Unlocking new markets in micro-mobility

Micromobility schemes like e-scooters are changing the way we get from A to B in our cities. But they are also changing the way we think about the entire urban transport experience. Given the growing global market in urban mobility, is this just the tip of the iceberg?

This article features in issue two of Connected Places magazine.

With ambitious 2050 net-zero targets to meet and the drive to cut congestion across our overstretched infrastructure, cities have long been looking for innovative ways to future-proof urban mobility. Micromobility solutions are designed to simultaneously solve the low-emission first/last mile transportation challenge for commuters while offering an accessible and affordable form of individual travel.

Prior to the pandemic, extending Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) in London, for example – in tandem with more accessible and affordable public transport – was widely seen as a viable way of taking cars off our streets. Social distancing measures also delivered an unprecedented opportunity to test new micromobility schemes like dockless e-scooters and e-bikes.

A report from Transport for London (TfL) and e-scooter operators Dott, Lime and Tier revealed more than 180,000 users have embarked on 585,000 trips totalling 1.6 million kilometres in London during these recent trials alone. But what does this really mean for the future of the urban mobility market?

Globally, the market is forecast to grow to $800bn over the next decade. The term ‘micromobility’ is used to describe smart, electric, space-efficient forms of mobility. It encapsulates a wide range of vehicle-based product, service, analytics and software innovation opportunities and many UK companies are expanding globally.

See.Sense, for example, brings together patented sensor and AI-fusion technology in the form of an ‘intelligent’ and daylight visible bike light, with a community of riders to make cycling safer and collectively smarter for over 100,000 cyclists worldwide.

Another UK company, Anadue is now active in over 25 cities across 6 countries. Their technology uses machine learning, predictive analytics, real-time data from micromobility vehicles and other urban data to provide high-value insights for operators. It’s also helping local authorities create less congested, polluted, car-centric spaces where people can enjoy urban living and working.

These are still early days for the market. The challenge for cities around the world is integrating new services with existing infrastructure in ways that support active journeys and encouraging the take-up of public transport. Creating the right regulatory environment is also a nut that few countries have yet to crack.

With this in mind, the Connected Places Catapult created a joint initiative with Innovate UK called ForuMM, which seeks to maximise the commercial opportunities for UK companies both at home and overseas. It recognises the importance of industry, government and academia in creating an effective dialogue, knowledge-sharing and capability development right across the ecosystem.

These kind of cross-sector collaborations are important on the ground too. For example, the Catapult’s SIMULATE programme helped Staffordshire Country Council and ten SMEs investigate and demonstrate the feasibility of an integrated mobility hub to improve mobility and air quality. This included trialling pop-up electric vehicle chargers, green walls and electric scooters to explore how transport hubs of the future could look and function.

Whether from mobile phone geolocation, satellite imaging, agent-based models, or smart-bike lights, UK firms are rising to the challenge.

A new routemap for active travel

Yet across the urban mobility landscape, the economic opportunities are even greater if ‘active travel’ is considered – the rapidly growing market for all human-powered mobility as well as sustainable freight. We know, for example, that when it comes to cycling alone, the UK market in 2020 was £2.31bn, a 45% increase compared to 2019. In the same period, sales in e-cycles rose by 67% to 12% of the market for bike sales.

Think beyond your typical image of everyday walking and cycling and consider the full diversity of pedal-powered designs and e-cargo bikes (partly assisted but principally human-powered), as well as all kinds of journeys on foot as forms of healthy, active travel.

UK companies have a strong track record of developing products and services that enable all forms of active travel. Globally, the UK is admired for its human-connected design capabilities, as well as its research, testing and evaluation expertise. Whether from mobile phone geolocation, satellite imaging, agent-based models, or smart-bike lights, UK firms are rising to the challenge.

There are the iconic manufacturing firms like Raleigh and Brompton Bikes. Digital and data-driven tools like Strava, Go Jauntly and Fitlink are changing how consumers navigate from A to B. New analytical tools and software products from the likes of Anadue and Citymapper are helping transport operators leverage the increasing quantity of data and insight on active behaviours.

The Catapult has led the way in creating the UK’s first routemap for accelerating innovation, investment and exports for the active travel market. It sets out what government, industry, local authorities and academia can do to help UK companies rise to the challenge. Coordination across the ecosystem is vital and the time is ripe for a gear change.

This article features in issue two of Connected Places magazine.