Are e-scooters the killer application for urban mobility?

By 28 July 2020Scenario
e-scooters

Covid-19 is continuing to change the way Cities and other public bodies operate. In pandemic-resilient urban communities, mobility will have a critical part in supporting recovery and getting economies moving again while curbing the virus spread.

Public transportation seems to be having a hard time in many metropolitan areas. In Milan, Italy, transportation company ATM claims a 35% drop in passengers, while in Washington DC, US, Metrorail’s passenger trips for the day currently make up 9% of what Metro ran on a similar day before the pandemic. The sharp decrease of transit volumes can be partly explained by the perception of personal vehicles as safer than buses and underground trains.

As some Cities in the US are spending on transportation to ensure the continuity of essential services, improve vehicle cleaning and disinfection, and increase green mobility where possible, micro mobility systems look like an easy-to-implement alternative in many urban conglomerates.

Are e-scooters already speeding along your City? They are still relative newcomers to the streets, but they have started to be considered a serious transport mode, bringing added benefits in the era of social distancing. Available at reasonable costs to privately buy, e-scooters are more and more used through the sharing schemes now operating in more than 100 cities in at least 20 countries. As reported on Bbc.com, about 4.6 million shared e-scooters are expected to be available worldwide by 2024.

If you browse for news about e-scooters, you’ll be surprised with the number of accidents happening anywhere. Although safety is a relevant issue (and regulation is addressing it in most countries where these vehicles are legal), e-scooters have come under scrutiny even for their environmental impact. Shared models are emission-free at the point of use, but neither the processes of manufacturing, moving and managing them, nor battery recharge operations are carbon neutral.

Despite some skepticism, e-scooters appeal to City governments in the Covid-19 recovery as they seek urban mobility systems adhering to social distancing while avoiding increases in polluting car use. In this perspective, it might be interesting to encourage the use of e-scooters together with public transports, thus suggesting e-scooters to cover the first-mile or last-mile from bus or train stations, and endorsing intermodal trips.

And what if e-scooters become smart sensing devices? A promising experience has just begun in China with taxis. Researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University are working in Shenzhen and Tianjin to turn taxis into mobile sensing platforms and enable cost-effective, widespread data collection for traffic congestion, noise and air pollution monitoring applications. E-scooters might soon be the next platform to embed environmental, motion, or other kind of sensors.

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