Lime Kicks Off Webinar Series Examining Micromobility In A Post-COVID Age
Policy | April 27, 2020 | Share
To expand this conversation, Lime convened a webinar on Tuesday, April 21st, bringing in North American advocates, policymakers, business leaders and government officials currently grappling with this question. The webinar titled “Preparing for the day after: How can micromobility get communities moving post-COVID?” was moderated by Axios’ resident urbanist, Kim Hart, and opened with comments by Lime’s Head of Global Policy Katie Stevens.
Featured panelists included:
• Barb Chamberlain, Active Transportation Director at Washington State Department of Transportation
• Brittney Kohler, Legislative Director at the National League of Cities
• Calvin Thigpen, Policy Research Director at Lime
• Elizabeth Velez, Chair of the New York Building Congress and President, The Velez Organization
• Brianne Eby, Senior Policy Analyst at the Eno Center for Transportation
From the outset, panelists agreed that the world we return to will be vastly different than the one we left. As Brittney Kohler noted, “we can’t just flip the switch,” and return to normal.
Instead, proactive steps to plan and adapt will shape long-term outcomes for cities across the continent. Most of all, panelists acknowledged a return to urban-landscapes dominated by car use--including the design, policy and infrastructure decisions that enabled it--would have detrimental impacts, with disproportionate burdens placed on historically disadvantaged communities already bearing the brunt of the COVID crisis.
Washington State DOT Active Transportation Director, Barb Chamberlain, highlighted how vital equity is to decisionmaking going forward. She pointed to existing racial and socio-economic fault lines that exist in communities across the U.S. and noted “it shows up... in how our streets are planned, designed, used and policed.” Chamberlain decried historic modal preferences that exacerbate these problems, adding, “we have this car-centric legacy that’s grounded in this history, that reflects this history, and it makes all of this worse.”
To avoid this future, panelists argued that coalitions built across sectors and demographics would be vital in pushing government leaders and decision makers to plan accordingly. A central component of those plans would be to take micromobility into account as a primary mode of transportation post-COVID.
The rationale is simple: bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters allow for social distancing and can help avoid car-choked streets and the high emissions they yield.
Unfortunately, public transit ridership has plummeted during the crisis. This has severely strained agency budgets and put entire systems in jeopardy. Elizabeth Velez noted that ridership is down 70% on New York’s subways, with revenues down even further at 95%.
The early stages of the recovery also look bleak for transit, with commuters likely to be wary about crowding into tight spaces with strangers. The question cities have to start considering is how those millions of riders will get around instead.
Lime’s Calvin Thigpen shared data taken from a recent rider survey in Denver that found respondents envisioned taking public transit and rideshare much less in a post-COVID future. Significantly, those respondents also said they would likely walk and bike at much higher rates than they did pre-COVID.
Other Lime data pointed to similar trends toward active transportation, this time in South Korea, the only country where Lime maintained operations through the crisis. While scooter ridership fell significantly during South Korea’s outbreak peak, ridership has steadily returned and now sits just below pre-COVID levels.
While these are encouraging signs, cities cannot take for granted that public transit ridership will be absorbed by micromobility and other active transportation options without encouragement through policy, infrastructure and street design.
So what’s needed? Brianne Eby of the Eno Center for Transportation says it starts with safety. City residents have to feel confident enough to hop on a bike, a scooter, or even walk for these modes to be preferable. The same is true with transit over the long term. Ultimately, “the public is going to need to trust that shared service,” added Eby, so transportation providers from transit agencies to ride share companies to micromobility services will have to take steps to clean their products and let riders know how their safety is being taken into account.
Street conditions will also be a factor so cyclists and scooter riders can feel safe and comfortable. Cities are already experimenting with reconfigurations in street design and function as a result of COVID-19 to meet the need for more public space. Brittney Kohler of the National League of Cities highlighted Oakland, CA, Philadelphia, PA and Duluth, MN, among others, as prime examples of innovation and encouraged other cities to experiment to better manage space and safety.
“We are glad to see these types of operations change and open us up to new ways of thinking about our streets and I think we’ll continue to see that type of innovation,” said Kohler.
To add to that point, New York Building Congress Chair Elizabeth Velez gave a shout out to efforts in New York City, led by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Member Carlina Rivera to open up 75 miles of street space to pedestrians and cyclists, what would be a significant step in the most populated city in America.
Velez also pointed out that New York is well-poised to gain from micromobility, given the recent micromoblity legalization effort led by Governor Andrew Cuomo. According to Velez, 70% of all taxi trips are less than 1.5 miles, a sweet spot for micromobility. City leaders now need to take the last step and embrace these innovative modes of transportation to replace those taxi trips.
Thigpen added to these reasons for hope that micromobility can help drive (or scoot) the COVID recovery in cities across the country. He shared statistics from Lime’s 2019 rider survey that found 82% of users were local residents. With such high levels of use for local residents, scooters could quickly become a default option on the other side of the curve.
Riders from the survey mentioned commuting to or from work or school (37%), visiting friends or going out to dinner (28%) and making trips to/from errands and shopping (14%) as reasons why they take scooters, use cases that point to continued demand as we recover, all while supporting economic growth and hard-hit local businesses.
This important discussion wrapped up with acknowledgement of some key points to help provide encouragement and a road map for what comes next:
- • Cities should reconfigure transportation policy to encourage socially distant, two-wheeled options and avoid a reversion to widespread car use as we recover.
- • Public support and funding for infrastructure will be crucial to help improve streets and make them more accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and scooterists, as well as to rescue public transit and make it sustainable for the long-term.
- • Equity must be a part of the discussion at every level to fix historic inequalities in infrastructure, services, health outcomes and more, all of which have been amplified by COVID-19.
- • Cities should not be afraid to experiment. They should try new things while collecting as much data as possible. Data should ultimately drive decision making and cities should keep what works, while tinkering with what does not.
- • The intersection of health and transportation is more important than ever and providers (public transit, micromobility, ride-share, etc.) must be proactive in addressing the safety of their products and services, while informing users and riders of the steps they are taking and will continue to take post-COVID.
- • Now is not the time to abandon transformative policies like congestion pricing and protected bike lane construction, if anything now is the time to spur them forward as they will be crucial in avoiding modal shift from transit to single-occupancy vehicles.
- • To make these changes, everyone needs to get involved. This means forming coalitions across demographics, sectors and more to advocate for better outcomes and push policy makers. This is the best way to move the needle.
Lime is leading the global discussion around how micromobility can help cities recover from the on-going COVID crisis. This was the first of three discussions, with future events to be held in Europe and the Asian Pacific in the coming weeks.
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