In A World Of Social Distancing, Commuters Look Towards Open Micromobility Solutions To Get Around Town

12 May 2020 Dashboard Insights Blog
Authors: Christopher R. Boll

Communities around the world continue to grapple with the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in many urban cores, transit systems are either closed completely, or operating on reduced hours and reduced occupancy thresholds. Meanwhile, consumers wonder what the future will hold for their commutes to stores, restaurants, work, and simply around their communities. While the thought of going to our favorite restaurant or bar might be a reality stuck on a distant horizon, commuters need to consider how they can carry on their day-to-day commuting in a world encompassed by social distancing measures due to COVID-19. Until this pandemic passes, commuters will be saddled with the social distancing and sanitary requirements for the foreseeable future. Although we do not know what the future will hold, the way commuters make it between locations may forever change and micromobility solutions might become more important than ever before.

While most of us remain at home, working in our home office (or from our kitchen tables), essential employees around the globe continue to travel to work by means of local transit, micromobility, and their personal vehicles (if they have one). But, in this world dictated by social distancing, face mask, hand sanitizer, and the fear of the unseen, many commuters wonder how they can travel to their place of work, social gatherings, and elsewhere without subjecting themselves and others to risks of an unseen contagion. Many consumers are beginning to wonder if fresh air and sun (or rain, depending on the weather) on city streets with wider bike lanes and sidewalks are more appealing than a bus, shuttle, or personal vehicle.

In some cities, community bike share programs are starting to see a renaissance as consumers opt for more open air commuting experiences and distance from their fellow commuters. Cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago remain under stay at home orders that largely limit time outside of one’s home, but these restrictions are expected to be relaxed in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Beijing, China has recently lifted restrictions, leading their local bike sharing system to see a 187% increase in their ridership as commuters look to avoid often crowded public transit systems. At the same time, scootering sharing systems in the U.S. are seeing a trend towards trips that last longer and go for longer distances, leading industry participants to “hypothesize… [riders] are using scooters for essential trips across longer distances rather than just short rides across the city.”

While the increase in ridership is at least in part attributable to warming weather trends as cities move from spring to summer, many micromobility programs have also been offering free or reduced ride fees for regular commuters and essential service employees during this time of uncertainty. Industry participants are seeing this shift in consumer preference towards open air commuting as an opportunity to capture a wider audience who cannot otherwise use a personal vehicle or chooses not drive a car. In many cases, micromobility solutions will be fundamental to restarting local economies and moving mass quantities of people around urban cores with limited human interaction.

Around the globe, cities are looking to adapt to a world where space for individual commuting is more of a necessity than ever before. While this might historically have meant widening of thoroughfares and freeways to accommodate more cars under the misguided belief it would lessen traffic congestion (surprisingly wider roads actually make traffic worse), during the pandemic, cities are actually closing roads in favor of the pedestrians and micromobility options. Although cities have shifted from car-centric to pedestrian-centric environments over the past few decades, the pandemic appears to have accelerated the development of pedestrian friendly environment at the expense of the personal automobile. At least seven North American cities, have temporarily stopped or limited access to vehicles on certain thoroughfares to aid walking, biking, and other outdoor activities while still allowing residents to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Additionally, many cities have suspended parking fees and parking tickets to limit any interaction between commuters and meter attendants whenever possible.

As cities around the globe continue to unthaw from the freeze put in place by the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of how a commuter can get from Hudson Yards to Wall Street, Old Town to the Loop, or South Lake Union to Downtown Seattle without risking their own health and that of those around them will continue to grow. Micromobility solutions, coupled with personal vehicles and ride-sharing options may continue to rise in popularity as consumers seek to be outside and in less dense settings.

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