The 10 Biggest Mobility Stories of 2019

This week, Paris gets ready to cut down on scooters, New York buries its head in the sand, and a failed scooter startup gets bailed out by an unlikely benefactor, but first…

Illustration by Karl Jilg

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Micro announcement: We are extending the MicroHoliday discount for tickets to the Micromobility America conference an extra 48 hours.

Instead of ending tomorrow, this dealworth $600 off the General Admission price—will now expire at midnight on January 3. Why? Because no one wants to think about conference tickets on New Year’s :)

If you haven’t reserved your spot at the U.S. summit already, now would be a good time. Prices are going up after Friday.

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Learn more about Micromobility America, taking place in the Bay Area on April 22 & 23, here.


The 10 Biggest Mobility Stories of 2019

No matter what corner of the media ecosystem you inhabit or where you get your news from, one trend shapes how all of us receive information: ever-increasing speed. The news cycle today courses back and forth constantly through Twitter, Slack, Whatsapp, and other channels in a whirligig of facts, figures, hot takes, and untruths that, even a few years ago, would have given us motion sickness.

In burgeoning industries, the currents of information run especially fast. Surrounded by cash, hype, controversy, and praise, micromobility is a business that moves at full speed.

Keeping up has become a job in itself. The purpose of this newsletter is to fill that job, to cut through the clamor and provide only the most salient micromobility news to help you stay ahead (or at least caught up).

In that spirit, we have undertaken the artificially constrained task of curating the most important narratives from the last 12 months.

Did we get everything? No. But hopefully we opened up a space for reflection where we can pause and think about all that was accomplished—and all that was not—in urban mobility in 2019.

Please enjoy and, afterward, tell us on Twitter which stories we missed.

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🤩Shared micromobility soared. Last year, Americans took an estimated 84 million trips on shared micromobility. This year, it seemed like not a single week went by without a provider announcing a major ridership milestone. Tier, Circ, and Grow all hit 10 million trips, while Lime became the first scooter startup to surpass the 100-million mark. In terms of adoption, 2019 felt like a tipping point for the industry.

💸Yet profits remained elusive. Despite their popularity, scooter operators continued to endure staggering financial loses. In pursuit of positive unit economics, many introduced ruggedized hardware to enhance their products’ lifespan; some tested self-driving technology to lower operational overhead; and a few lobbied the U.S. government for relief from tariffs. While none of the big scooter operators were full-blown profitable by the end of the year, several leaders claimed to be close.

📉Car sales slipped. From China to the U.S., auto sales showed signs of decline. As a result, automakers began killing off tiny cars in favor of larger SUVs with wider profit margins. The repercussions for the planet are not good.

😱Car-sharing crashed. It was a tough year for car-sharing, which continued to suffer from high costs, heavy competition, and difficult logistics. BMW and Daimler’s Share Now—formerly Car2Go—ceased operations in North America and several European cities. GM’s Maven left almost half its markets. BlueIndy and LimePod both shuttered. There was a glimmer of hope, however, for car-sharing advocates. Peer-to-peer systems faired better than centralized services. Most notably, Turo earned unicorn status.

🛵Scooter riders took a seat. If the big scooter story of 2018 was the emergence of stand-up vehicles for rent on every street corner in the world, then 2019 was defined by promising experiments with sit-down options. Revel popularized moped-sharing in the U.S.; Bird blurred the line between bike and scooter; Uber added Vespa-style scooters in Europe; Segway announced plans to make its first seated vehicles; and India’s Bounce raked in capital for its electric two-wheelers.

🔋Ebikes brought cycling to the masses. From the U.S. and Germany to New Zealand and the Netherlands, it was a big year for ebike sales—even as sales of conventional bikes slid. And all signs point toward continued growth. Global mode share for ebikes is expected to rise by tens of billions of rides in the next three years.

♻️We debated the meaning of green. A major lifecycle study called into question the sustainability of dockless scooters. The bad news is that scooters are far from the “zero-emission” solution that some advocates had hoped, although they are still infinitely better for the environment than cars. The good news is that the industry is well on its way to solving the biggest drivers of emissions.

🏦Losing money was bad for business. On the heels of Uber and Lyft’s rocky IPOs, some evidence showed investors’ appetite for micromobility had cooled. Nevertheless, Bird, Lime, Tier, and other scooter companies that haven’t made a profit yet were still able to secure major funding rounds.

🚇MaaS moved people out of cars. Both all-in-one mobility apps like Uber and Lyft, and multimodal aggregators like Whim, Jelbi, and Transit, competed to build platforms that allow users to plan and pay for trips across a variety of transportation services, including bikes, scooters, ride-hail, and transit. The great hope is MaaS will connect the mobility value chain and help cities go car-free.

⚔️A data war heated up. More municipalities rallied around the mobility data specification (MDS), an open-source standard for cities to collect and share information with shared mobility companies. But in Los Angeles, where MDS was born, Uber pushed back in the name of consumer privacy. The ensuing legal battle took up much of 2019. Its outcome, likely to be decided next year, will have enormous consequences for how smart cities are governed in the 21st century.

