Micromobility and Transit Making Micromobility Work
- Date: March 30, 2023
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Even where the ingredients exist to make a micromobility program succeed, there are a range of factors from costs to governance that will impact whether implementation is feasible. For small urban, rural, and tribal communities looking to implement micromobility, the challenges may seem seem insurmountable. Fortunately, micromobility is not one-size-fits all. There are a range of approaches and strategies that can be used to create micromobility programs. The ideal type of program is often shaped by the needs of the community being served.
4.1 Where Does Micromobility Succeed?
It is important for communities, especially smaller ones, to understand their market for micromobility before pursuing a program. A micromobility program does not necessarily make sense in every location and context. Various factors influence whether a micromobility system will succeed.
- Population and employment density is a key predictor of micromobility demand. As with any form of shared transportation, people are more likely to use the service if they live close to it. While density is concentrated in big cities, smaller communities have had success implementing bikeshare on places like main streets, historic districts, and college campuses where a high density of potential riders congregate.
- Mixed-use land uses are another factor that influences micromobility demand. Locations where there are a range of destination types driving demand at different times of day are going to be more successful for micromobility than a place where demand has distinct peaks and valleys. A good example might be a corporate campus versus a college campus. Even if both are of the same size, the corporate campus will likely generate a flow of people into the campus in the morning and an outflow in the afternoon. Alternatively, a college campus sees student and staff come and go at all hours of the day. Travel demand occurring at the same time can overtax the system and mean it ultimately serves fewer people; a bicycle ridden all day will serve more trips than one only used to bike in one direction in the morning and the opposite direction in the afternoon.
- Average trip length may also dictate whether micromobility is feasible. As mentioned in Section 2, Primer on Micromobility, micromobility trips are typically under three miles. If a transit provider is trying to improve access between destinations greater than three miles apart, micromobility may be a poor solution. In 2019, INRIX Research used data from 50 million anonymous car trips and found that almost half of the car trips made in the most congested metropolitan areas in the United States were less than three miles (INRIX 2019).
- Tourist and leisure destinations are a key attractor of micromobility trips. There are several programs built around a particular attraction. For example, Valentine, Nebraska may have what is the most rural micromobility program in the nation. The one-station system is located beside a popular recreation trail, with users renting bikes to travel out and back. Visitors to the town and trail represent the bulk of ridership according to an interview with program staff.
- Infrastructure is key to micromobility. People need a safe and comfortable route to ride. Several small systems are built around local bicycle facilities like trails. Access to bike lanes, sidewalks, and trails all can contribute to higher system ridership and increased safety for riders.
In addition to the community characteristics, micromobility systems are shaped by who is using the program. Some systems primarily serve out-of-town visitors, others are used by local residents for day-to-day travel. A few systems are restricted to a specific group (employees or college students). Similarly, systems can serve a variety of trip types, from leisure and exercise-related trips to commute trips. While some systems can sustain themselves solely on one type of rider (e.g., a recreation focused system beside a major attraction), most successful programs regardless of size depend on a mix of trips to generate demand.
New micromobility technology is changing where programs are viable. An e-bike pilot program in Aspen found that when using e-bikes, riders arrived an average of four minutes faster to their destinations than conventional bikes while encouraging riders to travel uphill and inducing longer-distance rides (WE-cycle 2020). On a larger scale, e-bikes could open bikeshare use to a wider type of ridership (e.g., seniors for whom a traditional bike is not feasible). The report also notes the potential for electrified rides to replace 40 percent of car trips that are two miles or less in length if the network is expanded. One interviewee for this project recommended that every jurisdiction planning on implementing bikeshare include e-bikes.
