How operators can adapt to the changing needs of users and cities

by Harry Maxwell, on June 15, 2021


Micromobility companies suffered during the pandemic but, as the end of the tunnel nears, what will users look for in the ‘new normal’?

For all of the suffering and loss it has brought, the pandemic has also created a new sense of togetherness: we are more aware of our shared humanity and of the living conditions of others.

Because of this, More in Common reports, people have also expressed their desire for their countries to be more ‘environmentally-friendly’; a desire that ranked number one - ahead of ‘fair’ and ‘safe’ - in the list of aspirations for their country.

This is very promising for the micromobility industry. Although we can’t be assured of returning to business as usual just yet, we can begin to think about our ‘new normal’. Lots has changed in the past 18 months, and there are opportunities to be had for micromobility companies that think about users’ and cities' new requirements.

So, how can operators position themselves to cater to the needs of their users and city officials in the post-Covid world? This article will cover:

  1. What users care about
  2. Shifting user habits
  3. Changing cities
  4. Opportunities for operators

1. What do users care about?

In September 2020, McKinsey found that ‘risk of infection’ leapfrogged all other factors to become the biggest consideration when choosing whether or not to use a micromobility service.

Source: McKinsey

For people that used to take micromobility services, perhaps they began to walk more or take their cars (depending on the length of their trip) to mitigate this risk.

On the other hand, people who took busy metros or buses began to avoid closed spaces where there is a higher perceived risk of infection (choosing instead a mixture of micromobility and walking). As vaccines roll out across North America and Europe, we should expect this concern to dissipate, and riders return to using their favoured means of transport.

McKinsey also finds that ‘convenience’ and ‘time to destination’ are two key factors - and that will not change post-pandemic: these are two of micromobility’s greatest strengths.

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2. Shifting user habits

Micromobility services are slowly becoming less of a tourist attraction and more of a true alternative to cars - integrating seamlessly with public transport to facilitate multi-modal journeys. For example, Zoov recently partnered with the RATP in Paris (the equivalent of Transport for London) to provide users with electric bikes during scheduled engineering works this summer.

On some occasions, micromobility options are replacing public transport altogether.

It’s not just the convenience of mobility services that is getting people to turn away from cars: in fact, 2 in 3 respondents to a survey across 21 European cities said that they don’t want to return to pre-pandemic pollution levels. Greener commuting through micromobility is one way that they plan to reduce their emissions (21% said they were planning on cycling to work more often).

To this extent, subscription services (‘no unlock fee’ or monthly passes, for example) have removed the price barrier for users that solve their ‘first’ and ‘last mile’ problems (to and from stations, bus stops etc.) with micromobility.

However, as ‘risk of infection’ still ranks as a high priority for many, users have also turned towards long-term leasing subscription services. Such services, like the bikes of Bloom and Swapfiets or the scooters of Spin, mean that users always have a vehicle to rely on; one that’s built for the streets, can be fixed immediately if there are problems, and without ever having to worry about vandalism or theft.

The supply of bikes is currently failing to meet demand, leading to a worldwide shortage, which will certainly increase the shift towards these long-term leasing services and, of course, towards shared bikes. Several factories in the EU and around the world are trying to ramp up production but there is tension on upstream components (tires, batteries, electronics) making it difficult to estimate how long the shortage will last.

3. Cities are evolving

According to the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), cities spent €1bn on Covid-related cycling measures in 2020, creating at least 600 miles (1,000km) of cycle lanes, traffic-calming measures and car-free streets.

And it’s not just citizens that don’t want to return to pre-pandemic pollution. Cities are doubling down on measures to make cities more people-friendly.

The heart of Paris will become a near-car-free zone by 2022

All these are measures that will increase demand for mobility services, especially those that are fit for cycle lanes.

Higher emphasis on safety

Vanmoof found that the main reason people don’t cycle is the perceived lack of safety. 43% of all people living in the five cities sampled (London, Paris, Berlin, New York and Los Angeles) said that feeling safer would encourage them to cycle more.

Cycle lanes are making cyclists safer and are making the activity of cycling more inclusive - having a profound effect on the uptake of cycling among women. The survey confirms: 34% more cycle lanes as a solution to the perceived problem. By keeping riders away from cars, cities are giving users peace of mind when picking up a scooter or a bike.

