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Micromobility Will Transform Cities

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2019

In the latest issue of Why is this interesting?, Noah Brier writes about the potential of dockless electric scooters and e-bikes (italics mine).

Micromobility, a term coined by Apple analyst and electric transportation enthusiast Horace Dediu, is in the midst of transforming cities. What started with docked bike share, has now moved to dockless electric scooters and e-bikes. And while much of the talk is about how they’re crowding sidewalks or being vandalized, the reality is that they have the ability to fundamentally reshape the geography of cities. When a 25 minute walk or a ten minute Uber ride (with waiting) turns into a 97 cent e-bike ride, the meaning of proximity starts to transform.

When you look at the average distance of trips across different modes of transport it’s clear where the gap is: trips that are long enough to be an annoying walk and short enough to feel like a waste of a car ride. That distance is doable with a regular bike, but if there’s a hill you may be huffing and sweating by the end. The e-bike takes all that away, giving you just enough power to make an otherwise intimidating climb into, at worst, a few aggressive pedals.

Having used dockless e-bikes and scooters over the past few months in various cities, I wholeheartedly agree with Brier here. (And not forgetting that regular old bicycles will also be an integral part of the future of transportation in cities.) This transformation is one that Dean Kamen trumpeted when introducing the Segway in 2001 — the Segway will “sweep over the world and change lives, cities, and ways of thinking” — but the Segway was too early & expensive and now e-scooters and e-bikes are actually set to deliver on that promise.1 The challenge is a political one: how can cities make sure their inhabitants have cheap and easy access to various modes of transportation without sacrificing public safety or having these massive companies like Lyft and Uber come in and gut existing transportation options by selling their services at a VC-funded loss for years?

  1. The Segway was the Apple Newton to the e-scooter’s iPhone…too soon and clunky and expensive for what it did.