Micromobility is rebounding after COVID disruptions

Industry

COVID-19 dealt the nascent micromobility movement a stunning blow just as the industry was accelerating. In 2019, McKinsey & Co. consultants predicted that micromobility would be a $300 billion to $500 billion market by 2030. The number of journeys made on e-scooters in the U.S., for instance, had more than doubled to 86 million in 2019 from the year before.

Then the pandemic slashed travel worldwide, crushing some fledgling micromobility providers and stressing others. At the same time, the crisis forced some cities to pivot from traditional transportation to help contain the virus. Milan, for instance, aggressively promoted the use of e-scooters and bicycles instead of mass transit.

Contributor Dale Buss spoke with Kersten Heineke, 36, who has been observing the development of micromobility worldwide from his perch in Frankfurt as co-leader of the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: Is the pandemic continuing to thwart micromobility?

A: The pandemic has done a great deal in shaping the future of micromobility, but in a positive sense. Most of the markets see that when people start traveling again, they change their behavior to a certain extent. Public transit, not yet. Cars, a bit more. But the biggest winner is everything two- and three-wheeled, as indicated by the fact that it was basically impossible to buy a bike.

Also, with improvements to micromobility and biking infrastructure, demand for shared scooters and e-bikes and other modes has started to pick up again. Growth levels of all of the companies in the space are back to pre-pandemic levels for sure.

What has happened to the universe of providers?

There’s big consolidation, being driven by a couple of companies acquiring each other, a couple of companies reducing their footprint voluntarily by saying they’re opting out of either regulated or unregulated cities, and a couple of providers losing a bit of position in the market because they’re not winning as many [contracts]. And some cities are limiting the number of providers who can be part of a city [contract].

Zoom us to 2035. What will micromobility look like, and what regional differences will there be?

That’s an exciting question. Micromobility will see different form factors than today. You’re still going to see something like an e-kick scooter for very short rides in warm-weather cities, or a ride where you need to go from A to B and take nothing with you.

But on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll see something between an e-cargo bike and a car. It could be a minicar or a bike that has some protective shell around it, and ultimately it will be the vehicle you could use in an urban environment for almost 100 percent of your mobility needs.

It will go at a reasonable speed; it will protect you from the weather; you will be able to take something or someone with you. There are many concepts about what this type of vehicle might look like.

There will be geographic diversity. The U.S. will have slightly larger vehicles on average than Europe and Asia. And you’re going to see micromobility much more dominant in urban and heavily populated environments than in rural areas.

What will be the big determinant of how this plays out — governments or consumers?

Governments have and will continue to play a massive role in actively encouraging and propelling micromobility and also pushing people from other modes of transport into micromobility, and combining it with other modes. City governments already have made extensive pushes to become more bike-friendly, and they’ll make it much more difficult to use a large-scale vehicle. There will be emissions-free zones and even car bans on certain days, and they can take away parking spots.

And think about the integration of different modes. The fastest way to get from home in the suburbs to downtown would be to take an e-scooter to the subway station or train, which is much faster than a car, and then take another e-scooter for the last mile. For this to work, you would need a solution guaranteeing availability and price that would be integrated into the ticket.

What about the hollowing out of urban cores and office centers by remote work?

That is a key and open question. Unless there is a massive [long-term] move away from cities, or there are a lot of people who only go to the office once a week or so — and we haven’t seen indications that is the case yet — there won’t be a drastic change.

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