Micromobility Conference 2019 learnings

Last Thursday, I attended the Micromobility Conference in Richmond, CA, organized by Horace Dediu and James Gross. The event proved to be full of optimism, creativity and a few overly bold claims (Richmond is just across the bay from Silicon Valley after all :). Here are five of my takeaways.

For the uninitiated- what’s micromobility? It’s the unbundling of car trips using lightweight utility vehicles weighing less than 500 kg. To understand the motivations and values behind this, check out the Micromobility Manifesto.

Photographer: Sofia Hoflin/Wired

1/ To seriously expand micromobility, we must start to “cross the chasm” by converting inefficient car trips

There are many trips in cars that could be done more affordably and/or quickly with smaller vehicles. For example, NYC taxi cabs travel under two miles in an average trip (and at low speeds). Their data is shown on the chart below in green- right in between existing micromobility and cars/trucks. This shift will require new innovations around comfort, shelter/overhead protection, cargo capacity, and range.

Horace explaining one of his logarithmic charts on access and speed by mode. Micromobility trip datasets in blue, car data in yellow. Green in the middle is NYC taxi trips.

2/ Business model innovation is coming

Sanjay Dastoor, CEO of Skip Scooters, put it bluntly: “none of these business models are currently working”. Potential future directions were featured in several presentations. Pony Bikes explained how they offer the opportunity to invest in a bike that is shared on their app and revenue split between operator and partial-owner. Smide, a bike share firm from Zurich, reported its users are willing to both walk further to their bike (since their bikes are very high quality) and to reposition its fleet (with compensation). Beyond the conference, don’t forget JUMP’s email last summer about leasing a bike for $50/month or Bird’s Platform franchise model. There are drawbacks with each of these ideas, but experimentation is the right answer.

3/ Commercial micromobility is poised to take off

Battery industry analyst Sam Jaffe explained how electric rickshaws spread across India in 2018 and are headed into Southeast Asia next- projected to grow from 13 to 63 million vehicles. In parallel, last-mile logistics operators like UPS and DHL have expanded cargo bike use in Europe and even the US, a trend which will continue as improved lithium-ion batteries support bigger cargo loads.

E-rickshaw drivers wait for passengers at a stand in New Delhi. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

4/ Lane separation saves lives

This might be obvious to bicycle safety advocates or the Dutch. But for all the discussion recently about scooter injuries (looking at you, Mother Jones), the primary danger remains cars and trucks hitting unarmored road users. Tragically, 42 Boeing 737 jets worth of pedestrians and cyclists died in 2017 from automobile collisions in the US alone. Segregating road users most effectively reduces these harmful interactions. But change won’t be easy- Los Angeles DOT’s Seleta Reynolds told how Manhattan Beach residents successfully fought to rip out a new bike lane last year.

5/ Deeper cooperation between mobility companies and cities can lead to better mobility for all

After the initially laissez-faire response to ridehailing’s expansion, cities are taking a very active role in managing private mobility services (e.g. confiscating vehicles, even writing data specs). But public officials and mobility companies can be aligned in their shared pursuit of Universal Basic Mobility, a concept presented by journalist Alex Roy. New players are adjusting to this reality. Tellingly, JUMP CEO Ryan Rzepecki stated his most important customers are cities, rather than riders or his ops teams. The solution will look different in each market and only through coordination will the right mix be determined. All this means more companies need to heed Alex’s advice:

Tired: growth hackers

Wired: policy experts

On fire: local policy experts

Thank you to Horace, James, and the whole team behind this awesome event. For a good conference recap, I recommend Ed Niedermeyer’s article. Looking forward to 2020!

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