4.2 Ownership and Governance
There are several types of micromobility business models that clarify which parties own the micromobility equipment, such as the vehicles and docking stations, and who is responsible for operating and managing a program. Under some models, jurisdictions may lease or buy micromobility vehicles and equipment from vendors and operate the system on their own. Table 3 outlines the types of program ownership and operation arrangements that exist today.
|Program Owner||Program Operator|
TCRP Synthesis 132: Public Transit and Bikesharing examined three models: non-profit owned and operated; privately owned and operated; and publicly owned and operated by a third party (TCRP 2018). Based on a literature review and interviews, publicly owned and operated systems appear to be the most common model for bikeshare systems in small urban and rural settings. There are limited examples of scooters in these contexts. Additional information is available in TCRP Research Report 230.
4.2.1 Operations and Ownership Considerations Specific to Small Urban and Rural Communities
In an interview for this guidebook, a vendor described their key considerations when pursuing a new market and determining operating and management models. Vendors focus primarily on locations that could support a viable and sustainable financial business model. Systems in large cities benefit from high population densities and associated ridership with user fees that contribute to financing the system. Since smaller and rural locations do not have high levels of density, public funding or private sponsorships may be required to make a system viable.
Collaborative partnerships with volunteers (such as bike non-profits) and in-kind donations can help reduce some costs associated with operating a micromobility program. Many of the smaller systems surveyed as part of this guidebook rely on volunteers and donations. A key concern for programs is sustaining support over the long-term; volunteers may leave their position or fundraising may become more challenging as time goes on.
Finally, small systems face challenges in right-sizing staff and resources. A small system will not warrant a full-time employee nor require the same robust IT systems as a large program (e.g., enterprise resource management software). Another consideration is the level of staff expertise – servicing a small system requires staff to be experts in all parts of the business (operations, maintenance, etc.), whereas large systems require dedicated, specialized staff (e.g., staff that only focuses on maintenance). Outsourcing some functions (e.g., partnering with a local bike shop for maintenance instead of having dedicated maintenance staff or relying on in-kind donations such as storage or office space) can help smaller systems make their business work with limited resources.
WE-cycle opened in Aspen, Colorado in 2013 and expanded to Basalt, Colorado in 2016. The non-profit is funded through a public private partnership. Founding partners and private donors provided the initial funding for capital infrastructure, and operations are funded by local jurisdictions (WE-cycle 2022). In 2017, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) entered into a five-year partnership with WE-cycle and agreed to commit $100,000 annually (subject annual approval) (Stroud 2017). The system’s 2019 annual report provides data on how the bikeshare addresses first mile and last mile connections to transit, with 35 percent of morning checkouts coming from bus rapid transit stops and 50 percent of WE-cycle rides originating or ending at a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stop (WE-cycle 2020). Users can checkout bikes and see real-time bus schedules through the Transit app. Users with an RFTA bus pass can ride the bus and check out bikes with a single card. The system added e-bikes and installed the first two solar-powered bikeshare charging stations in the United States in 2021 (Herbert, Solar E-bike Stations Are the Future We Need 2021). WE-cycle has also actively engaged the local Spanish-speaking population through its dedicated Movimiento en Bici program.
Community-led bike lending libraries are another option for small and rural areas. Public libraries, local jurisdictions, or non-profits can run these systems with either donated or purchased bikes. Allen County, Kansas started one of the first of these libraries with initial funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas (NCHRP 2019). The Commerce City branch of the Anythink Library in Commerce City, Colorado started a bike library program with 30 bikes that were donated after Denver’s bikeshare system ceased operations. The former vendor for the Denver bikeshare contacted Commerce City, but the City did not have the capacity to operate a program. Thanks to a good relationship between the City and the library, the City approached Anythink to ask whether the branch library could implement a bike program.
Anythink went to work on drafting a business plan that identified stakeholders; a project timeline; goals; a budget; a project plan (that identified required research, funding, and setup and support needs); and identified potential risks (including customer injuries; customer dissatisfaction with bike quality; and lost/stolen bicycles). The library worked closely with the city to obtain permits for a new concrete pad, a shed to store the bicycles, extending the fence around the library, and to obtain additional grant funding to pay for the improvements as well as locks and helmets. The bikeshare was also a result of a coordinated internal effort at Anythink, as staff integrated the bicycles into the collection system; solicited and evaluated contractor bids for supporting infrastructure improvements; coordinated maintenance with a local bike shop; and engaged in marketing initiatives.
