What is the first thing that pops up in your head when you hear the word “micro”? I would not guess “mobility”. After all, here in the States, we are not famous for liking our stuff small. America is addicted to cars, especially the big ones…

That being said, micro-mobility is now making a lot of noise. Some flaunt it as the solution to the world’s transportation and environmental problems. Others see it as nothing more than a gimmick. In a world of differing opinions, you face quite the trouble sorting them out to find the truth. Well, let me see how we can actually go about it then.

In this article, we will dive through the facts together. Our goal is to make sense of the whole micro-mobility niche, figure it out and see if it holds any merit. This new technology may not be the ultimate solution to anything, but then again it is likely not all that bad either. Hop right on!

The basics of micro-mobility

First, we need to get our terminology straight. Micro-mobility sounds vague enough to fit a whole bunch of things, so we have to see what it really means.

Wikipedia mentions that any vehicle under 1100 lbs (or 500 kilos) falls within the micro-mobility category. Funny enough, no one knows who has set this standard, and why the arbitrary measurement even exists.

If we want a more useful description, we should simply look up some examples. Electric scooters and skateboards, as well as electrically assisted bikes, are all part of the micro-mobility world. So to me, it seems that “micro” would be a small vehicle with a motor. Basically, anything that freely transports a single person around town.

That being said, the motor is not strictly necessary. Shared bikes also count, even if they are not motorized. Obviously, the whole definition is a bit blurry. But still, you get a general idea. Now we should see how it all came to be!

The origins of micro-mobility

Non-electric push scooters have been around since the Stone Age. Okay, maybe not as far back, but they do feel quite ancient. Yet someone figured out they could be motorized, and voila – a giant industry pops up all of a sudden.

Micro-mobility is one of the fastest-growing niches ever. It has surprised many even in the world of technology, where people are used to quick growth. Think about it – a few years ago Uber was all the rage, now people are driven mad by electric scooters. They have flooded some cities where you cannot go outside without stumbling into one. Even pop-culture makes fun of them now.

While e-scooters do make the majority of micro-mobility, the niche did not start there. Bikes have been a popular mode of transport in the EU for a while. People in China have also used them extensively. But not everybody wants to own a bike and take care of it, not to mention figuring out a way to store it (including at work). So bicycle-sharing systems have popped up to solve these issues, at least partly.

The actual origins take us all the way back to the Netherlands, 1965. Some 30 years later the UK and US also developed bike-sharing programs for certain places. The biggest development though happened in China. Initially, they were regular bikes, then motorized versions came. At some point, people figured you could scale the bike down and motorize a scooter instead.

This is pretty much how micro-mobility started out. The cheap scooter price, coupled with little actual regulation propelled the industry forward. The micro-mobility boom that we are seeing now in the States mimics what has been happening in China for quite a while now. Is that good or bad though? A bit of both!

The benefits of micro-mobility

While the world loves to focus on negativity, I figured we should first look at all the positives that micro-mobility can bring. Here are some:

Micro-mobility may allow you to escape the rush hour

Nobody likes being stuck in a jam. It is obvious how e-scooters can alleviate that a bit. However, they can also help you to cut down on travel time altogether. It is common for people to get to work faster riding a bike than driving a car during rush hour. An e-scooter then is not far behind, and you will not get sweaty riding it.

Small vehicles are cheap to maintain

This is not exactly your concern if you do not plan to own one. However, it makes the investment into a higher quality micro vehicle quite worthwhile. If you live somewhere where the climate allows it, you can save yourself a lot of trouble with a good e-scooter.

They often end up the cheaper alternative

Most people have not yet transitioned to EVs, so gas prices still matter to them. However, with the occasional use of an e-scooter (or an e-bike) they can cut down on transportation costs.

Micro-mobility can fill in the gaps

Have you heard of the last-mile problem? That is the distance to work, which is too close to drive, but too far to walk. It is a problem for commuters, who do not have a convenient bus stop. They are often forced to account for an additional hour of commute just because of inefficient travel options. This is where e-scooters can help many folks by literally closing that gap.

Other notable micro-mobility benefits include:

  • Reduced pollution – The less gas being used the less pollution there will be.
  • A potentially healthier option – Standing up, keeping balance and pedaling (in case of bikes) all require you to be at least a little bit more active.
  • Accessible for financially-challenged people – E-scooters are cheap enough to provide a way of transport for people, who cannot otherwise afford it.

As you can see there are some clear pros to micro-mobility. It is no wonder why certain people make such a big deal about it. However, not everything is as clear-cut and as beneficial as some would want you to believe. Let us explore the cons right now!

The problems with micro-mobility

Even if you support the niche of small vehicle transportation, you still have to accept that some folks find them problematic. The key is to figure out what the problems are, and if they are fixable at all. After all, since micro-mobility is probably here to stay, we should make the transition as smooth as possible. Here are some glaring issues to figure out first:

Too dependent on weather

Though it may seem a small thing, weather can actually be quite the issue. Most places do not have excellent weather throughout the year, which means that e-scooters will go through periods without use. But people are creatures of habit, so if they stop using scooters, working them back into their routine will be a challenge.

Micro-mobility does not scale well with distance

Riding a scooter for a couple of miles is cool. You can probably have an e-bike trip of about 5-7 miles too. However, going above that gets daunting. If you live very far away from work, a scooter will not solve your issue. Nobody wants to ride these things for hours on end. Not to mention that the longer you are on a scooter the bigger our next issue gets.

Safety concerns

I did not even have to research this before it popped up in my head as a potential issue. Every biker will tell you how important it is to keep your head safe. Some would go as far as protecting the whole body. Yet you will not see anyone on a shared scooter or bike with protective gear on. This raises some concerns. For example, if seatbelts are enforced, should micro-mobility protection not also be?

Clutter and trash

Dockless scooters (the ones you can leave anywhere) have already become quite the issue for city dwellers. They have flooded the sidewalks, blocking them, especially during times when they are not heavily used.

Additionally, electric scooters last less than a month. That means companies need to supply new ones regularly. Such a thing only serves to saturate the streets even more. Sadly, there is no clear solution either. For instance, China saw similar issues, only in their case, it was bikes, not scooters. Do you know what happened to all the extra bikes? They became mountain-sized trash piles. A good counter-argument to the environmental benefits, right?

All these issues may not seem too big right now, but how long until they become unbearable? How many people need to get hurt? How high should the trash piles get?

Of course, some would say that you are technically required to wear a helmet. You are also required to park scooters nicely and not drive on the sidewalk. Is that enforced though? Not really. These are rules, not laws. With so many scooters, little regulation, and not enough personnel to monitor everything, we need better solutions that can actually make e-scooter users follow the rules.

This is what makes micro-mobility so interesting right now. On the one hand, it holds the potential to alleviate a lot of traffic issues. On the other hand, it raises concerns people did not have beforehand.

So is micro-mobility really a solution?

The short answer – it can be. If companies (and users) are smart about it, micro-mobility can revolutionize the way we travel. More people may become commuters because many are already eager to ditch their cars. Scooters will just make the transition easier.

Conversely, micro-mobility may become a bigger issue if we are not quick to act. Regulations are necessary because safety and clean streets are important things to stand for.

What about you though – are you excited about micro-mobility? Or is it just another nuisance that you want to see fade into obscurity?


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