COVID-19 Update

COVID-19: Impact on SSHRC programs, experts database and perspectives from our community.

Transportation planning, policy and electric micro-mobilities

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About the project

Developments in battery technology and mobile computing have allowed electric micromobilities (EMMs) to develop as a popular means of a short- to mid-distance and (mostly) urban mode of transportation across various localities (Abduljabbar et al., 2021). E-bikes―that is, both electric pedal assist (pedelec) and scooter-style―as well as stand-up e-scooters, e-unicycles and e-skateboards are the most popular forms of EMMs. These EMMs can be further categorized into shared or private use, with the former referring to companies (Lime and Bird being the best known) that offer e-scooter and/or e-bike rentals in cities around the world.

Although in the initial months of COVID-19 use of shared EMM services dropped in comparison to previous years, the pandemic has since provided an opportunity for EMMs to grow market share, as people decreased transit and shared car use, and re-imagined what city streets could look like with fewer private vehicles (Bubbers, 2020; Tchir, 2020).

As a result of the growing interest in EMMs, we undertook a synthesis of existing research (2010-21) to consider the emerging wide and disparate body of research related to EMMs on themes such as: rider demographics, use and motivations; mobility justice; benefits of and barriers to EMM use; safety and injuries; comparison to other modes of transport; environmental impact; conflict and controversy; EMM pilot programs; and EMM integration, legislation and policy recommendations. In addition to scholarship, media reports were included in this literature search in order to speak to the context within which the research takes place.

Key findings

  • Lack of cycling infrastructure is a major impediment and better infrastructure is identified as aiding in the adoption and integration of EMMs across the board (Edge and Goodfield, 2017; Hedglin, 2019; Oeschger et al., 2020; Yue, 2019).
  • Dedicated parking spaces for EMMs, as well as safe, convenient infrastructure for EMMs around public transit stations, will motivate commuters to use EMMs and contribute to a smoother and more user-friendly integration of EMMs (Hedglin, 2019; Oeschger et al., 2020).
  • The relationships between government and private operators can and should include equity and sustainability goals in order to expand low-income, racialized communities’ access to EMMs and prioritize the use of smart mobilities for long-term sustainability objectives over commercial interests (Field and Jon, 2021; Wallsten et al., 2021).
  • A variety of authors conclude that finding ways to improve access to EMMs and attract individuals to their use will help achieve many of the benefits associated with EMM as a mode of transport (Cairns et al., 2017; Ton and Duives, 2021). Various researchers suggest ways to accomplish this:
    • Spread costs over time instead of having a one-time payment (Ton and Duives, 2021).
    • Tax incentives and rebate schemes like those for electric cars could be useful applied to EMMs (Dill and Rose, 2012).
    • Subsidies alone may not be enough to bolster the growth of EMM use, but limiting access to fossil-fuel alternatives could be an effective tool to foster the use of electric vehicles (Yang, 2010). However, this strategy may have consequences for those with accessibility needs that include a reliance on cars for travel.
    • Promote active transportation in general, including better cycling infrastructure and disincentives to car use (Dill and Rose, 2012).
    • Providing appropriate riding facilities for improved riding conditions is important for e-scooter riders (Ma et al., 2021). Local authorities may strategize to improve the built environment by promoting developments “with mixed land-use and micromobility- and pedestrian-friendly environments” (Oeschger et al., 2020, p. 15).

Policy implications

  • Planners are encouraged to consider public opinion, power struggles, and social and cultural resistance, but not let these issues set the tone for policy-making; policy-makers and stakeholders should focus on advancing community goals instead of reactively creating policy and rules based on criticism (Wood et al., 2019).
  • Infrastructure is critical to promoting EMM usage. Bike lanes should be enhanced and opened to EMMs. Cities can better integrate EMMs with transit systems by providing secure parking near stations and allowing EMMs to travel on public transport.
  • To assist with equitable access to EMMs, municipalities should 1) provide clear geofence-specific guidance and regulations to shared service operators in order to reach people outside of central business districts and high-income neighbourhoods; 2) devise incentives for operators that link geofences to vehicle caps, for example, with a sliding scale that allows larger geofences to use more vehicles, or reduce fees and taxes on operators with larger geofences (Moran, 2021); and 3) require service operators to enable access to riders who do not have credit cards or driver’s licenses.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Dr. Ann Travers, PhD, Sociology and Anthropology Department, Simon Fraser University:

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, Infrastructure Canada or the Government of Canada.

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