Why micromobility will make a big comeback this summer, in one chart

Jay Cox-Chapman
Mar 10 · 3 min read

On Monday, the New York Times published data showing the impact of COVID-19 on the New York City transit system. The news was dire: the system is still operating 75% below its 2019 capacity a year after the pandemic began.

Credit: Veronica Penney / New York Times

At Zoba, we care about cities and want to see transit succeed. After all, micromobility and transit are deeply complementary. Still, the trends that the New York Times identified are not what we have been seeing in the micromobility industry. Thanks to an open dataset from Citibike, a bikeshare system operated by the NYDOT and Motivate, a subsidiary of Lyft, we can see that trips have not only recovered, but are growing again — even in their normal winter doldrums and even in the United States, which has had an uneven and unpredictable response to the pandemic. It turns out customers value the fresh-air experience of riding a bike to get around the city, as their normal patterns of commuting and travel have been disrupted.

Citibike ridership has recovered and resumed growth

The Citibike program posted positive growth by early June 2020, though with some volatility likely caused by curfews around the summer racial justice protests. Ridership remained at 2019 levels throughout the summer. As the weather cooled, more riders stuck with Citibike to avoid taxis and the subway. The system posted double-digit year-over-year growth compared to last winter.

The variability in Citibike data when compared to the transit data is mostly explained by weather. Transit ridership is much more resilient to weather fluctuations than micromobility. Weather also explains the outlier spike on the right hand side of the graph, which is the result of very low ridership on those days in 2019: there was a major snowstorm in New York City that week.

So, what does the astonishing recovery of Citibike tell us about the future of micromobility? At Zoba, we’ve been seeing similar trends emerge across the world and believe these trends are early indicators of a significant modal shift. In September 2019, Citibike served about 1.5% of total trips in New York; in September 2020, that share was 5%. Riders are foregoing traditional means of transportation that put them in close proximity to others; they are choosing the open air and social distance of micromobility instead. The significant decrease in transit ridership shows us that human movement in cities is still very low: micromobility has captured a larger share of a smaller pie. As movement resumes going into the summer, and as more and more people are vaccinated, we can expect to see a surge of demand for micromobility in New York and around the world.

Summer 2021 will be the summer of micromobility. If you’re operating a micromobility system and want help coping with increased operational volume, get in touch!

Notes

  • Link to MTA data. Thanks to Chris Whong and the team at Qri for their work!
  • Script for assembling daily Citibike volumes.
  • Link to Citibike data.
Zoba Blog

Zoba uses demand forecasting and optimization to improve the performance of shared mobility services. On this blog, Zoba operations leaders, data scientists, and engineers write about the problems we solve for shared mobility operators and tools we use to solve those problems.

Jay Cox-Chapman

Written by

Director of Product at Zoba.

Zoba Blog

Zoba uses demand forecasting and optimization to improve the performance of shared mobility services. On this blog, Zoba operations leaders, data scientists, and engineers write about the problems we solve for shared mobility operators and tools we use to solve those problems.