2 May 2019

Micromobility and the future of transport

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:28 pm on 2 May 2019

You're probably over all the stories about e-scooters, but there's more to them than clogged sidewalks and crashes. 

Horace Dediu is an independent expert on "micromobility", a term he coined for small motorised vehicles, which he believes will transform our transport sector. 

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Photo: creative commons - pixabay - ebikeisrael

“Almost accidentally I came across the e-bike as another mode of transport and I dug into it and I pretty quickly was convinced that it was much more disruptive to look at the low end of transportation then to make a better car.”

The world needs not a better car but a worse car, he says.

In 2017, the US leap-frogged into electric scooters.

“Pretty soon we had a million and a half of these in use and the difference is the type of trips that are taken with… these very small wheeled vehicles, you imagine the diameter is very small, 10-15cm, and they tend to be taken on short distance trips whereas bikes are longer distance, e-bikes are longer still.”

He categorises micromobility by distance travelled.

"You discover quickly that the vast majority of trips are short and the only question then is how do we provide the right vehicle for the right distance and so that led me to think that micromobility shouldn’t be defined only as a set of vehicles like maybe a scooter and an e-bike, but rather that anything that can accommodate a certain distance, that is also not a car.”

He looked at all the invisible vehicles, like golf carts, mobility scooters and rural vehicles, and decided to draw a line. The line sits at 500kg - anything weighing less he defines as micromobility.

The total number of kilometres travelled by car worldwide this year is 27 trillion kilometres. Car travel is more than half of all travel done by people in the world, including aviation, buses, motorcycles combined.

Of those 27 trillion kilometres, about 10-15 trillion are classed as short trips - 10 to 15kms.

Dediu thinks we should target lower end trips first, like 3km trips. 

“Uber’s data, which was just published in their s1 IPO prospectus, in this document they also say that 54 or approximately 50 percent lets say of the demand for trips on their network is below 3 miles, so about 5 kilometres.”

He says it’s extraordinary that demand is for very short trips.

“People are not doing short trips with small vehicles because they really have one vehicle for everything and we call it the car.”

E-scooters aren’t the end of the story either, they’re like the cellphone of the 1990s, he says. Not even the Nokia 5120, he’s talking earlier than that.

There was enormous experimentation between that time and the iPhone, he says.

“Scooters have just popped onto the scene in the last year or so, it’s not clear they’re economically sustainable…the data I’ve seen suggests they don’t last more than 20 days, they’re very fragile…”

And they don’t work with the infrastructure we currently have and aren’t the safest either, he says.

“I’m hoping the evolution will happen quickly, a better design for more comfort, more safety especially.”

Meanwhile, the e-bike market is exploding, he says, an evolution that begs for new infrastructure, like high speed and low speed cycle paths.

Horace Dediu will be speaking at the T-Tech 19 Conference next week but joins us in the Wellington studio to discuss his fascination with scooters, ebikes, and more. 

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