The State of Micromobility in the USA compared to China
The electric scooter and bike-share industry has recently endured significant concerns about safety coupled with substantial operating losses, which have cast doubt on the long-term operations of American mobility networks like Lime and Bird, so much so that even Chinese manufacturers have doubts about their presence long-term.
However, although some business models may be failing, the future of micromobility is far from over. In China there is already over 200 million electric bicycles and scooters on the streets, so the concept can definitely work. American cities will need to make adjustments to make space for them, which will change the face of urban transportation.
In the 1990s Taiwan began promoting electric bikes as an environmentally friendly alternative to motorbikes. The e-bikes have continued to gain popularity with uptake moving into China and from 1998 to 2005, e-bike ownership in China grew from 40,000 to over 10 million.
The growth is also largely due to government policy which stipulated from 1996 that fuel-powered motorbikes were banned from city centres due to air pollution. The e-bikes have been proven to reduce CO2 emissions by roughly 98 per cent on a per-mile basis compared to cars. The e-bike uptake was boosted again in 2005 when the contagious and deadly SARS virus broke out and the people of China were advised against using public transport.
China now has about the same amount of e-bikes as they do cars, and have inspired the creation of an entirely new class of vehicles, including electric scooters.
In America, electric scooters appeared in Southern California in 2017 and companies like Bird and Lime have combined micromobility with another Chinese innovation: dockless technology, which used wireless networks and tracking apps.
Micromobility is well on track to connect a physical network of data, people, and retail and companies like Lime and Bird are likely to use the data to develop new and improved modes of transport, much like the iPhone has gone through its phases of development.
There is enormous potential for micromobility to develop new business models, software platforms, subscription fees and product ecosystems. The result of this will increase productivity, reduce emissions and air pollution, and save time and fuel.
In America approximately 60 percent of car trips are under 6 miles long, similar to Beijing or Manilla, so estimations in the US, EU, and China state that micromobility could be a $300 billion to $500 billion market by 2030 with some predictions as high as $900 billion.
Fundamentally, micromobility can be scaled with great speed, so American cities will need to ensure public roads can include micromobilty options, as they have in China, where protected bike lanes run adjacent to main roads and e-bike riders on light vehicles are not forced to dangerously ride alongside heavy cars.
Policy and infrastructure significantly underpins the progress of micromobility options being available. They can save cities money by improving the utilisation of existing roads and solving the problem of the “last mile” commute.
If the US follows China’s lead and makes space for electric scooters and bikes, they can improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion. America should be leading the way and Australia should be following suit, as this is one of the key growth opportunities for our economy.
19th June 2019