Micro-mobility is one of the fastest growing branches of transport, yet many have never heard of it or know what it is. At its simplest, micro-mobility is joining up every different form of transport to make your journey as quick and easy as possible, especially the first/last mile problem often encountered in cities.
This solution is at its best and most effective in crowded urban environments as this is where cars and congestion are at their worst. However, when people find a shortage of public transport close to hand as an alternative, the car often wins out even though it can be a costly, slower and more polluting choice.
Convenience is the key to micro-mobility and why it has found favour in cities such as San Francisco and Beijing. Whether it’s using a bicycle, scooter with or without power, or small electric cars, mixing these options with public transport and e-hailing ride shares such as Uber or Lyft give people a much greater spread of choices.
This is especially important when research shows 56% of car journeys in the UK are shorter than five miles and a quarter are no longer than one mile. This is when a car is at its most inefficient and when drivers should be looking for another way to travel. Data from Sustrans also shows the number of journeys made by active modes such as walking or cycling have dropped from 28% to 24% across the UK in the two decades between 1997 and 2016.
Yet investors are pouring money in micro-mobility and McKinsey reports that more than $5.7 billion (£4.3 billion) has gone into start-up firms in this area since 2015. As the McKinsey report states, the reason for this huge flow of money into micro-mobility is due to conducive environments in cities where users want freedom and low-cost, low-impact solutions.
Along with ever expanding cycle routes, car share clubs and low emissions zones being introduced, the rise of micro-mobility could spell the end of the car as we know it. This is certainly the direction of travel as far as car ownership is concerned as more city dwellers opt to do without a car of their own and simply hire or hail one as they need it.
Smartphone apps and mobility
For some, this is just part of everyday life and they swap between different modes of transport easily based on convenience and cost. For others, it’s more difficult to adapt and abandon the one car fits all notion. This is where smartphone apps come into play as part of the shift towards mobility as a service being studied by governments around the world. By offering a complete journey map of a route and the quickest forms of transport, it takes the guess work out of planning and that in turn should encourage more people to switch to micro-mobility.
All of this should leave the idea of car ownership out in the cold and have car companies fretting about nosediving sales. However, this is not the case and auto makers see micro-mobility as an opportunity to make the car a more luxurious option for longer trip as well as a chance to offer a wider spread of vehicles.
From e-scooters for short hops in the city to electric cars and vans
Peugeot has been one of the pioneers of micro-mobility within the car industry, providing its customers with various options from e-scooters for short hops in the city to electric cars and vans when needed for trips to a DIY store. All of this is included with a package when you buy or lease a new car. In a similar vein, BMW and Mercedes have joined forces to offer their SHARE NOW service where you can rent a car at short notice for small or large journeys.
Other car makers are looking at different ways to retain their customers, such as Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover. Rather than offering a traditional lease deal, their subscription models are more like a mobile phone contract where you pay a flat fee for the car, servicing and insurance – everything except fuel.
All of this is aimed at making the car fit more adeptly into the lives of drivers and promote the car as a responsible form of transport to choose when it’s the best solution. Mike Ramsay, Research Director at Gartner, says: ‘The inside of a car by 2040 will be very luxurious. As commuting will be dealt with by micro-mobility and other services, cars will become richer in detail and places to relax thanks to autonomous technology.’
Ramsay believes this will make travel by car more exciting and communal as people have the opportunity to talk and enjoy the journey rather than worrying about congestion and the best route. This will combine with micro-mobility to reduce journey times and pollution, and it could turn car travel into something to be savoured once again.
Words: Alisdair Suttie