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Quartz Obsession — Micromobility — Card 1
As part of our ongoing obsession with rethinking cities, we’re bringing you a six-week bonus series on the future of mobility. It will scoot in your inbox on Mondays, while the regular edition will dock on Wednesday as usual. This is Week 4!
For a century, automobiles have dominated the realm of personal transportation. For people in rural and suburban areas, a car might still be the best vehicle to take them from A to B, or on a stop-filled cross-country roadtrip.
But by 2050, the majority of the global population will live in cities, where traveling by car makes increasingly little sense. And often, public transportation leaves significant areas of a city underserved. What’s going to move urbanites on shorter missions, like a quick trip to the corner store, if public transit doesn’t get you there?
Enter the micromobility industry, whose ethos is: Small is beautiful—in terms of the trip, and also the vehicle to get you there. The industry, made up of short-distance transportation options, like bike and scooter-sharing companies, aims to make the most of urban space; promote smaller, more eco-friendly vehicles for near-distance trips; and disrupt the car-first assumption still held by much of the world.
But can these little vehicles have such a big impact—on the way we move, on the sustainability of our transport, and on the way we design our cities?
Scoot on over, let’s go for a ride.
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Quartz Obsession — Micromobility — Card 2
136 million: Shared bike and e-scooter trips in the US in 2019, up 60% from 2018
11-12: Duration, in minutes, of the average micro vehicle trip in 2019
35%: Share of US car trips that are under 2 miles (3.2 km)
22 lb (10 kg): Average weight of a road bike
4,953 lb (2,242 kg): Weight of a 2010 Hummer H3 Alpha car
68%: Share of the global population that will live in cities (and need a way to get around in them) by 2050
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Quartz Obsession — Micromobility — Card 4
Vehicles that fall into the micromobility camp generally conform to three criteria: they are lightweight (under 1,100 lbs or 500 kg), utility focused, and electric, if they have a motor at all. Think golf carts, electric scooters, bicycles, hoverboards, wheelchairs, mopeds, and Segways—anything more likely to be found on the shoulder than the middle of the road.
The introduction of micromobility infrastructure and platforms has the potential to solve a number of problems faced by cities. They can alleviate congestion, shrink transit deserts, increase accessibility for underserved neighborhoods, and solve “last-mile” service issues that existing public transit may not. Despite this, and the demonstrated demand for micromobility in cities around the globe, many centers are still reluctant to open their streets.
Places like Paris, however, have found a way. Since 2014, the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has focused on reducing emissions and returning streets to the people. She has banned cars in parts of the city center, cut its street parking for vehicles in half, and has promised cycling paths for every street in the French capital. Under her watch the city also adopted a code of conduct, signed by the city’s dockless bikeshare providers, and introduced measures to regulate shared e-scooters.
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Quartz Obsession — Micromobility — Card 5
“I latched onto micromobility as a word because it reminded me of microcomputing… Microcomputing didn’t just affect me profoundly, it also changed the world. Likewise, I sense micromobility has the potential to do the same”
—Horace Dediu, business analyst and co-founder of Micromobility Industries, who popularized the term micromobility in 2017
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Quartz Obsession — Micromobility — Card 7
French teenagers as young as 14 can zip around Paris in a small, car-like box named Ami. Ami is a small “urban mobility object” developed by auto manufacturer Citroën. Released this spring, the teeny tiny electric vehicle measures just 7 ft, 11 in (2.4 meters) long, and weighs in at 1,069 lb (485 kg). It’s technically classed as a “light quadricycle,” meaning it doesn’t require a driver’s license to operate. Ami can only reach speeds of 28 mph (45 km/h), but on the congested streets of central Paris, you’re unlikely to max out. Citroën is hoping to rent them in the style of shared bikes or scooters, on both a monthly and a minute-by-minute basis
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Quartz Obsession — Micromobility — Card 8
1993: Yamaha is the first company to mass produce an electric bike.
1995: Locking technology is developed in Portsmouth, UK, and Copenhagen simultaneously. Bikes for shared use are unlocked using a card in Portsmouth and a coin in Copenhagen.
2000: Dockless bikes arrive in Germany. Deutsche Bahn Call-a-Bike allows users to unlock bikes with a text message.
2001: The world welcomes, and then mocks, the Segway.
2007: Vélib popularizes large-scale bike rental systems in Paris.
2013: Social Bicycles pilots in New Jersey, introducing dockless shared vehicles to the US. The company later rebrands as Jump.
2015: The IO Hawk hoverboard debuts at CES. It was cool for a bit, then exploding batteries got the devices banned from most places.
2017: Bird is founded and its electric scooter service becomes a hit in Santa Monica, California. The next year it becomes the fastest tech startup to reach a $1 billion valuation.
2020: Global shutdowns force many shared vehicle services to close their doors, while others, like Jump, are sold off to competitors.
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Quartz Obsession — Micromobility — Card 9
The rollout of sharing platforms has at times been bumpy. Discarded scooters have been a hazard for people walking around cities, and untrained users have died operating them. Some companies have been kicked out or voluntarily withdrawn from centers.
Despite this, at the beginning of 2020 shared bike and scooter use was up significantly from a decade prior. 2019 was a banner year and models predicted the industry would reach $300-500 billion by 2030.
Now, Covid-19 has threatened that progress. As lockdowns rippled across the globe, fewer people needed micro vehicles to commute, anything with shared touch points was considered a health risk, and some centers temporarily banned the use of shared services. Passenger miles traveled by private and shared micromobility vehicles dropped by 60 to 70% in Europe and the US.
But there are signs the industry is already revving back up. As public transportation ridership decreases in many cities, single-use vehicles are filling the gap. The demand for individual space has led many cities to dedicate more streets to pedestrians and non-automobile vehicles with an increased focus on bicycle lanes. And a global consumer survey conducted in May by McKinsey concluded that it’s highly likely the industry will fully recover in the next few years.
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Quartz Obsession — Micromobility — Card 11
In 2019, nearly 6 cents of every venture dollar invested went into climate tech, according to PWC. The category has expanded to include everything from data center energy efficiency algorithms to electric airplanes.
$10-16 billion: Amount that 500 climate tech companies collected from investors last year, most of it in the US, China, and Europe
20: Countries that have net-zero targets on the books (compared to zero in 2006)
120: Countries working on adopting some form of carbon neutrality
300: Major global companies committed to carbon neutrality by 2050
200: Institutional investors managing $29 trillion in assets who have asked executives at top US greenhouse gas emitters to disclose their plans to limit global warming
Is climate tech booming, or on its way to another bust? Read more in our guide to climate tech’s second shot.
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