to get your operations worked out. But as far as the industry is concerned and its ability to disrupt, we’ve also got to ask the question how competitive are these [00:31:00] things with existing competitors and how competitive they are with non-consumption. How competitive they are with not taking a trip? Which is why again, I think that’s an understated argument that these things induce their own demand. They compete effectively with non-consumption. You’ll take a ride on the on a micro vehicle much more eagerly than you would with a car because you don’t have to worry about parking, you don’t have to worry about owning the vehicle and taking it to that destination where it needs to be. So it’s fascinating. We’re going to release a lot of information at this event. We’re going to have a lot of people there present. I should say I have loads of data. I hope other people would bring their own and we’re going to have the all the right people in the right place to to make it happen.So stay tuned.

We’re gonna have a lot more announcements as these things come in as far as what the event is going to be about, who’s going to be there and so [00:32:00] on right now, it’s just started. Literally less than a week now.

Oliver: Yeah, look, I’m incredibly excited about that. I’m it’s definitely enough and so it’s enough to drag me out in New Zealand and up to the Bay Area for one.

I think it’s going to be incredibly exciting. Horace really quickly, for our listeners who would find this interesting. Obviously you’re going to have the people who are traditionally and transport and oems Etc. But so for example, if someone’s just listening to this because the, you know involved in software or whatever.

What for the what should they be thinking about? Why would they find it? Interesting?

Horace: Well, I’ve been asked this question by various people about who might be interested and would like to know who’d be there.

First of all, I could not imagine some of the some of the people who came to the previous Summits. Keep in mind, we got about 60 companies already registered.

[00:33:00] I could not believe who we got. People who are designers. We have people who are from lawfirms. People who are investors. People from autonomous software for various applications. People looking to bring autonomy to these vehicle types. So we have we have definitely a lot of engineering talent. We’ve got a lot of design talent. We’ve got a lot of operations talent. These are these are the obvious ones

We’re going to have marketers. We’re going to have city people. We have nonprofits. We have somebody from from San Francisco is already signed up from the city. We’ve got people from lobbying firms.

I think there are a lot of people gearing up for this industry because it’s just so so impactful. When you think about Transportation you think about car makers, but for every car making job there’s probably [00:34:00] 50 non-manufacturing jobs out there. Think about the supply chain itself and who might want to come from Asia to deal with, supplying these these vehicle types and further down the line, motors and tires, braking systems and the sensing systems and so on.

We think we might want to do exhibits but anyway, I don’t want to be specific. I think the way I summarized it is that if you are interested in mobility, whether it’s automobility or micromobility, these are going to eventually end up either being competition or in disruption.

So, mobility focus, are you are you involved in mobility today or intend to be in the future? This is the place to be.

I’ve had inbounds from suppliers to automakers, everything from companies that are doing parts like [00:35:00] bearings and things like the belts. Did you know for example that if you’re going to do to a continuously variable transmission on an e-bike, which is a desirable thing because you don’t have to have shifting gears and it’s fewer moving parts, the best thing to do is to use a belt drive not a chain drive.

So you go away from a chain to a belt a chain requires oiling, it eventually wears out because the the components are under a lot of stress, especially when they’re being driven by a motor. These aren’t designed for the rhetoric that a motor delivers that they’re sort of designed for human level of torque.

So here’s the interesting thing if you look at the who makes the belt for an e-bike it’s actually an automaker or I should say components for automakers because those belts are designed to run inside an engine and those belts have to [00:36:00] last a hundred thousand miles. They have to last under extreme conditions of temperature and and all kinds of heat and moisture and the application to bike is obvious. It’s actually overserving in many ways. But these guys are now going into that market because you know, you have so many millions of bikes that are going to need belts now.

So so that’s happening. I’ve seen, you know tremendous advances in just in lighting systems. You have components now being added to bikes, whether they’re electric or not, that project using essentially laser technology to you know, you know project a kind of like a diagram onto the road so that you see increased visibility of the rider.

So this type of technology is not even something in cars. It is completely new and applied only in this space. [00:37:00] So I would say I right now it would take me a whole hour to go through just a list of companies we have today and try to figure out what they do, but but I expect we’re going to have and I’m not exaggerating, we will have at least 300 companies there. So it’s going to be a very very diverse group and that’s a unique thing.

Oliver: I think the other part as well as just it sounds like because it’s in an auto manufacturing plant, there will be plenty of space. So for the vehicle manufacturers who will be bringing along interesting vehicles, it’ll be sort of like a veritable toy fest.

Horace: That’s what we’re hoping. And so if you imagine a space like this and you can if you go to micromobility.io, scroll to the bottom and you’ll see a little bit over location discussion and then you can also Google this on your own.

By the way, it’s accessible via bike trails so you can get to it you can even [00:38:00] get to it from San Francisco.

Oh, here’s one cool thing. There’s going to be a ferry that goes directly from the Embarcadero and the ferry terminal there that is going to go all the way up literally right to the front door. You’ll just get dropped off and you walk right in the door.

The only thing is that it they say that it’s going to start in January and that’s been delayed from November. So I’m just hoping that we’re going to be able to take advantage of it. But in that case you don’t have to worry about driving there or taking the BART. There’s a part that takes you within a mile or two.

Of course you can drive but if we wanted to do it, right the best thing to do is be just assemble everybody assembles at the at the ferry terminal and we all go together. Maybe one or two ferries. I don’t know how [00:39:00] many people it can take, but we’re going to try to make that available to the audience.

You know, it’s not exactly in the Hub of San Francisco, but it’s a nice place to visit. I really really I would have a couple nice things to say about the place and I think you learn a lot going there.

Anyway awesome.

Oliver: So, you know that’s brilliant. We’ll look we’re at time. Yeah, I look I think that’s really really incredibly exciting and I think him all the listeners who are around or will be close. I think would be very very interested in checking it out. So micromobility.io, is that right Horace?

Horace: Yeah, micromobility.io and if you need questions, like for example, we want to accommodate discounts for students, the media, nonprofits, cities and government so that folks who are not usually employed by you know, or have venture capital. If you have some special circumstances or you just [00:40:00] have a general question all you want to be a speaker or you want to be a panelist or you want to be an exhibitor or you want to be a sponsor just reach out through through the contact. I get the email directly and I’ll respond right away.

So already had a lot in bounds through this contact form. So feel free to. To reach out to me. And again, if you have those special circumstances, we issue a discount and a code that we send to you that you can apply during the registration process and get that discount. So I just want to be upfront about that. It’s not a secret thing.

We just we just don’t want to you know have it be abused. But yeah, we want to make it be inclusive and we want to have a very Collective mix of people right? We want to have people from good diverse backgrounds and get the conversation going. So yeah Micromobility is coming to the Bay Area.

It’s going to be a big event [00:41:00] and we hope to see you there!