The Pandemic Is Shifting Urban Transport To Micromobility

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A 2019 RadRover on a municipal path. Photo by Jennifer Sensiba.

In a recent article at The Economist, data are showing that urban commuters are shifting away from public transit and to alternatives. While cars are on the rise, other factors are steering commuters to electric scooters, bicycles, and presumably e-bikes.

While transit authorities are taking measures to protect transit riders, often in the form of mask mandates, the number of riders is still not coming back up, possibly because riders don’t trust that the measures will protect them. Even as infections fell and it became safer, transit use was still 40% lower than pre-pandemic levels.

While the private space in cars is an attractive alternative, there are still many downsides. Traffic, tolls, congestion pricing, parking costs, and other inconveniences of owning cars in cities are still here during the pandemic. In response to the pandemic, many cities are temporarily expanding pedestrian spaces and/or building temporary bike lanes, and they plan on making it permanent going forward.

All of these factors led to increases in both shared bike use (short-term bike rentals) and scooter rentals in several cities. While data are available for rented micromobility, it’s harder to determine how many are riding their own bikes and scooters. What is known is that bike sales went up, and in some places it was hard to find a bike to buy. With all of the new bikes on the streets, and with habits changed, it’s unlikely that everyone will get back on buses and trains when this is over.

While transit fans are already getting grumpy about this on Twitter, it may be better for both transit and cities. With less crowding, it may be possible for transit agencies to attract new riders away from cars while former riders stay on micromobility. At the same time, it’s possible that increased spaces to ride (pedestrianized streets, new bike lanes) will make micromobility feel safer and easier than ever before, which can attract more people away from the crowded streets. Nature abhors a vacuum.

While the pandemic may not last forever, it’s looking like its impacts on urban mobility will be seen for years, and possibly decades.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1874 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba