The sharing economy has met the internet of things and they are coming to a city near you.
In a trend that began with shared dockless bikes in China, we are now seeing an influx of electric scooters on our streets. Kicked off by the immense demand demonstrated by Bird in Santa Monica in late 2017, we are in the midst of a scooter war. (There are now a lot of scooter companies.)
This war will bring much more than electric kick scooters. In micro-mobility, a new term for the fledging industry, we will see electric assist bikes, mopeds, hover-board variants, souped up golf carts and more. At this point, the main thing from using all of these new vehicles are bandwidth constraints on the Chinese production line and local government regulation.
These new shared lightweight electric vehicles will change the way we get around cities, but they will also have a lot of second order effects. In this post, I predict how the rise of micro-mobility will affect nearly everything else.Revival of the Golden Age of Bicycling
A Short History
Up until the introduction of the safety bicycle developed in the 1880’s, bicycling was niche and dangerous. The improved design of the safety bicycle ushered a golden age of bicycling in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The bicycling made personal transit accessible to all and ushered in an era of mass cycling and increased personal freedom. The bike connected towns not on train lines and gave women independence. (Susan B Anthony credited it as one thing that did the most for women’s emancipation.)
This golden age’s decline came with the introduction of the Model T. Automobiles took off and replaced bike ownership while making it more dangerous to bike in cities. And that’s where we are today.
Bicycling groups have been advocating for increased bike infrastructure in cities for the past decade, but they have settled for incremental progress. In the last 5 years, I have seen increased bike lanes and infrastructure in San Francisco, New York, and London. But the car does not have to worry about being displaced. Bicycle coalitions are still niche and don’t have a strong monetary backing.
Scooters will change this.
Bicycle advocacy groups try and get people to buy bicycles and then ask them to support their cause. Scooter companies put scooters out on the street and send lobbyists to city and state governments.
Scooter advocacy will lead to improved bike infrastructure so that large parts of cities will be organized around small vehicles and pedestrians, not cars. More people will bike and scooter than ever before.Rise of Delivery Robots
Increased bicycle infrastructure will pave the way for delivery robots.
Right now delivery robots must navigate busy pedestrian sidewalks or potholes and cobblestones in the streets. Bicycle infrastructure improvements will give these robots plentiful smooth paths to bring food and packages to your front door.Hanging Up the Keys
As cities become easier to get around in a scooter, streets will be harder to navigate in a car. And companies like Turo, Getaround, and Zipcar will make it easier to rent a car on demand while leaving the city for a short trip.
It will probably be slow for people to get rid of their cars, but more and more people in cities will choose not to buy a first car or to buy a new car.Decline of Uber and Lyft
It won’t only be harder for you to drive around a city, it will be harder to be driven around a city.
We are already seeing scooters and bikes cut into the short distance rides of Didi, Uber and Lyft. As city infrastructure changes to favor micro-mobility, a scooter or bike will win even more battles against ridesharing.Public Transit as a Backbone
Scooters work for trips up to a mile or two, electric bikes for a few miles. But they can’t compete with a subway, train or express bus on getting you from one side of a city to another fast.
Micro-mobility will augment the public transit backbone. Citizens will still use the subway to get from the Upper West Side to Williamsburg, but that last mile or two will be on a scooter or a bike. Fast, 3+ mile public transit will increase ridership while slow buses ridership will decrease.Real Estate Re-evaluations
In California, we are having a housing battle. Not enough housing is built near transit hubs, so the houses near these hubs are incredibly expensive.
Scooters and bikes will increase the radius of valuable property around transit hubs to 2-3 miles. Right now it’s a pain to walk 2 miles to the transit hub, wait for the train, take the train, and then have to walk to work. But scooters and bikes will transform both sides of that journey.
Houses within a mile or two of a transit hubs will increase in value. And the city will be accessible to more homes which will ultimately lower housing prices across the city.Retail as Showrooms
You can’t carry a cup of coffee, less a TV, while scootering home. eCommerce created show-rooming where retail stores serve to show off products that consumers later buy online.
Micro-mobility will push this trend even further since consumers won’t have the ability to drive their purchases home. Retail stores will need to vertically integrate and open online stores or figure out how to deliver a product bought in store to the purchaser’s home.Fashion
It isn’t easy to bike with your skirt caught up in the spokes of your bike. So cycling trousers were born and women were societally allowed to wear more comfortable, practical outfits.
Today bicyclists know they can’t wear heavy dress clothes or they will end up at work drenched in sweat. Companies like Ministry of Supply are creating lightweight, breathable dress clothes.
Fashion will become increasingly athletic and designed for mobility.Tech Monopolies Try Five
The government was mad at ATT for being so big so it broke it up. Then IBM came around but before the government could break IBM up, Microsoft did that job for them. Though Microsoft did that job a little too well and Microsoft eventually became regulated by anti-trust.
Today, we have Amazon, Google and Facebook reigning supreme much to the consternation of both the American left and right.
The scooter companies are hoping for network effects and a winner take all market, but society and government is wary of tech and will use permitting laws to prevent their from being a clear winner. Scooters are impoundable assets riding on publicly paid for streets, so the government will have the upper hand here.Independence Before 16
Growing up, I lived a few miles from my close friends. So whenever I wanted to visit them, I would have to find my mom or another adult to drive me. It sucked.
Micro-mobility will be available and safe for nearly all ages, so young adults won’t have to wait until they have a driver’s license before they being to gain independence and autonomy. And the new safer roads due to a decrease in car ownership will make their parents more confident about letting them go out on their own.Elderly Troubles
The elderly are reliant on their cars and will not be physically able to adopt micro-mobility at the same rates. Walking will be safer, but not being able to drive to the store or to an appointment will hurt their living standard.Earth Says Thanks
Oh yea, we also might not warm the earth so much.
This post was in part inspired by Benedict Evans’ post on Cars and second order consequences.