“For the first time in decades, there’s a wholly new kind of transport.”

Micromobility. It’s a very buzzy buzzword. But for once, the buzz is justified.

As NZ continues to have its collective knickers in a twist about some micromobility, you deserve some facts because it’s a vital part of a healthy functioning city. Here’s a rundown, with the lion’s share of this info courtesy of Oliver Bruce, the famous Micromobility podcast’s co-host.

Micromobility: who the what now?

What is micromobility though?

You can define micromobility as something involving the wheel, that gets you around faster than your own steam but is still you, in the world, not inside a big steel cage. Horace Dediu is a bit of a guru – see RNZ interview.

So according to him, when you hear “micromobility” think of a vehicle that…

  1. has electric propulsion some or all the time
  2. is lightweight (sub 500kgs)
  3. is utility- or transport-focussed (vs recreational)

So for the purposes of this piece, it’s e-bikes, e-scooters, e-skateboards, segways, motorised wheelchairs. Not dogsleds, regular bikes, regular skateboards, mopeds, motorbikes, those teeny “smart cars”. Nor regular wheelchairs, wheelsies, horse-and-trap, your dodgy cousin’s backyard “it’s an e-bike, mate, obviously” Raleigh 20 with a tractor motor on it.

And micromobility is not, technically, walking.

So a useful question:

What does micromobility offer Aotearoa-New Zealand?

Improving active mode share (more of us getting around using our muscles):

The potential for increasing the active mode share is compelling; in 2007 around 54% of all car trips within New Zealand in the two-hour morning peak period (7am to 9am) were less than 2km in length. (source). For owned e-bikes (rather than shared systems like Lime), a recent survey of e-bike owners reported that 60% of rides made by e-bike would have otherwise been made in a car (source).

It is a massive business opportunity:

Sure, it’s a tiny gnat in contrast to the money-making machine that is the car industry, but it’s growing! With ~41B Vehicle Kilometres Travelled per year, the total addressable market for micromobility in New Zealand (i.e. short distance trips (<15km)) is conservatively around 15 billion VKT. At a price from IRD of 76c/km that’d equate to $11.4B/year market opportunity for micromobility solutions (either owned or shared).

Globally, Horace conservatively estimates the opportunity to be worth US$1 trillion a year (NZD$1.46 trillion) a year. Woh.

Reduces congestion:

Auckland is now one the most congested cities in A-NZ and Wellington’s not far behind. Micromobility is a great way to shift people-carrying trips onto non-congestion causing vehicles: as it can facilitate 6x the volume of traffic per lane compared to existing car-based infrastructure.

In a survey of 8000 Christchurch residents regarding the Lime scooter trial, nearly a third of users (31%) reported that they would have taken a motor vehicle (Car driver/passenger or Taxi/Uber). (source).

Boosts public transport use:

From San Francisco’s e-scooter trial data: “Scooters induce transit trips at roughly four times the rate that they replace transit trips, indicating that they could complement transit by serving as a valuable last-mile connection.”(source)

Helps humanise cities:

Micromobility, along with mass transit and good urban design, is a vital tool for humanising cities, i.e car-free Queen St and a people-focussed Wellington city centre.

*Radically* lowers emissions in transport

Wellington City’s emissions profile is dominated by land transport, and this is terrible. E-bikes produce 100 times less emissions of a standard car. In the meantime, road transport in New Zealand is one of the fastest growing areas of emissions. [Ed: OK yes please]

When you’re at a party…

Top tips for when it comes up in conversation!

  • Should micromobility – bikes, scooters, segways, skateboards and so on – be allowed on footpaths?
    • They should be allowed where safe. Currently they are permitted on footpaths as that is the safest area of use in the majority of cases. [Editor’s note: the fact that footpaths are the safest area of use for micromobility is a pretty damning indictment of our priorities for movement.  Especially given that almost exclusively people cycling are banned from the footpath.]
  • Should they be limited to 10 kph?
    • This is likely to make scooters more unsafe, especially if they need to operate on roads as well as footpaths, as it will increase the differential in speed between vehicles on the road. What is needed is dedicated infrastructure (bike lanes etc.) appropriate to the vehicle.
  • Should riders wear helmets?
    • According to a recent study comparing exposure-based injury rates in 11 Canadian jurisdictions did not find a relationship between cycling injury rates and helmet legislation. These results suggest that policymakers interested in reducing bicycling injuries would be wise to focus on factors related to higher cycling mode shares and non-male female cycling preferences. Bicycling infrastructure physically separated from traffic or routed along quiet streets is a promising fit for both scooting and cycling, and is associated with a lower relative risk of injury.
  • Are people just walking less?
    • While in the Christchurch City Council survey, 40% of users indicated that they used a Lime scooter instead of walking, 31% replaced driving and the remainder likely would not have taken the trip.
  • Should cities be supporting the roll out of e-scooters and e-bikes, how would they and why should they / why shouldn’t they?
    • Absolutely they should. See all the reasons why they should in the section above.
  • Who profits?
    • Companies that are selling e-bikes and the sharing companies obviously profit, but cities benefit substantially as well, through decreased congestion, better environmental health, better city amenity, and lower-cost transport.  
  • What about transport equity – is this just another toy for the rich?
    • In actual fact, micromobility solutions are often the most cost effective point-to-point transport option for people looking to get around. Their per-km rates of ownership is one of the cheapest options available for both vehicle purchase and fuelling.

Check out the excellent Micromobility podcast, co-hosted by Horace Dediu and Welly’s own Oliver Bruce (massively famous overseas, and little known here!)

Further reading:

How to make Wellington friendlier for you when using micromobility (hint: 30km and rori iti.)

Wellington’s Hunger Games of the street

Dave Armstrong on Lime e-scooters

Image credit: Snap USA

One comment on ““For the first time in decades, there’s a wholly new kind of transport.””

  • Matt Ensor says:

    It’s really important that people take micromobility seriously as a transport mode. The sustainability, efficiency and affordability benefits alone justify that! Thanks Talk Wellington for raising the discussion.

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