Looking forward to continuing to dish up the news in 2020 ✌️


Pod Patrol

vanmoof-electric-bike-02236.0.jpg

On the latest episode of the podcast, Oliver Bruce talks to Taco Carlier, CEO of high-design bike-maker Vanmoof, about the potential of e-assist to open up cities and his mission “to build the next billion bikes.”

Listen here.

As a bonus, check out this short video from Micromobility Europe of Carlier explaining why he is bullish not only on owned micromobility, but the subscription model as well.


What You Need to Know This Week

  • Leading off, Paris, perhaps the largest market for shared micromobility in the world, revealed its long-awaited plan to cull the more than a dozen new mobility services competing for space on its streets.

    In June, the city will authorize just three companies to deploy a combined total of 15,000 “personal transport vehicles” for a period of two years. The operators will be selected based on three weighted categories: User Safety (30%); Management, Maintenance, and Recharging (30%); and Environmental Responsibility (40%). The application deadline is March 11. | Le Parisien

  • Related: It was revealed that Lime is still using gig workers in Paris, despite an earlier pledge to stop. Needless to say, this is not a good time for the company to be caught breaking promises to the city. | TF1

  • Washington, D.C. transit officials have decided that any scooter company that applied and did not receive a permit for 2020 will be allowed to continue operating until at least March 31, as long as they file an appeal by this Thursday. The decision impacts Lime, Bird, Razor, and Bolt. | WTOP

  • Rollo is piloting autonomous three-wheelers in Santa Monica. | Nathan Pope

  • Israel’s national plan to reduce personal car use includes adding bike lanes to 20 to 35% of the country’s urban road network. | Jerusalem Post

  • Lyft’s Bay Area electric bike-share program, Bay Wheels, is back and already it is mired in controversy. The company, which is in the midst of returning 4,000 ebikes to the streets of the city, sparked community outcry when it announced it would no longer accept cash payments. Bowing to public pressure, it has since pressed pause on the plan. | SF Examiner

  • As if to rub it in, Bird-owned Scoot announced that it is going to start accepting cash payments for scooter rentals in San Francisco. The cash payment option will be available at CVS, 7-Eleven, and other major chains. | SF Examiner

  • Side note: Bay Wheels also expanded its geofence to include more parts of southwest and northeast San Francisco. | Marcel Moran

  • The mayor of Taipei personally intervened when he learned that the city’s bike-share system, Youbike, had stopped allowing non-citizens to rent bikes, leading Youbike to reverse itself almost overnight. | Bloomberg

  • Bird reported that people in Atlanta took more than 2.6 million rides on its scooters this year, replacing over 86,000 car trips. | Curbed

  • According to the Paris mayor’s office, bike lane traffic tripled during the city’s transit strike. | Sifted

  • … despite the surge in ridership, the number of cycling accidents in the French capital went up only 20%. Safety in numbers, folks. | Paris En Selle

  • Tarani Duncan and Zoba calculated the impact of winter on 50 micromobility providers in nearly 250 markets around the world. | Zoba

  • Many Hongkongers are cycling to avoid congestion caused by anti-government protests, and some are forming “bike trains” to assert themselves against cars. | South China Daily News

  • Portland, Oregon, has extended its scooter trial to the end of 2020. | Portland Tribune

  • Relatedly, Lime is shrinking its service from covering pretty much the whole city to just the downtown, Northwest Portland, and part of the Eastside. | Oregon Live

  • Cincinnati bike-share officials are in talks with Ojo about bringing dockless sit-down scooters to the city. | WCPO

  • Indian startup Liger Mobility revealed a self-balancing electric moped that can stand on its own and park itself. The gyroscopic system the company developed can also be retrofitted onto other mopeds. | Web Bike World

  • One more reason to love Richmond: Since opening last month, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge pathway has been used by thousands of pedestrians and cyclists. (Have we mentioned we are holding our next conference in Richmond in April? You can bet we will be trying to set a new ridership record for the bridge bike path.) | Marin Independent Journal

  • New York’s motorhead governor vetoed legislation that would have legalized electric scooters and ebikes because it did not include a helmet requirement. The bill passed the state legislature earlier this year with about 95% support. | NYT

  • Acton revealed its first electric fleet bike, which will roll out next year. | Acton

  • Italian automaker Piaggo unveiled an electric three-wheeler, the Ape Electrik, for the Indian market. The vehicle will run on a removable battery, which will be available at swapping stations, with a range of about 45 miles on a full charge. | Drivetribe

Image result for piaggio ape electric electric 3-wheeler
  • Ridership for Houston’s bike-share program BCycle rose 50% over the 12 month period of 2019. | Houston Public Media

  • DTC scooter startup Unicorn, which recently announced it is going out of business without any money for refunds, is being bailed out by an unlikely benefactor. Rival company Unagi is offering one of its scooters (retail price: $990) to any of the 350 people who ordered a Unicorn model. | The Verge


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