Micromobility is on a roll, despite crisis

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In the early peak of the pandemic, public transit agencies across the country saw sharp declines in ridership, as did ride-sharing and bike-sharing companies.

But of these forms of personal mobility, micromobility — including bikes and scooters — is most likely to bounce back, according to an analysis from McKinsey. Despite COVID-19 disruptions to the micromobility industry, recovery is possible — so long as companies prepare appropriately.

In a report released July 16, the global consulting firm considered the short-term impact of COVID-19 on the future of micromobility, and how the industry, consumers and cities are evolving to accommodate options such as bikes and scooters.

Micromobility companies had been struggling to maintain profitability even before the pandemic hit. But consumer demand has since sparked a boom in bikes and e-bike rides and an uptick in use of scooter-sharing apps — showing that the lull in micromobility use pre-crisis was somewhat short-lived.

Cities across the globe have been installing more bike lanes and micromobility infrastructure in response to consumer demand, especially as micromobility enables easier social distancing and fewer points of contact than do other modes of shared transportation.

In fact, a McKinsey survey in May, with 7,000 respondents across seven global markets, found that before the pandemic, the main determining factor for consumers when choosing a form of transportation was time to destination. Now, the main concern is risk of infection.

With this uptick in dependence on micromobility, however, McKinsey expects industry consolidation will accelerate — Lime’s acquisition of Uber’s Jump bike-sharing business is one example.

In the long term, more consumers are working from home and have little need to commute using public transit or ride-sharing, but they also are demanding more recreational and short-distance trips with bikes or other micromobility options, according to McKinsey.

Lime CEO Wayne Ting said in a blog post that when comparing the month before the lockdown with the month after, people are riding scooters 34 percent longer and 18 percent farther. They also are using scooters more outside of traditional rush hours.

Debs Schrimmer, transportation policy manager at Lyft, said in a blog post that Lyft has experienced the same trends in bike-share and scooter usage.
“It’s not that shared mobility is going to be the alternative to the private vehicle, but I think if you take shared micromobility, if you take that combined with other forms of transit … you can find an alternative to the private vehicle, and this can be an alternative that is also less costly in some cases,” said Kersten Heineke, a partner leading the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility in Europe.

“It is very likely that micromobility even in the shared space and also in the owned space is going to be profiting from this situation in the long run simply because the infrastructure is going to change quite massively in some cities,” he added.

With these trends, however, it’s important for different transportation options to become more integrated with one another and for more incentives to be put in place to attract consumers who are just starting to use new modes, Heineke said. Consumers who had used micromobility less before COVID-19 have expectations about their personal mobility that need to shift.

“We are in a situation where what the customers want and what the system can accommodate doesn’t match,” Heineke said. “We need some regulations to change in order to make the customer realize that there is an alternative to a certain behavior that has happened for years.”

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