Micromobility is in the midst of a major COVID-19 comeback — and it’s raising questions about how advocates might use this historic opportunity to make our whole mobility system better for non-drivers.
After months of bleak news about pulled fleets and mass layoffs in response to the coronavirus pandemic, countless urbanist op-eds opined that the scooter- and bike-share industry was rolling towards an early death. But as states and cities begin to re-open, riders are beginning to emerge again — as are questions about what the trends mean for our broader transportation landscape.
Here are three signs that the micromobility industry may be having a moment — and three questions sustainable transportation advocates should be keeping an eye on as we watch it play out.
Stratospheric ridership jumps around the country
Early in the pandemic, mobility experts predicted that fears of virus transmission in indoor spaces would create a ridership death spiral on public transit in cities across America. They were right, of course — and even though public transit is quickly proving to be safer than originally thought (especially when riders wear masks), it appears that micromobility may be taking on at least some of the mode share that buses and trains have lost.
Gotcha, which operates fleets of shared e-scooters, e-bikes and pedal bikes in about 35 cities across the U .S., reported shocking spikes in the number of rides, the number of unique riders, and average trip length in many of its markets. Ridership in Syracuse, N.Y., for instance, soared a stunning 2,882 percent between January and May; riders in Baton Rouge, La. travelled 1,958 percent more minutes over the same period. Athens, Ga., Charleston, S.C., and Mobile, Ala. also saw huge wins.
“The increase in ridership over the last four months has proven micro transit – when executed correctly – it’s a critical resource for communities,” said Sean Flood, Chief Executive Officer of Gotcha, in a statement. “It has proven to be successful with positive system health statistics and retention of existing employees.”
What remains to be seen, though, is where, exactly, all these riders are coming from. The company speculates that transit’s bleed-out largely explains micromobility’s recent successes, but there’s yet to be a comprehensive survey on whether Gotcha and other networks like it are, effectively, stealing riders from beleaguered local transit systems, or whether the riders are shifting from somewhere else. Gotcha, for instance, is also offering its e-scooters at a steep discount for food delivery during the pandemic, which may have opened up a new market altogether for restaurants that previously used third-party, usually car-based delivery services, like Postmates. Shared public transportation deserves to be protected just like micro-transit — and street safety advocates should question claims that riders are choosing between them in the age of COVID, rather than getting out of cars.