A roadmap to micromobility

John Fox, Director of Midlands Future Mobility – WMG, University of Warwick explores the change in behaviour needed for universal adoption of micromobility, and how the current behavioural patterns relating to commuting and travel can be broken down.

In 2020, almost 32 million cars were registered in Great Britain alongside 1.27 million motorcycles. It therefore comes as no surprise that the transport sector is the single biggest polluter of harmful emissions, accounting for 27 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to a climate change crisis responsible for extreme weathers, wildfires and floods.  

As a result, our air is severely polluted and whilst congestion problems arising from human behavioural patterns cost billions of pounds and hours of efficiency each year, it also poses problems for people’s health and wellbeing. 

Typically, the most damaging and inefficient trips are the shortest ones, concerning the ‘final mile’ of one’s journey. The average car or van in England spends just four per cent of the day being driven. For 73 per cent of that time, the car or van is parked at home and for the other 23 per cent it is parked in alternate places such as work.

So, with climate change high on the agenda, how do we go about reducing transport emissions to develop a greener future? Enter micromobility – the leading alternative to the oversized, over-polluting, noisy, harmful, and inefficient cars currently favoured by urban populations. 

Still early in its inception as a concept, micromobility remains open to interpretation. However, for the purpose of this article, I will adopt the mainstream definition and refer to it as small, lightweight, and efficient vehicles making short journeys. Electric vehicles including E-bikes and e-scooters, bikes and hover boards have all long been considered micromobile vehicles, yet recent support has grown for the concept to encompass anything up to a weight of 500kg and speeds of 28mph. This means that certain electric vehicles, such as microcars and early single seat car prototypes, also qualify.

Micromobility could be a powerful driver for environmental change in the UK – saving time, reducing congestion, overcoming parking inconveniences and minimising pollution emissions. However, to fully harness its potential, some policy and behavioural challenges must first be overcome. 

Legal challenges 

Currently, legal definitions are stunting growth and progression of certain vehicles, as laws cannot keep up with the innovative prototypes being produced. For example, e-scooters are currently classed as ‘motor vehicles’ in the UK, requiring a minimum age and license to qualify to drive one. Yet Electric Assisted Pedal Cycles, commonly known as E-bikes, are under the classification of bicycles and therefore legal to use on roads. Therefore, e-bikes and e-scooters, whilst similar in weight, speed, and concept, are treated differently in the eyes of the law.

How will legislation enforcing mandatory helmets impact the number of e-scooter riders in city centres? Will someone under the age of 17 be able to signal correctly on a scooter traveling up to 28mph? Micromobility will only progress in the UK as quickly as the law will allow it to. 

Understanding human behaviours

Based on industry insights, we know that micromobility is in demand. Seventy per cent of people support the idea of micromobility as part of their city’s vision, whilst almost 70 per cent of cities also say they intend to significantly expand micromobility infrastructure in the next five years. However, those demands are yet to translate into a willingness to adopt effective and efficient micromobility journeys among the mass urban populations.

In order to overcome this, human behaviours need to be better understood to accommodate and promote micromobility. Afterall, people are only inclined to change their daily routine if it is convenient and beneficial, so we need to do more to learn about users and run trials at scale. 

Bringing business and industry together

Recently, the UK hosted its first live micromobility conference, held by WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) at the University of Warwick. Experts in the sector were brought together to discuss, practice, demonstrate and present the latest micromobility innovations. Over the course of the day, attendees heard success stories from New York, Amsterdam and Portland, USA, reaffirming what is becoming increasingly known: the UK’s own micromobility sector has a lot of catching up to do. 

A roadmap is therefore needed, to drive micromobility and sustainable transportation forward in the UK. Learning from the areas of the world where micromobility has proved successful, must form part of that roadmap, including how they overcame key barriers to adoption such as policy red tape and understanding and adapting consumer behaviour. 

Opportunities are endless for businesses looking to meet the demand for sustainable, convenient, and affordable modes of transport, whilst the market for emission-free ‘final-mile’ solutions is gathering momentum. The micromobility sector will grow as quickly as laws, regulations and the government will allow it to. A micromobility roadmap, that provides a strong vision, clear plan of action, and consideration to wider policy and regulation, will give potential investors and consumers the confidence and assurance needed for the industry to move forward.

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