How Austin is Leading the Next Phase of Micromobility
Austin is an American cultural capital, known for its riverfront, its music scene and of course, its breakfast tacos. Increasingly, it’s also known as a leader in shared micromobility.
In the last year alone, Austin has introduced shared e-mopeds, integrated bikeshare directly to its transit system, and continued to expand its shared e-scooter program — which has delivered an amazing 9 million trips since 2018.
To support all this two-wheeled travel, voters recently approved Prop B, which will invest $460M in bike lanes, sidewalks, and safer intersections. With these plans for creating a safer, healthier, and more liveable city, it’s no wonder everyone’s moving to Austin.
Austin has learned from its bumpy road with dockless micromobility
Back in 2017, Austin was one of the first US cities to embrace “dockless” micromobility when they welcomed dockless bikes from Ofo, Mobike, and others. After a brief novelty period, dockless bike operators became mostly known for sidewalk clutter, as big fleets rapidly overwhelmed the city’s existing bike parking infrastructure.
By 2018, things had shifted toward e-scooters, but parking still topped the Austin community’s concerns with micromobility.
And once things went electric, a new problem emerged: to charge e-scooters, Austin operators dispatched trucks and vans. With a citywide fleet of nearly 10,000 e-scooters today, their impact adds up, contributing to congestion and emissions, blocking bike lanes to collect vehicles, and generally not advancing the goals of sustainable, electric micromobility.
Cutting cars out of the equation with Swiftmile Mobility Hub
Investing in infrastructure is key to achieving significant ridership of two-and three wheelers. But until recently, vehicles with less than four wheels have seen but a fraction of the funding and a sliver of the street space given the investment they deserve.
For micromobility to achieve its full potential in Austin, people need safe places to ride and designated places to park and charge. So this summer, Swiftmile partnered with the Austin Transportation Department to take on both issues at once. Through the City’s “Smart Mobility” public-private partnership program, Swiftmile installed a network of 10 universal hubs in strategic locations throughout central Austin, compatible with all operators’ vehicles.
Visible on the map in e-scooter apps, operators incentivize customers to end their trips at Swiftmile hubs. By docking their scooter and plugging it in at the end of their ride, they keep it charged for the next rider, reduce the number of vehicles operators need to collect, and keep the sidewalk clear for pedestrians. Several hubs are co-located with Capital Metro’s ‘Metrobike’ bikeshare stations, making them real destinations for multimodal travel.
To Alex Payson, who manages the project for the Austin Transportation’s Smart Mobility Office, the pilot is helping the City envision how dockless can find a more permanent home in Austin’s streetscape:
“At Austin Transportation, we are always looking for ways to innovate and improve mobility within our City. The pilot with Swiftmile is an example of that innovative spirit and has allowed us to test the company’s e-scooter parking and charging stations in an environment where shared micromobility is primarily dockless,” said Payson. “We hope that the information gathered during this pilot will provide meaningful insight about user and operator behavior associated with integrating a docked solution into a dockless market.”
The hubs charge about 1,000 vehicles per month, and have delivered more than 250 KwH of charging — for such efficient vehicles, that’s a lot of mileage.
Putting car spots to better use with Bird and Flash Parking
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed mobility patterns in Austin. As with every other public transit system, ridership is way down, but many locals still have a need to get downtown — to shop, run errands, and get to medical appointments.
For Flash Parking — one of the nation’s largest parking garage owners — the opportunity was clear. Instead of people driving into downtown and feeding the meter or paying for an expensive garage, what if people parked a little further away and had an e-scooter they could use for their errands?
In December, Swiftmile, Bird, and Flash launched a new kind of last-mile micromobility solution. After parking at a Flash garage on 6th Street (about a mile west of downtown), customers can rent Bird e-scooters for the whole afternoon, with unlimited mileage. Bird One scooters are borrowed and returned from the garage at a Swiftmile Mobility Hub, which sends Flash up-to-date information about scooter availability and charging status.
By parking with Flash and riding Bird for the last mile, customers can get door to door and help the city reduce VMT, emissions, and congestion. For the duration of their rental, the scooter is locked to other users — ensuring a smooth roundtrip back to the garage. And it’s a lot more fun than parallel parking.
To Flash Parking CEO Dan Sharplin, bringing Swiftmile and Bird together is part of a bigger reinvention of parking lots into connected mobility hubs: “This new offering encourages and incentivizes riders with a clear place to park, while also attracting new parkers who will choose a garage that offers micro-mobility options.”
Swiftmile and Flash will soon take their collaboration to more cities where an embedded micromobility fleet can help drivers close the last-mile gap — and change what it means to find a great parking spot.
For more information about Swiftmile Mobility Hubs, email firstname.lastname@example.org