Look to scooters—not cars—to electrify transport

This week, Lime takes a $300M+ loss, AOC backs parking reform, and Paris lets you park your scooter, but first…

If You Care About Climate Change, You Should Care About Micromobility

By Oliver Bruce

The world is heating up. 

The best science shows that we have 11 years to cut annual emissions in half if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. 

Road transport is the fastest growing area of emissions, and one of the hardest to combat. Transport underpins the entire economy, and as it goes, so goes most everything else. 

The automotive industry’s answer to this problem has been to move production to electric cars. Tesla and Nissan have built an early lead, but they’re being pursued rapidly by VW, Toyota, and the Chinese car manufacturers. These companies are experts in making and selling cars, so naturally their solution to the climate crisis is to make cars that are as clean as possible. Billions in subsidies have been provided to assist the transition. 

Here’s the problem: Even the most optimistic projections from the International Energy Agency peg electric car adoption at 30% of total sales by 2030. Those same estimates figure the global car fleet will not be full electrified until at least 2050. 

In other words, not fast enough.

Why does this matter? Because the industry has been looking at this issue the wrong way

Cars are purchased to be used on trips. If you look at those trips, you’ll see that most of them are short.

That’s where the emissions are as well. 

It’s in this context that the emergence of small electric scooters and bikes—what we call micromobility modes—matters.

Electric bikes and scooters are perfectly suited to small trips, while only emitting 1-2% of what a car does. Put another way, 50 scooters rides produce the same amount of CO2 emissions as a single car trip.

Source: Levi Tillemann, Wired

And yet when people ride lightweight electric vehicles (LEVs) they don’t feel like they’re being short changed. 

No, LEVs are not perfect—they’re not as safe, not as weather-proof, and not as “prestigious” as cars. Not yet. But they beat cars on other important metrics: they’re faster in congested urban areas, cheaper on a per-mile basis, and more fun overall. 

And it shows in the sales data. 

Electric bikes already outsell electric cars by a factor of 10:1 in Europe and 20:1 in China. What’s more, micromobility has been able to achieve this scale with next to no government support, proper infrastructure, or tax incentives. 

Yet micromobility remains largely ignored by climate activists seeking to reduce emissions. 

If activists want a clear win with governments looking for cost-effective, climate-friendly transport options, they should be embracing the humble ebike and scooter as well as supporting infrastructure as aggressively as possible. 

But they haven’t. Why that is is beyond me. But it should change. 

If you want to be in a place where LEVs are celebrated as drivers of climate solutions, tune into The Micromobility Podcast


What You Need to Know This Week

  • Leading off, Lime is expected to lose more than $300 million on about $420 million in revenue in 2019, according to a detailed report of the company’s finances by Cory Weinberg. The silver lining for the world’s largest scooter operator is that there is some indication the business is becoming more efficient. Its two largest expenses, depreciation and local operations, both decreased between March and July. Perhaps these signs of progress explain why Lime is rumored to be close to securing half a billion dollars in new funding, despite investors’ heightened concerns over money-losing businesses after Uber and Lyft’s public market debuts and WeWork’s nixed IPO. | The Information

  • Hot on the heels of its European competitors Wind and Tier, Circ is releasing its own scooter with a swappable battery. The Berlin-based company claims the new model, which debuted in Austria this week, will have a lifespan of 18 months. | Circ

  • Harley Davidson halted production and delivery of its first electric motorcycle due to a problem with the charging equipment. | Jalopnik

  • Skip is laying off the vast majority of its operations staff in San Francisco after being denied a permit to continue operating dockless scooters there. | Examiner

  • The quest for positive unit economics continues. Not including those that deployed less than a year ago, every scooter operator in Washington, D.C., has raised its per-minute rental prices in 2019. | WaPo

  • Parking reform has reached the U.S. Congress. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants to withhold federal transportation funds from any jurisdiction that requires housing developments to have on-site parking. | Sightline

  • Related: Three House members have formed the Future of Transportation Caucus to focus on issues of transit accessibility, equity, and sustainability, including the current system’s “fail[ure] to respond to disruptive technologies and the climate crisis,” says Rep. Jesús Garcia of Illinois. | Curbed

  • In a new interview, the cofounder of the shared scooter startup Koko, which was an early market leader in Spain before being acquired by Circ, reflects on the “brutal” European landscape. “[T]he biggest challenge was securing funds. This was critical. Firstly, because density of scooters is key in this business: users won’t use the scooter if it’s 500 or more meters away; secondly, because the increasing number of users requires scalability; and thirdly, because the high number of competitors forces constant product improvement.” | Sifted

  • Pony, a shared micromobility scheme from Europe with a unique decentralized vehicle ownership model, unveiled an ebike and trailer specifically for fleet management. | Pony

  • Personal car ownership increased over the last decade in America, despite the explosion of ride-hailing and car-sharing services. | Wired

  • Related: Meanwhile, in Paris, car ownership has been cut in half in the last 20 years. Correction: An earlier version of this post stated Paris had achieved this reduction in four years. | NYT

  • In Austria, ebikes purchased for work reasons are now VAT deductible. | Trend

  • The long-awaited Bird Cruiser has arrived. The two-seater Class 2 ebike, which appears to have lost its helmet box at some point during its design evolution, is now available to rent through the Bird app in Los Angeles for $5 for 30 minutes. | Andrew J. Hawkins

  • Related: The Cruiser has also been spotted in San Francisco, where Bird operates under the Scoot brand. | Electrek

  • Lime surpassed 2 million rides in Auckland in one year. Also noteworthy, the city had over 50% fewer scooter-related injuries last month compared to its all-time peak in February 2018. | Stuff

  • Related: Lime hit 1 million rides in Stockholm, hometown of its Nordic competitor Voi, in less than a year. | Lime

  • Portland, Oregon’s public transit agency has integrated six micromobility providers into its trip planning service. | Michal Naka

  • Marking its first appearance in Italy, Jump launched several hundred ebikes in Rome in an event with mayor Virginia Raggi. The company is expected to deploy a total of 2,800 vehicles in the capital in the coming weeks. | Wanted in Rome

  • Taiwan-based bicycle manufacturer Giant projects it will sell 600,000 ebikes in 2019, continuing a remarkable run of growth. | Bike Europe

  • Docked moped-sharing scheme OjO has launched 250 vehicles in Memphis. | Commercial Appeal

  • Luxembourg City kicked Bird out for operating without a permit. | RTL

  • Ireland has begun enforcing a law that requires people who ride micromobility modals to have insurance. Some politicians have voiced support for changing this rule next month when the country’s trial period with electric scooters ends. | Times

  • Glasgow and Edinburgh are both considering levying taxes on employers’ parking spots. The Scottish cities were inspired by Nottingham, England, which reduced car use, increased funding for public transit, improved air quality, and added jobs after implementing a similar measure several years ago. | Forbes

  • Paris is creating dedicated parking spots for micromobility vehicles. | Kenneth Schlenker

  • Why micromobility advocates need to take a page from Big Auto’s playbook and start making big, audacious demands for a massive overhaul of urban infrastructure. | Citylab


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