An interview with Minnesota DOT highlighted micromobility models outside of the Twin Cities. The bikeshare in Rochester, MN launched in 2016 and has a fleet of 200 bikes. The system is currently free to use thanks to a collaborative network that includes multiple City departments, the Mayo Clinic, the Rochester Public Library, and other non-profits that maintain the bikes (City of Rochester 2020). Residents and visitors can check out bikes at the public library on a daily or weekly basis. The fleet includes two electric-assist cargo bikes. Willmar, MN started its own program, BikeWillmar, in 2019 using general funds and support from local businesses (City of Willmar 2021). The bikeshare system has 40 bikes and 11 docking stations and operates from spring through the early fall. Users can check out bikes using the vendor’s mobile app (Koloni). Other smaller systems have popped up throughout the state but have not had staying power. Often, shared mobility in rural environments is collocated with recreational opportunities such as trails. First mile and last mile connections to transit are less important in these rural settings since transit in this context is primarily door-to-door and on-demand.
4.2.2 Business Model Decision Matrix
Table 4 provides an overview of common ownership and operating models for micromobility based on a literature review and interviews. The table includes the strengths and weaknesses for each type of model as well as considerations and specific examples that jurisdictions can refer to while conceptualizing a potential micromobility program. Transit and Micromobility (TCRP Research Report 230) includes a toolkit to inform decisions about partnering.
|Types of Models||Strengths||Weaknesses||Considerations||Examples
|Non-profit owned and operated||
|Privately owned and operated||
|Publicly owned, 3rd-party operated||
|Publicly owned and operated||
|Transit agency owned and operated||
Some considerations in determining the appropriate model include:
- What is the source of start-up funds?
- What is the source of on-going capital and operating costs? (Note: FTA funds will not cover all aspects of a bikeshare or micromobility system)
- Who will own the micromobility equipment (including vehicles and stations)?
- Where will micromobility vehicles be stored?
- Will the system include e-bikes or e-scooters? If so, is there capacity to address charging needs and necessary supportive infrastructure?
- Who will be responsible for operating and managing the system?
- What role will public, private, and non-profit entities have in the micromobility system?
- What is the appropriate fleet size for the system?
- To what extent will the system need to make a profit?
- How long will permits be issued to vendors? (Year-to-year permitting can lead to vendor turnover)
- Will the system operate year-round, or only during specific seasons?
4.3 Program Governance
Program governance models can help provide a framework for decision making, roles, and responsibilities when multiple stakeholders are involved in micromobility programs. A micromobility program may have multiple stakeholders that help run and maintain the service, but the service may appear as a singular entity to the public. Good governance and oversight can protect the brand and instill trust in the micromobility services that programs provide.
Partnerships and collaboration are critical to a micromobility program’s success. Anythink Library in Commerce City, Colorado received 30 donated bikes and went to work on preparing a business plan. The plan incorporated library departments that would be involved with the bikeshare and identified where external assistance was required, such as with the City for permitting and a local bike shop for maintenance. Anythink was the lead decision maker but relied on City and vendor support to establish the program. In Meadville, Pennsylvania, CATA formed a non-profit to apply to grants and funding for which municipal agencies are not eligible. The subsequent bikeshare system is operated directly by CATA and funded by the non-profit organization they control.
Jurisdictions have the power to stipulate the conditions to which vendors must adhere and provide oversight. One interviewee encouraged jurisdictions to be active partners in any new micromobility program. Micromobility is an innovative product that requires time and opportunity to take off. The interviewee emphasized that jurisdictions should be very involved to make sure that new systems have the resources they need and that they serve community needs.
