Micromobility Trips Explode 60 Percent In One Year — But Bikeshares Lag - Streetsblog
Scooters are driving the recent micromobility revolution — but don't count out the humble bike just yet.
The popularity of micromobility absolutely exploded in 2019, a new report reveals — and the surge came almost completely from dockless e-scooter companies rather than bikeshare systems, which grew, but more modestly.
Between 2018 and 2019, the number of total microtransit trips on American streets soared from 84 million to 136 million, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, but bikeshare grew a respectable 10 percent, even as the number of bikeshare systems shrank four percent overall. Scooter trips, though, more than doubled over the same period, as a combination of venture capital and growing revenues sent scooters rolling through more cities across America than ever before.
The numbers represent a clear win for safe and sustainable transportation overall, since 45 percent of riders surveyed for the study said their scooter or bike trip had replaced a car trip. But for some cycling advocates, it brought up troubling questions about why one of the most time-tested transportation technologies isn’t seeing the same scale of growth — and what the e-scooter’s recent success means for the long-term role of sharing systems in the active transportation world.
On the one hand, the runaway success of the e-scooter might just be a matter of basic economics. Industry insiders say the typical dockless e-scooter costs roughly half as much to manufacture as the average shared, dockless bicycle — and docked bikeshare cycles, which are the mode of choice in most city-subsidized systems, can cost far more. Given that riders are willing to pay roughly the same amount for both modes, the e-scooter can give a corporation a lot more bang for its buck — and corporations can then afford to put a lot more vehicles on the streets, within easy reach of would-be riders.
“Dockless scooters have caught on for a simple reason — because they’re readily available when they’re deciding how to make a trip,” said Adam Kovacevich, Lime’s head of government relations. “Our hope is, someday, you’ll leave your building, and when you look left and look right, there’s a scooter. Proximity is massively important for driving usage, and that’s an inherent limitation of the docked model that we see in so many bike shares.”
But Lime hasn’t experienced equal financial success with all dockless vehicles. Back when it was still called “Limebike,” the micromobility giant famously abandoned its first-gen dockless bike fleets in many cities before deploying oodles of cheaper e-scooters in U.S. cities instead. Now, the company is experimenting with bikes in a limited number of communities again, but vehicles with footboards still outnumber vehicles with pedals in virtually all of its fleets.
The company insists that cost considerations aren’t the only reason why it made the shift — and that public preference for scooters has been the primary driving force.
“If you compare the usage per vehicle per day, scooters attract more riders — there’s no doubt,” said Kovacevich. “The investment in scooters was really driven by how popular they were amongst the public. Some people seem to look at a bike and think it’s going to require more work than they’re really willing to put in; maybe they’re dressed nicely for the day and don’t want to get sweaty, for instance. I’m not sure that all cities have fully appreciated just how popular scooters are with the public as a way to get around.”
But that popularity probably has something to do with the sheer proliferation of scooters on U.S. streets, too. Practically since they launched, scooter companies have saturated cities with as many vehicles as possible to put them within easy, convenient reach of riders — a strategy that’s prohibitively expensive to do with shared bicycles, much less bikes that sit on spendy-yet-durable docks.
Still, flooding the zone has its limits. NACTO found that after the number of scooters on the streets hit a certain critical mass unique to each city, the average rides per vehicle per day dropped off sharply. Ridership in the bikeshare networks in the study sample, by contrast, tended to grow as the number of available bikes and docking stations did — and among the most successful cities, that growth didn’t appear to be close to reaching a ceiling.
“Scooters really tapped into that lightning rod of latent demand for non-driving — and because they could deploy vehicles very quickly, they did so very quickly,” said Caroline Samponaro, head of micromobility policy for Lyft, which runs some of the nation’s most successful bikeshare companies in addition to a fleet of scooters. “But scooters don’t have the network effect that docked bikeshare has, where as the fleet expands, the ridership expands.”