In this episode of our CleanTech Talk podcast interview series, Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc. and CleanTechnica contributor, and Mike Casey and Nathaniel Schub from Tigercomm sit down to talk about micromobility. You can listen to the full conversation in the embedded player below. Below that embedded SoundCloud player is a brief summary of the topics covered, but tune into the podcast to follow the full discussion!
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As part of CleanTechnica’s new podcast series on micromobility, Michael focused this podcast discussion around shared micromobility solutions. Micromobility, according to CleanTechnica’s emerging definition, encompasses everything from small electric personal vehicles to shared devices like electric scooters or electric delivery vehicles.
As President of Tigercomm, Mike uses a Onewheel to get to work. For him, micromobility is an important part of tackling global climate change and cutting pollution levels. Along with Nat, Account Consultant at Tigercomm, Mike works on tackling one of the biggest constraints micromobility companies face when entering a new city: governance structures being the deciding factor of whether or not a company can operate within the city limits. In fact, Mike says that these companies have no problem getting consumers to use scooters — their success as a company often will come down to whether or not they have government permission to operate. This license to operate is tricky to come by, Mike says, but by learning from challenges overcome in other clean technology sectors, micromobility can learn to make better mistakes.
Mike spent the first 10 years of his career working to “help people get into office, remove people from office, and help people stay in office,” as he says. His experiences in Washington, D.C. taught him some of the most important lessons he uses at Tigercomm today — how to please politicians. Any company that has significant exposure to the decisions of elected officials will need to pay serious attention, money, and resources in making sure it is not a barrier to their operations, he says. Neglecting this, Mike notes, can lead to painful outcomes and setbacks for a company.
Nat has been working with Mike in some capacity for the last 8 years. Before Tigercomm, he was a management consultant with a master’s degree in data science. His full-time job currently is working under the Department of Defense, where he has a job involving lots of data, predictive models, and machine learning. All tools, Nat explains, that are useful when understanding the micromobility company challenge.
This leads Michael into a discussion on what he calls the “micromobility drag coefficient.” As Mike explains, this is the idea that the main constraint on growth for micromobility companies is not getting people to use their vehicles, but actually city government permission to operate in a specific area. He notes that cities have largely developed for car travel and some sidewalk traffic. With the addition of helmet-less riders to already dangerous streets filled with distracted drivers, there has been an increase in serious accidents and brain injuries, Mike says. But despite this negative implication of electric scooter adoption, both Mike and Nat believe there are many more positives associated with transitioning away from car-focused cities into more multimodal city planning. The trick is getting local, state, and national governance on board.
All three of the speakers dive into lessons from other sectors within clean technology that have also faced various governance hurdles, such as rooftop solar and PACE lending, Mike notes. What Tigercomm has found is that public officials tend to view many of these companies as grouped together — so, when one electric scooter sharing service makes a mistake, it is attributed to all of the electric micromobility sector. And when it comes to companies distinguishing themselves from other bad apples in the sector, Nat found that many micromobility companies do not utilize their social media and communication channels as effectively as they could.
To begin to reshape the narrative around micromobility, companies have the opportunity to course correct and redirect their communications channels to focus on how micromobility could play a critical part in making cities attractive enough for citizens to stay post-pandemic. The benefits? According to Mike, these services make living in cities easier and more fun; cut down air pollution, other emissions and car traffic; and open up conversations around how urban officials can rethink city living. Specific actions like directing consumers to support micromobility in their city by speaking out about their positive experiences has the potential for helping companies gain more traction in cities, he explains.
The global pandemic has clearly shaped the industry. Back when surface transmission was assumed to be one of the biggest ways to transmit COVID-19, many consumers shied away from using shared electric scooter and bike services, Mike noted. But now, the team is seeing signs that ridership is rebounding and micromobility companies are beginning to think about how they approach rebuilding post-pandemic, he says.
Michael, Mike, and Nat close out this CleanTech Talk episode with a conversation around the leaders within the sector and the opportunities for micromobility that lie in learning from other clean technology sectors. Mike believes that the sector is “transformative as much as it is transforming” and will be able to learn to make smarter mistakes. For more on micromobility, stay tuned for more CleanTech Talk episodes to come.
To hear more on these topics, as well as asides on microactivism, data in micromobility, and thought leaders in the sector, listen to the show!
Check out previous CleanTech Talk episodes here.