CARTA provides an example of the potential role that transit agencies could play in implementing micromobility systems, and how that role may change over time. CARTA funded an initial bicycle fleet project in 2007 and later sponsored a permanent bikeshare program (now known as Bike Chattanooga) as an FTA project. In the early planning phases for Bike Chattanooga, stakeholders needed to decide their roles and responsibilities and whether the bikeshare should be run by a non-profit, private, or government entity. CARTA emerged as the fiscal manager, initially owning the bikeshare assets and managing fiscal and funding matters with the original goal of the bikeshare being a managed entity within CARTA. However, early labor and insurance concerns led CARTA to pursue an external vendor to operate the system. The bikeshare’s assets were later transitioned to city ownership. In 2013, the city took over direct operation of the bikeshare. Today, CARTA assist with joint grant applications but is no longer directly involved in program management.
4.4.1 Regulatory Approaches
Local jurisdictions are frequently the body that regulates micromobility, and vendors, partners, and transit agencies are the ones that must follow these regulations (TCRP 2021). Jurisdictions regulate new and existing development and the usage of public space, including right of way, and set public policy. They may determine the application process for micromobility vendors, operating fees and terms, the conditions to which vendors must adhere, and the costs vendors may incur (ROW provision, signage, etc.) to establish operations. A jurisdiction’s individual choices are important at a larger level if there is potential to build a regional system (requiring all participating jurisdictions to use the same vendor). Partnerships and coordination between jurisdictions during the vendor selection process may provide opportunities for more favorable pricing or cost sharing.
Some common elements of micromobility regulations include establishing areas where micromobility is permitted to operate; determining fleet sizes and parking requirements; safety for riders and the general population; vendor reporting, data, and insurance requirements; and equity considerations (TCRP 2021) as shown in Table 5. Compliance with these regulations determines whether a micromobility program will be allowed to operate and continue operations. The Shared Use Mobility Center (SUMC) maintains a searchable, international Micromobility Policy Atlas of shared bike, e-bike, and scooter policies.
|Operating service area||Scooters are geofenced to stop working outside a specific zone. Can be used to restrict access to an area, like a park or pedestrian street.|
|Fleet sizes||50 scooters are permitted for use in a pilot project.|
|Parking||Scooters may not be left on the sidewalk at the end of a trip or vehicles required to be parked at designated areas in the public right-of-way.|
|Safety||Operator must develop a communication plan for safety outreach.|
|Reporting||Operator must provide an annual summary report.|
|Data sharing and standards||Operator must provide monthly reports that include number of rides taken, number of rides per vehicle per day, anonymized trip data, etc. More information on data standards is in 4.5.1.|
|Insurance||Operator must meet insurance requirements to operate in the jurisdiction. Vendor indemnifies jurisdiction of any responsibility / liability related to program operations.|
|Equity||Operator must assure that unbanked users can use the service. For example, companies holding dockless scooter permits in Washington, DC must provide cash payment options (District Department of Transportation 2021)|
|Vehicle Distribution||Operator must ensure a minimum number of vehicles are available each day in every ward of the city.|
Jurisdictions may also consider their overall attitude and approach towards supporting and regulating micromobility. The American Planning Association’s Planning for Shared Mobility (2019) lays out three frameworks to describe the extent to which jurisdictions can view and support shared mobility: either as an environmental benefit with maximum governmental support; a sustainable business with moderate governmental support; or as a business with minimal governmental support. Deloitte Insights summarizes possible approaches to regulating micromobility on a sliding scale of regulation (Zarif, Pankratz and Kelman 2019). These approaches include jurisdictions entering into a public-private partnership with a vendor; a more open approach with limited regulations, in particular for new markets; express bans with potential impoundments; or a formal, permitting process for which vendors must adhere to a jurisdiction’s set of rules (Figure 16). Deloitte suggests regulation that adapts as a market evolves; micromobility sandboxes that allow for regulatory testing; outcome-based regulation; and risk-weighted regulation (2019) More information on establishing regulatory policies and permitting guidelines is in the Regulations and Permitting Worksheet.
