Micro-mobility: Small vehicles, big effect?

Aug 10, 2021

Greater flexibility and easing traffic congestion in cities – that’s the promise of micro-mobility. Its success is set to come partly from e-scooters and other sharing offerings. Precisely how, you can find out here.

E-bikes, e-scooters, e-mopeds, hoverboards and microcars – the term micro-mobility can encompass all forms of transport offering sufficient space for one to two people and suitable for covering short distances. In the narrower sense, however, the term is mainly used for electrically-powered micro-vehicles with a handlebar, i.e. e-mopeds and e-scooters. In recent years, these types of vehicles have been enjoying a veritable boom worldwide. In 2018, e-scooters were hitting the streets in San Francisco in large numbers for the first time, and from there they have spread with astonishing speed. In Germany there were already around 54,000 e-scooters in September 2019, of which 11,000 were in Berlin alone. In Oslo at around the same time, there was something over 7,000. Nowadays the figure is around 25,700, although in future the regulations are set to become a lot stricter. In Germany, too, using an e-scooter has been subject to law since June 2019: The electric micro-vehicle ordinance (Elektrokleinstfahrzeuge-Verordnung, or eKFV), which amongst other things imposes separate registration for micro-vehicles, a top speed of 20 km/h and use restricted to city-center streets and cycle paths. Under these framing conditions, micro-mobility could contribute to easing urban traffic congestion and to lowering CO2 emissions.

Between two transportation modes: The preferred application area of micromobility. © Audi

Where are micro-vehicles used?

The main area of use is primarily in big cities, where e-scooters and e-mopeds have become popular vehicles for shorter distances and in solving the “last-mile” problem. In such cases, the micro-vehicles are mainly booked via sharing providers, whose market has grown strongly due to high demand in the urban conurbations. For instance, the number of e-scooters available for hire in Berlin has risen from around 11,000 in September 2019 to around 26,000 in May 2021

However, the concept is not solely limited to the big cities: Micro-vehicles could also be set to play an important role in the urban fringe areas and in rural areas in future, by offering an alternative to public transport which, in some regions, is very thinly spread. Many transport experts and local authorities are also calling for this to happen. The Berlin district of Adlershof (in the borough of Treptow-Köpenick) has already implemented a concept for this, collaborating with the e-scooter provider Spin to create the opportunity to commute straightforwardly between the suburb and an S-Bahn rail station.

Does the concept envisage private ownership or sharing providers?

E-mopeds and e-scooters are rarely bought by private individuals. Micro-vehicles usually cost several hundred euros, and many users are not very familiar with the new vehicles. To find out whether the technology holds any appeal, sharing platforms are the ideal solution. A further advantage is their flexibility. Providers operating a free-floating system allow users to book and park their micro-vehicles at short notice within particular user areas without fixed charging points. The provider handles charging and maintenance, while users only need to concern themselves with their journey.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of micro-mobility?

The aim is to provide greater easing of congestion on short routes in city traffic, along with lower CO2 emissions and more flexible mobility. The potential for that is huge: In Germany, for instance, every day close on 30 million car journeys are for trips under two kilometers, with a similar number covering under four kilometers, according to the German Aerospace Center (Deutsche Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR). According to DLR transport researcher Laura Gebhardt, e-scooters could also be used for around 20 percent of these trips – a calculation which also takes account of exclusion factors such as bad weather, traveling with luggage and carrying passengers. But would the spread of micro-mobility really go hand-in-hand with suppressing other forms of transport? Gebhardt  recommends observing the concept first over an extended period, as the effectiveness of micro-mobility is partly dependent on user habits – which would only change gradually.

E-kick-scooters and e-scooters are popular micromobility vehicles. © Tier

How will micro-mobility develop in future?

Since launching on the market, it seems that e-scooters and the like have been highly popular with road-users in big cities. And according to the analysts, the market for micro-mobility is promising: For instance, the corporate consultants McKinsey published a study in early 2019 that estimated the sales potential of micro-vehicles by 2030 in Europe at 150 billion dollars, and worldwide up to 500 billion dollars. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, it is true that demand experienced a significant downturn, but as case numbers fell the market quickly recovered. That demonstrates that interest in micro-vehicles is definitely long-term, not simply limited to short-term hype. While the trend to date does not permit conclusions as to whether the concept will establish in the market for the long term and whether it will drive down other forms of mobility, given the far-reaching changes in drive technologies and tightening emissions thresholds in cities, the success of electric micro-vehicles is wholly imaginable.

(Stagephoto: © Tier)

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