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The micromobility market is in flux. Rapid changes continue as entrepreneurs and enterprises in the space are finding the best way to make micromobility fit into the broader transportation ecosystem. Thrown into that mix is also the unavoidable spectre of regulation, as municipalities cope in various ways to stick-handle dockless light electric vehicles (LEVs) in their environs. Will regulation be the doom of dockless micromobility? Or will it successfully harness the power of this still-wild beast?
Up until 2017, bikeshare (predicated on the docked model, where the bikes had to be returned to locking stations placed around a city) dominated the micromobility space. 2018 saw the rapid rise and supremacy of dockless shared electric scooters. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), the introduction of e-scooters to the ecosystem increased the total number of US micromobility trips from 35 million in 2017 to 84 million in 2018!
Scooters are generally viewed favourably or with ambivalence by city dwellers. In Atlanta, 79% of the polled population gave scooters a thumbs-up. Even in San Francisco, where scooters had the perhaps the most aggressive rollout — and aggressive pushback in response — 52% polled still held a positive view of the mobility devices.
But like so many new technologies, dockless e-scooters sit in a grey area where regulators haven’t fully developed relevant and useful codes to govern the space. As a result, micromobility in general and scooters in particular have run up against the stern gaze of regulators across multiple jurisdictions, and not without good reason. Scooters were originally deployed by the big players–most notably Bird and Lime–with an “ask for forgiveness rather than permission” approach. Cities awoke to sidewalks stacked with scooters in the high-traffic areas. Responses from municipalities have varied widely. Some were relatively welcoming, working with the operators on regulations and permitting. Other jurisdictions impounded the scooters and levied stiff fines, banning the devices until a full regulatory framework could be crafted.
Some might think that regulation only as a stifling obstacle to micromobility, andthat local governments will end up killing the ecosystem with rules and fees. But sensible regulation is exactly what this space needs to drive widespread adoption. With approval from the jurisdiction, safety, which is a major factor in mainstream acceptance, will be appropriately addressed. Further, operators will be able to conduct business openly and without fear of the city shutting them down overnight. This will provide the impetus for operators to pursue pilot projects and to explore markets, secure in the knowledge that all of the competitors in the space will be subjected to the same set of rules.
Perhaps most importantly, government scrutiny leading to acceptance also means that local governments will fully embrace micromobility as a major element in their smart city plans. Refashioning urban cores to encourage and support e-scooter and e-bike traffic will be de rigueur, which suggests that it’s crucial for scooter and bike operators to work closely and amenably with municipalities. That includes adopting a “commons” approach, such as the mobility data framework recommended by NACTO.
Given the huge strides already made in the last few years in this vertical, and the yeoman work being done by cities on regulating LEVs in the sharing economy, there can be little doubt that we are on the cusp of a massive surge of adoption of these humble but eminently useful devices. Micromobility operators should be treating local governments and regulators as partners rather than obstacles, and acknowledging the crucial role they play in bringing about positive change in our urban cores. We need the regulators, and the cities need the operators. This is how technology moves forward.
June 13, 2019 at 01:01AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs