Micromobility and Cities: An Evolution of Cooperation

The disruptive power of new form factors

The relationship between the public and private sector in the realm of micromobility has been bumpy. From the first Bird scooters hitting the boardwalk in Santa Monica, California, to dockless e-bikes and everything in between, the transformation in personal and shared mobility is a phenomenon. The great pace and effort to “launch” in target cities left little time to analyze, strategize, or reflect on the impact on the complex urban fabric. The private sector took the ethos to “move fast and break things” to a whole new level, reaching an apex in 2018.

shared micromobility kickscooters parked in a city

Lessons learned during the early days of micromobility in Europe

Let’s look at the past to learn why close collaboration between private providers and government agencies is key to the success of new mobility. We’ll examine the expansion of shared micromobility primarily from an European perspective, although the boom started in Asia. Chinese providers Ofo and Mobike expanded into European cities after success with stationless bike sharing in their home markets. Their free-floating model promised a new kind of mobility experience, since station-based services were then the norm in Europe.

Think global, act local!

These early lessons make it clear that while providers operate in a fast-moving and global market, they must work with local authorities to succeed. Local authorities are partners and gatekeepers, as they manage infrastructure and create the framework conditions for private mobility operators.

Understand the market and strike a balance

It’s also crucial that providers understand local characteristics and mobility cultures to make a service proposal tailored to the city. The Memorandum of Understanding by the Association of German Cities and German Association of Towns and Municipalities highlights core areas for cooperation between a municipality and provider:

  • Set parking and no-riding zones
  • Discuss the relationship with public transport
  • Arrange data sharing standards
  • Agree on a data privacy policy
  • Create standards for redistribution, maintenance, and vehicle disposal
  • Select contact partners and communication protocols
  • Organize channels for citizen communication
Masked cyclist on a shared e-bike

Effective collaboration during the pandemic

The pandemic’s effects on urban mobility uncovered opportunities to address public heath challenges and ensure a more environmentally sustainable future. Cities that are returning to normal levels of activity are implementing urban design to prevent a return to widespread car usage, lure passengers back to public transport, and encourage forms of active transportation (walking, bicycling).

Conclusion

We need a more collaborative approach that will benefit all stakeholders to ensure the sustainability of shared mobility options. Strong partnerships between public and private sectors in shared mobility enable everyone to win. We need better analyze the business models of mobility startups to assess their viability in the urban ecosystem. We will see more exits, either through mergers and acquisitions, “market pivots”, or complete business shutdowns if we do not work together.

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