However, where there aren’t as many cycle lanes, is the influx of all these new vehicles making roads more unsafe? Whilst there are fewer cars on the streets, there are more scooters nipping in and out of traffic.

Will it be a requirement, therefore, that operators monitor (and reward) the good behaviour of their users? With the wealth of data available to them through the numerous sensors in their vehicles, operators can track almost anything related to vehicle usage (braking intensity, acceleration etc.). How can operators use this information to work more closely with cities to make everyone safer?

4. Opportunities for operators

Demonstrate your environmental value

Since people are committed to reducing their environmental impact, they are open to changing the way they move. Some people are convinced that using micromobility services is a positive thing, but it’s true that operations do produce some emissions. At Zoov, we found that our services emit around around 65g CO2eq per kilometer, replacing a mix of transport that emits 130g CO2eq/km on average.

It is important to promote the net positive impact of micromobility services. Consider doing an ESG audit to understand the impact of your operations and to improve your contributions to sustainability. This will be essential for your discussions with cities, considering their commitments to the environment are much greater than that of every user.

Criteria worth evaluating:

  • Supply chain
  • Batteries
  • Maintenance, swapping and rebalancing operations
  • Energy sources
  • Overall and net CO2 production

Now is the time to rethink the eco-friendliness of your whole system. It’s not just about encouraging users towards micromobility services, but to strive for greener operations, to use the current momentum behind the industry to rethink how rebalancing/charging/recycling can be greener - especially since micromobility will only grow in popularity”.

- Joy Pasquet, Urban Planner

Build relationships with officials to build safer cities

The post-pandemic increase in ridership is a great opportunity to prove that cycling, for example, is for everyone. By gathering ridership data across the city, you can identify the safest or preferred routes of existing riders, and share this information with city officials.

Together, you can identify the most dangerous areas of the road network and point cities to locations where they should consider improving or adding cycling infrastructure (based on real data).

This relationship should yield two things; a) a stickiness with the city when it comes to winning a renewal tender and b) a safer city for cyclists will lead to increased demand for your services.

Target newly viable mid-sized cities

According to this report cities with a population of 50,000 – 150,000 are the markets of choice for the operators in post COVID-panic times. Whilst cities of this size can add complexity to daily operations, they also offer larger opportunities in terms of growth and usage.

In these cities, public transport systems may be less well-developed/dense, so micromobility represents a bigger opportunity to get people out of cars (for people who are not transit riders because it is inconvenient - e.g. if they need to make connections with multiple low-frequency bus lines) than in big metropolises with high-availability transport.

For more on choosing the right city, check out The Ultimate Guide to Profitability in Micromobility.

Increased ridership in city centers for bikes and scooters

With people avoiding public transport, cities clamping down on cars and encouraging the use of bikes through cycle lanes, there is a big opportunity for operators to pick up this demand. They should be considering growing their presence in these areas, as there will be an opportunity to increase ridership and increase chances of profitability.

Operators should think about how they can integrate with the existing transport system and build their operations around the idea of complementarity, rather than competition. In basic terms, this would look like setting up stations next to major transport hubs or stations; in more complex terms, it could mean combined fares or special incentives to encourage multi-modal journeys between both public and private services.

Cargo, go, go

Perhaps the largest downside of bikes and scooters is that they are only for one person. Whilst ‘group ride’ functionality partially solves the problem, companies like Avocargo specialize in cargo bikes that allow a rider, or two small children, to fit in the cargo part of the bike. This is a great alternative for families, but also for people who would usually take their car to go shopping. Although bikes can hold an average amount of shopping, cargo bikes give people the opportunity to carry significantly more... and leave their car at home!

Source: Avocargo

Is it time to add cargo bikes to your fleets?

Long-term leasing is a must

As we have seen, the trend of leasing personal vehicles without the hassle of owning is sweeping the continent, and it’s time for sharing companies to get in on it too.

Operators that have the capacity to adapt their vehicles to any use case and make them available for long-term leasing will be best placed for this. Vehicles must be of a high enough quality for users to consider them as ‘personal’, but must also be designed for long-term leasing (e.g. must have a swappable battery, amongst many other things).

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