4.5 Technology and Organizational Requirements
Transit agencies need varying skills to deploy or monitor a micromobility program, depending on the program’s structure and the agency’s anticipated level of involvement. This section provides an overview of the skills, systems, and expertise that transit agencies will need as they implement programs and monitor vendors that operate programs. Anticipated requirements are broken into technology-related expertise and organizational capacity.
4.5.1 Technology-Related Expertise
From a technological perspective, transit agencies would need to be familiar with industry data standards. This starts with the General Bikeshare Feed Specification (GBFS) (NABSA 2021). GBFS, similar to the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), dictates a standardized format for micromobility data that ensures integration with a wide variety of apps and mapping services. GBFS is how systems provide real-time information about micromobility which can be collected, analyzed, integrated into applications, and facilitate trip-planning. The Mobility Data Specification (MDS) is another data standard but differs from GBFS in that it is primarily for communication between municipalities and micromobility providers. Whereas GBFS is only for bikeshare, MDS data can be gathered for any micromobility or MaaS solution. GBFS data is captured in real-time, but MDS data includes historic information like vehicle location over time, which includes sensitive data about user locations and is therefore not for public-facing uses. Common data, as well as data that is not included in MDS, is listed in Table 7. This table does not list all MDS data, but more information can be found here.
|Included in MDS||Not Included in MDS|
|Vehicle Location||User Names|
|Vehicle Status||Payment Information|
|Vehicle Trip Duration/Distance||Unique Rider ID Number|
|Vehicle or Device ID||User Contact Information|
|Vehicle Trip Origin/Destination||Trip History of Each User|
|Vehicle Trip route||Demographic User Data|
Aside from data, agencies may consider integrating micromobility services into their fare payment systems. Integrating multiple modes of travel onto a single payment method provides a seamless experience for micromobility users and transit riders. CARTA led a pilot program with the goal of integrating Chattanooga’s bikeshare, CARTA services, and car share onto a single stored value card which could be used as a bikeshare key fob and a card that could be tapped to ride CARTA. Apps such as Transit already have partnerships with micromobility services that allow users to pay for micromobility rides directly in the app. Integrating payment for micromobility may be easier if transit agencies are already using apps for trip planning and fare sales.
4.5.2 Organizational Capacity
To implement a program, transit agencies would need staffing capacity across several departments. These include procurement and legal to navigate the vendor selection process, and human resources and managers to determine whether the agency has in-house expertise and capacity to fulfill its defined role in the system. Depending on the structure of the program, the agency may need to identify resources to maintain the system (including fleet and any electric charging stations), balance bikes or other vehicles, and monitor vendor performance. Some off the shelf solutions can help agencies or jurisdictions monitor micromobility vendors. Some examples include software to monitor how micromobility vehicles are ridden and parked; operations and fleet monitoring; and street, curb, and new mobility fleet management.
Agencies may also need to coordinate with local jurisdictions for any necessary permitting and regulations (e.g., data sharing, ROW, infrastructure, etc.). Small communities may need to be more active in micromobility programs than their larger counterparts, as vendors may only be willing to provide the vehicles while the transit agency or jurisdiction operates the program.
4.5.3 Risk Management
Three groups of risk and liability facing transit agencies are in Table 8. The table is not meant to be one-size-fits all given each agency’s unique situation. Some topics included in the table are explained in greater detail below.
|Legal and Financial Risks & Liability||Customer Risks||Institutional Risks|
|Insurance||Accessibility||Vendors are in a volatile industry; operations may cease without warning|
|Legal Requirements||Equity||Vendors subject to jurisdictional regulation|
|Data Privacy and Security||Privacy Concerns||Agency staffing shortages|
|Future Title VI Requirements||Dissatisfaction with Brand||Labor unions buy-in|
|Ease of use (e.g. payment, integration with other agency services)||Reputational risks|
|Cost and funding impacts|
Legal and Financial Risks and Liability
When CARTA planned on operating bikeshare in Chattanooga, the agency ran into two roadblocks, one of which was insurance. The agency was in a public municipal pool and insurance providers had concerns about risks associated with micromobility (limited bike safety metrics were available at the time). CARTA addressed this problem by contracting with a vendor that could obtain insurance and operate the system. Transit agencies interested in in-house operations will need to consider how to secure insurance. Information on federal civil rights requirements is available here: https://www.transit.dot.gov/regulations-and-guidance/civil-rights-ada/civil-rightsada.
