Embracing Micro Mobility – a blog to accompany our August report
This blog is a contribution by Dr David Braben, President of Frontier Developments and Chair of Cambridge Ahead’s Transport Group.
Micro mobility describes personal forms of transport that are either human powered (such as a push bike) or are small and electric (like an e-scooter or e-bike). Micro mobility gives us the opportunity to connect our city and outlying villages, and offers flexible, on demand transport options up to around five miles out of Cambridge, and beyond that can augment public transport by providing “first and last-mile” solutions for those travelling to, for example, railway stations. Commercial micro mobility is growing too, for example e-cargo bikes like Zedify are increasingly used to deliver freight within the city, reducing reliance upon larger, polluting vans, and food delivery firms like Uber Eats and Deliveroo have also moved to micro mobility within the city.
As a result, micro mobility is already reducing short journeys by car, taxi, and vans. This is important because journeys between 1 and 3 miles long make up 60% of city trips, and micro mobility presents a real opportunity to reduce both congestion and emissions locally.
In our recent report ‘Embracing Micro Mobility’, we explored learning from micro mobility trials in the city. We looked at Voi scooter trials and e-cargo bikes being promoted by the Greater Cambridge Partnership and trialled by the University of Cambridge. Whilst there are many benefits to micro mobility that we can already see, to make their inevitable integration into our transport mix as safe, efficient and accessible as possible, we need to think about several factors:
- Parking – we learned from these trials that cycle and scooter parking can be an issue, particularly in central areas where space is compromised. As of March 2022, there was only capacity for four Voi parking spots within a 200m radius of the Market Square in Cambridge, whilst demand was significantly higher. Similarly, e-cargo bike parking presents challenges, given their size and value. We made suggestions that underused car parking spaces or taxi bays could be repurposed for these uses, as well as easily discoverable parking at transport interchanges. Within our city, there is also scope for more collaborations between local employers and Voi and e-cargo bike providers, to create parking on-site – such as the one recently announced by Cambridge United Football Club; https://www.cambridge-united.co.uk/news/2022/august/voi-scooters-cambridge-united-abbey-stadium-sky-bet-league-one-efl-english-football-league-friday-12th-august-2022/. We recommend that more opportunities are seized for expanding their provision at use at different campuses and employment sites across the city.
- Parking Security – one challenge for micro-mobility, where the ownership is not part of a city-wide scheme, is the ability to securely park a bicycle, and particularly for higher value e-bikes and e-scooters. Crime within Cambridge is becoming a significant obstacle to use of personal bicycles, and the police do not currently take cycle crime seriously enough. It is something the police need to start responding to if micro-mobility is to continue to grow.
- Geography - micro mobility, in particular e-scooters, are a straightforward means to deliver on-demand transport to Cambridge’s periphery. However, there is opportunity to expand their availability to villages such as Waterbeach, Cottenham, Fulbourn and Great Shelford, and with time beyond that. This will become increasingly relevant as the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Greenway scheme progresses, and crucially this needs to evolve in real-time as providers collect data from users about desired routes and pick-up/drop-off locations around the city. It will need an increasingly greater installed base of vehicles, so as to achieve a reliable solution, as there needs to be an expectation of availability when needed. This suggests a significant amount of excess provision in the system, as within the city it is usually practical to walk to the location of the next available e-scooter, but that is not the case further out.
- Road space and access rights – part of the popularity / acceptability of e-scooters in Cambridge may owe to the single-provider model, meaning that our pavements aren’t used as rider markets. This avoids many scooters being ‘dumped’ as was previously the case with hire bikes. However, an oft-heard concern about e-scooters is their speed travelling along cycle paths that are shared with pedestrians, so consideration needs to be given to the hierarchy of road users, and to consider where route sharing is appropriate, and whether there should be a lower speed restriction (as Voi already apply in some cases) for shared-use paths.
- Legislation - An important factor in making shared space safe (e.g., through our parks) is to have nationally legislated speed restrictions for e-scooters and e-bikes, including those that are privately owned. A separate but related concern is with e-cargo bikes and their size and speed on cycle paths. Some of the cargo e-bikes are as wide as the cycle lane, which is an issue for cycles coming the other way. There is also a tendency for them to drive on their speed limiter, which can be daunting for a bike coming the other way. This requires that their size is factored into infrastructural transport planning when cycle paths are created or upgraded, and possible separate categorisation will be needed with time. Also, as electric motor bikes become more available, there needs to be a very clear distinction between e-bikes and electric motor bikes (where the main difference is their size, weight, and no 15.5 mph speed limiting). It is already the case that it is common to see electric motor bikes on cycle paths travelling in excess of 30 mph, which will in turn discourage cycle use because of perceptions of safety issues.
- Integration – While micro-mobility should be a key part of the transport mix available, it needs to be integrated into other transport modes. This is more of an issue for personal micro-mobility as opposed to rental micro-mobility. Security has been mentioned already, but at the moment it is not practical to carry a bicycle on a bus, and is often discouraged or not allowed by train. Carrying personally-owned scooters would be practical, and some consideration should be given to this. It can greatly extend the area covered by a bus stop or railway station, in turn making the bus network more effective.
In sum, micro mobility is a vital tool for creating an integrated transport system and freeing up road capacity. It can bring a meaningful improvement to quality of life, not just to those that use it. There are health benefits too, not just in the corresponding reduction of vehicle emissions, but in that the riders of even e-scooters and e-bikes are semi-active physically. There has been some discussion about “15 minute cities” – in other words to arrange cities so that the things you need – shops, schools, workplaces, travel hubs, are all within about 15 minutes of travel. Micro-mobility is a great way to help facilitate this.
It is important that micro mobility continues to thrive within our transport mix, and it is vital that its unique requirements are integrated into transport planning, enabling their use to be safe and sustainable, long into the future.