Micromobility can solve the last mile problem and reduce carbon emissions.
The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) is often ahead of the curve, and in a time when everyone is screaming about scooters and bashing the bike lanes, they come out and make the case that e-bikes and e-scooters are climate action.
The ITDP notes that most urban trips are short, distances that can easily be covered by e-bikes and e-scooters. But to be safe for everyone, there need to be safe places to ride.
One significant challenge in mode shift – getting people out of cars and onto other forms of transit, particularly public transportation – is the first and last mile problem. This problem occurs when people do not have low cost and efficient means for reaching mass transit, thus making them unlikely to shift modes away from motor vehicles. One of the major opportunities presented by electric micromobility vehicles is the ability to fill the first and last mile gap. For instance, e-scooters can be ridden by almost anyone, regardless of fitness or ability, for a short distance. E-bicycles can cover longer distances, making them more practical for first and last mile.
To reap these benefits and support electric modes of transport, cities should begin by making sure that low-speed e-bikes and e-scooters (under 25 kph) are legal and regulated like bicycles, not motor vehicles. Cities should also reinforce existing cycling infrastructure to accommodate more e-bicycles and e-scooters. If cycling infrastructure does not exist, this is the opportunity to build it.
They do note that dockless vehicles should have clear regulations on storage so that sidewalks are not blocked, just like cars do.
The benefits can be dramatic. The ITDP quotes the INRIX study we covered recently and projects a 7 percent decrease in CO2 emissions from urban transport if the mode share for alternatives to cars increases to 11 percent. They don't mention the other benefits, such as lower particulate and nitrogen oxide pollution, noise and congestion.
A few years ago I complained about the ITDP's discussion of three revolutions in urban transportation, where they were in the tank for autonomous vehicles. Their 3 revolution scenario envisioned shared trips, better transit "with on-demand availability," and more infrastructure for walking and cycling.
I suggested that there was another revolutionary option, which was to ignore AVs, that investment in transit, cycling and walking infrastructure and good urban planning could obviate the need for cars of any variety. I also quoted analyst Horace Dediu, who predicted that "electric, connected bikes will arrive en masse before autonomous, electric cars. Riders will barely have to pedal as they whiz down streets once congested with cars."
It appears that Dediu was dead on the money. The world is changing fast; nobody is talking much about fully autonomous cars these days, and a lot of people are falling in love with e-bikes, including me. Little batteries, little motors, and micromobility will move a lot more people.