Agencies will need to determine how to keep user data private and secure and understand the importance of being trusted stewards of personal information. For example, routine trips can become so-called personally identifiable information (PII) that can identify an individual when combined with other data sets (NACTO 2019). The Open Mobility Foundation, which developed MDS, published a privacy guide for cities.
Customers may have accessibility and equity concerns, ranging from the availability of accessible vehicles (such as adaptive bikes); the ability to pay without using a smartphone or credit card; and the equitable placement of vehicles throughout a transit agency’s service area. Dissatisfaction with a micromobility system that the transit agency operates or is otherwise affiliated with may lead to dissatisfaction with the overall brand.
Agencies that partner with micromobility vendors should consider the industry’s volatility, which means that operations could be impacted at any time. These vendors are also subject to jurisdictional regulation. From an agency perspective, agencies should consider whether they have adequate staffing and facilities to accommodate micromobility systems and the impact, if any, on micromobility systems on agency funding. Agencies may also face reputational risks if micromobility programs do not run smoothly.
Micromobility promises a revolution in transportation, and to further this promise is aligning shared micromobility programs with universal design principles to provide for services to be accessible to the general population. Programs that promote equity seek to increase the accessibility to, and usage of, micromobility systems to disadvantaged and marginalized populations. These programs may be aimed at benefitting people based on race, ethnicity, income, gender, ability status, residents of underprivileged neighborhoods, those without access to banking or smartphones, and many more. Equity areas refer to places with a high proportion of people who are low income and/or people of color, who lack access to a car, or any multitude of different identities that restrict people’s movement. The following section elaborates on the multitude of obstacles that prevent micromobility from being accessible to everyone as well as strategies and programs which can be implemented to remove or reduce these obstacles.
4.6.1 Barriers to Using Micromobility
Micromobility users are disproportionately white, higher-income, younger, educated, and male, compared to the populations in the areas the systems serve (McNeil, et al. 2019). There are numerous barriers not only to equitable access but achieving equitable usage and benefits from a micromobility system. One key barrier to access is that many micromobility systems have their stations and vehicles located at a higher rate in neighborhoods with a younger, wealthier, whiter population (McNeil, et al. 2019). However, even when systems are located in lower-income communities and communities of color, disparities in usage still reflect higher ridership among privileged populations.
There are many different barriers that uphold this trend. Firstly, though access to smartphones is growing, many disadvantaged populations are less likely to have access to a smartphone or credit card, which are required for using most micromobility systems. Additionally, there is a knowledge barrier: lower-income and people of color are less likely to know someone who uses bikeshare or to have used it themselves, and less likely to know how the system works and therefore less inclined to start using it (McNeil, et al. 2019). Furthermore, micromobility systems are often perceived as accompanying ongoing gentrification and displacement, and thus viewed by low-income and minority communities as not being something “for” them, but rather for the whiter and wealthier residents that are displacing them.
There is often a lack of sufficient bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in chronically underinvested neighborhoods, as well as a lack of access to parks and other recreational opportunities. For these reasons, lower-income people may be less inclined to ride a bike or scooter as it is unsafe to do so on the streets in their communities or they simply have not had a chance to do so for recreation or otherwise in the past. Finally, many people lack the ability to ride a standard bicycle or scooter, either due to disability status or because they were never given the opportunity to learn how (McNeil, et al. 2019). All these factors combined present a daunting challenge for micromobility systems to overcome and provide disadvantaged communities with equitable mobility choices.
