By Angela Ryan
My first experience with micromobility was with an e-scooter share program in Washington, D.C. I was working on assignment in the Nation’s capital, and it would take me hours by car to get from my apartment to the office. Eventually, I realized an e-scooter was the most efficient way to travel to and from the train station. In retrospect, what better place is there to obtain my “Ticket to Ride” than in the city where the Beatles first played in America? My daily e-scooter rental soon became not just an efficient way to travel but the most enjoyable part of my week. Perhaps it is my competitive nature, but there is a rush of exhilaration from seamlessly gliding past people stuck in traffic, not to mention the incredible sights, sounds and perspective you get while using micromobility.
What is micromobility?
The term “micromobility” may at first suggest an image of a tiny toy car zooming across the dining room floor; however, it is a widely debated technical term used in the transportation industry. Although there has yet to be a universally accepted definition, the term micromobility generally refers to small, lightweight transportation devices, which operate at low speeds typically ranging from 10-15 miles per hour and are generally associated with single-occupancy and short trips. These devices include electric bicycles, electric scooters, electric skateboards, and even new devices that may be developed in this fast-advancing technological era. Florida Statute allows an operator of a micromobility device to possess all the rights and duties applicable to the rider of a bicycle unless local governments adopt ordinances governing specific operations on streets, trails, and sidewalk areas under the local government’s jurisdiction.
Generally, when people refer to the term “micromobility,” the commonly associated concept is that of a shared micromobility program. Micromobility share programs include electric micromobility devices, such as e-bikes and e-scooters; however, a micromobility share program also may also include bike-share service devices, both dockless and station-based. From a regulatory perspective, micromobility share programs are commonly the focus of statutes, codes and ordinances.
Micromobility Share Programs Rise in Popularity
The current rise of micromobility share programs that has taken hold in many communities across the country demonstrates the emerging popularity of these devices, as well as the feasibility of micromobility programs operating within the transportation network. In the United States, micromobility share programs have steadily increased by 60% annually since 2017. In 2019 alone, there were 136 million counted trips on e-bikes and e-scooters in the U.S utilizing micromobility share programs.
Micromobility share programs provide an opportunity to efficiently and sustainably connect people to work, school and shopping. In Pinellas County, we have a need to address transportation challenges while maximizing innovative new solutions. Due to our densely populated county, many downtown and commercial destinations lend Pinellas County to micromobility, perhaps more so than any other areas in Florida. A consistent approach to micromobility share program developments and regulations can keep the public safe and the public right-of-way free from obstructions. Varying approaches to implementing and regulating micromobility devices and share programs within Pinellas County cause public noncompliance due to unclear and inconsistent requirements. Developing a micromobility share program has many public benefits as well as challenges, and here in Pinellas County we can work together to leverage the benefits while mitigating the challenges.
“Micromobility has the potential to assist in the development of Pinellas County’s integrated, safe, connected, and reliable active transportation network, creating more equitable and accessible transportation options,” says Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton.
What are the benefits of micromobility share programs?
Micromobility share programs provide numerous benefits for communities, including first mile, last mile solutions and options for mobility deserts in urban areas. Governments have quickly seen the benefit of micromobility to develop a more sustainable transportation network through lower energy consumption, lessening carbon emissions and providing for an affordable transportation option to allow people to access destinations. Meanwhile, tourists have greatly benefited from the expansion of micromobility share programs due to the ability for recreation and exploration. One of the novel benefits of micromobility share programs include the ability for these devices to fit within the existing public transportation industry, which often does not have the resources to serve every neighborhood with frequent (or any) transit. As such, micromobility share programs help people access public transportation outside of what is normally considered a comfortable walking distance. The trend in micromobility share program’s popularity is likely to continue as technological advances are now providing hand cycles, three-wheel scooters, tricycles and cargo bikes.
How do we overcome challenges of micromobility within the transportation environment?
While expanding recreational and economic opportunities, the popularity of micromobility share programs presents many local governments with significant regulatory challenges. Matters of placement, parking and speeds are some of the common issues in the effort to regulate micromobility use in a manner to ensure the protection of public safety.
Collaboration amongst Pinellas County’s 24 municipalities, County authorities, regional agencies and state agencies is essential for providing our travelers with a consistent and predictable, micromobility experience. Similar rules, regulations and programs throughout the region encourage public compliance and consistent public messaging regarding roadway operations. Lack of compliance with roadway laws greatly increases the likelihood for fatal and serious crashes on our roadways.
At Forward Pinellas, providing equity in our outreach requires a comprehensive approach. We have to meet people where they are by building a framework combining in-person and virtual outreach to create hybrid experiences, so everyone who wants to participate can easily do so.
Collectively, the most important and yet most challenging responsibility is education. Roadway users, including pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, are more inclined to operate responsibly when they are knowledgeable about traffic laws. Collaboration on education, engineering, evaluation, enforcement, and emergency response can increase all roadway users’ safety, especially people using micromobility in Pinellas County. Working together as governments, residents and the larger Pinellas County community, we can create an environment where individual micromobility options and micromobility share programs provide a viable and easy way for people to travel safely and efficiently.
The Knowledge Exchange Series
In response to the many benefits of micromobility devices and share programs, the vastly growing popularity, and the regulatory challenges, Forward Pinellas has developed a new Knowledge Exchange Series devoted to micromobility. The goal of this research is to provide a proactive and collaborative approach to providing a regulatory framework for micromobility in Pinellas County.