4.6.2 Addressing Usage Barriers
To increase disadvantaged communities’ access to and participation in micromobility systems, many systems have implemented equity programs that target the various barriers which prevent many people from using micromobility. Unfortunately, due to funding, staffing, and scale issues, smaller systems are much less likely to have equity programs in place than larger ones. One report by the Transportation Research and Education Center found that of bikeshare systems with more than 150 bikes, nearly 80 percent had ongoing equity efforts. However, of those with fewer than 150 bikes, less than half had ongoing equity programs (McNeil, et al. 2019). The following sections address many possible programs and other efforts which micromobility providers can implement to increase equitable access and use of their systems.
Physical Access Barriers
Lack of physical access in low-income and minority neighborhoods is one of the primary barriers that micromobility systems are attempting to rectify. Of the systems with ongoing equity efforts, more than half had programs focusing on placing more stations and devices in areas that communities emphasized for equity efforts, often referred to as equity areas. Most attempt to expand access in underserved neighborhoods and facilitate access to existing public transit as well as other key destinations for employment, education, healthcare, food, and other community resources such as public libraries and community centers (McNeil, et al. 2019).
Many of these efforts include community outreach through various methods to solicit public input guiding station placement and areas in need of vehicles. Oftentimes, expansion into equity areas is combined with seeking grants or other external funding to support the system growth in places that will likely generate less revenue, either due to lower ridership or higher participation in discount programs.
In Fort Smith, Arkansas, for example, the city received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a new bikeshare system with extensive community engagement in the form of workshops, surveys, and virtual development sessions to determine community needs and desires. This engagement was used in station siting; of eight stations, three will be in low-income neighborhoods, two will be in locations where many low-income people work, two will be at major transit hubs (Herbert 2022).
Even if micromobility systems are located in equity areas and programs exist to reduce costs and facilitate access for the unbanked and/or those without a smartphone, lack of awareness of these programs and experience with micromobility in general discourage many from using the system. Systems have implemented various programs to overcome the knowledge barrier. Providing necessary marketing and information materials is an important way to get the word out about the system, especially in languages other than English. Community outreach is a major part of these efforts; sending ambassadors to community events and organizations to help facilitate enrollment and raise awareness of discount programs that exist to help lower-income riders.
Some go further and partner with local organizations to host educational programs that address issues such as how to ride a bike or scooter, how to ride in city traffic, how to access the devices, or simply providing a safe environment for people to become comfortable with the concept. These educational programs often include organized rides to help riders become familiar with using micromobility devices and overcoming the hesitancy to using something for the first time and have fun while doing so. For example, the Anythink public library in Commerce City, Colorado, hosted bike riding lessons prior to launching their successful bike library program. In Chattanooga, CARTA hosted multiple organized group rides both to accustom residents to riding in downtown traffic and to normalize the presence of bikes downtown (and accustom drivers to driving around cyclists) for multiple years prior to launching its bikeshare system.
Cost and Payment System Barriers
Another key concern with increasing usage among equity populations is the cost and method of payment. Of systems with ongoing equity efforts, 84 percent had programs focused on this concern, which can take various forms. The most common are income-based discounts, that reduce the overall cost of usage and may reduce or remove many other fees for exceeding a time limit or leaving service area boundaries (McNeil, et al. 2019). Some also offer alternative payment structures for lower-income users, who may not be able to afford the up-front cost of a monthly or annual pass and are therefore penalized with higher per-trip usage fees. Oftentimes, eligibility for these programs is determined via participation in other assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, public housing, Social Security, or local transit discount programs.
As lack of access to a smartphone or credit card poses a huge roadblock to participation in micromobility, some systems have introduced cash payment options, usually at a local office or community center or by issuing payment cards that can be reloaded at local businesses. Devices may be unlocked using an electronic key or card instead of through smartphone application. Partnering with transit agencies to use one payment card for transit service as well as micromobility is another way to facilitate access for people who likely already use transit. CARTA in Chattanooga, Tennessee has a combined payment card for transit and bikeshare which can be reloaded with cash at transit stops. Some systems, such as bikeshare in Pittsburgh, Tucson, Kansas City, and Milwaukee, go further by giving people who already receive discounted transit fares automatic eligibility for discounted bikeshare (McNeil, et al. 2019).
Ultimately, no matter what discounts or payment systems are introduced, many people still will not be able to afford micromobility. To overcome this, many smaller communities have free bikeshare or similar programs called bike libraries. In Fort Smith, Arkansas, the cost of bikeshare will depend on the location of the station: in lower-income communities, it will be free for short-term rentals (Herbert 2022). In Commerce City, Colorado, the local Anythink public library operates a program where anyone with a library card can rent a bike for up to three weeks, funded by the library’s special projects budget as well as grants from the city and local foundations. In Allen County, Kansas, a local rural health advocacy organization called Thrive Allen County operates a free bikeshare program where bikes can be rented with only a photo ID.
Finally, most micromobility devices are simply not accessible to many people with disabilities and older adults. Electric bikes and scooters with seats are becoming more common in micromobility systems and are helpful to those who do not want to or are not able to stand for the duration of a scooter ride or do not want to or are not able to bike long distances or up steep hills without motor assistance. Other adaptive vehicles, such as tricycles, hand cycles, recumbent bicycles, and three- or four-wheeled scooters, are less common.
4.6.3 Models for Equitable Engagement
There are a multitude of ways for micromobility providers to engage with the community to build a system that is accessible to all and viewed as a community benefit for all residents, not just those from privileged backgrounds. When implemented correctly and with a specific intent for equity, micromobility is a powerful tool for helping rectify the historic transportation and land use inequities built into communities. For example, one user of the free bike library program at the Anythink library in Commerce City, Colorado was a formerly incarcerated person who did not have a driver’s license and was using the bike to reach job interviews. Without access to a free bicycle rental, the person likely would not have been able to reach many of those opportunities.
Many cities start with equity from the beginning, prioritizing public input in the large-scale planning processes that develop goals for siting stations and rebalancing vehicles. The City of New Haven went even further by hosting public siting workshops in targeted communities to engage the community with interactive activities that help design the bikeshare network (NACTO and BBSP 2018). Additionally, many systems have online tools that allow the public to suggest station locations and have mechanisms to trigger action should a certain number of users prioritize a given location.
To encourage people to become comfortable with micromobility vehicles, many micromobility providers partner with local organizations that already have a relationship with the community, such as churches, schools, and local bike shops, to host events and perform outreach. Often these events can include classes teaching how to ride a bike or scooter. Some go further and host community-organized rides that provide newer users with a comfortable experience to begin riding, as well as the opportunity to see more underrepresented people riding bikes and scooters. These have an enormous impact on encouraging people from disadvantaged backgrounds to start riding and continue riding. Events are most successful when they include ambassadors from the micromobility provider and local community representatives; event materials in multiple languages; are promoted through a wide array of marketing channels; and are free and fun.
In addition to hosting events, micromobility providers should also make every effort to be visible in the community and participate in other local events and goings-on. Examples include open streets events where roads are closed to motor vehicle traffic, tabling at community festivals, and coordinating with events hosted by local business improvement districts and elected officials. These events are most successful when agencies bring vehicles for test rides, have an engaging team of on-the-ground representatives, and have promotional materials for giveaway.
Finally, people from underrepresented groups are more likely to use micromobility if other people they see using it and employees of the program come from similar backgrounds. Oftentimes, when micromobility users are predominantly white and higher-income, others outside of these groups may view it as something not “for” them and are disinclined to try it. Micromobility providers can partner with local bike shops and community organizations to provide skills-based workforce development programs and workshops that both make the agency more visible in the community and creates a talent pipeline for community members to work for the agency, which further encourages more community members to use and work for the system.