Data Platform Rolls Out Micro-Mobility Study

August 17, 2018
micro mobility data platform

After reviewing data from May through July, a data platform startup has issued a newly-released study. The 2018 Populus report offers new data and insights for smart cities on the mobility front, authored by the firm’s CEO and co-founder Regina Clewlow, Ph.D. Providing an in-depth analysis on shared electric scooters and their impact on urban mobility, the study, The Micro-Mobility Revolution, presents independent analysis on the introduction, adoption and perceptions of electric scooters to help guide mobility strategies. In reviewing data from the past three months, the findings reveal that a vast majority of people – 70 percent – view electric scooters positively. Released July 24, it focuses on the fast pace in which shared mobility devices have emerged onto the national scene, and their impact.

In the report, Dr. Clewlow notes that the explosion of electric scooter services in the United States in 2018 took many by surprise — both in the public and private sectors. While many cities are working to determine how to develop policies and frameworks for managing this latest wave of transportation innovation, the study presents independent analysis on the adoption and perceptions of electric scooters to help guide mobility strategies. The Micro-Mobility Revolution covers the timeline and the trends of the dockless scooter scene, and offers insight that many elected officials and mobility startups may find instructive. In the spring of 2018, many U.S. cities experienced the latest wave of transportation innovation for urban mobility: the introduction of shared electric scooter services. Since the initial launch of private ride-hailing services (e.g. Uber, Lyft), the transportation ecosystem has experienced significant change. In many ways, notes the report, the public sector has been caught off guard by the rapid introduction of these new services, finding itself in a difficult position without access to information to help guide policy and planning decisions.

In a testament to the increasing amount of attention generated by new mobility options, and the calibre of data analytics team, a number of media outlets have shared the report’s insights since its release. In a Meeting of the Minds summary article, Populus' CEO emphasized the need for frequent access to data and information as a critical factor in helping both private and public transportation services work more seamlessly together. With information and transparency, the public sector can develop policies and plan infrastructure that better integrates private sector investments in urban mobility , improving transportation at all levels, according to the author. 

The report on micro-mobility services (e.g., shared bikes and electric scooter services), places a particular and purposeful focus on the rapid adoption of electric scooters in late 2017 and early 2018. The findings, based on data from over 7,000 individuals across 10 major U.S. major regions from May to July 2018, focus on three key results: first, the adoption of micro-mobility services; second, the perception of electric scooters: do people generally want them in cities?; and thirdly, transportation equity.

Data Platform Profile  

As founder and CEO of Populus, Dr. Clewlow has over a decade of experience in the transportation sector, where she is a leading expert on shared mobility, autonomous vehicles, and harnessing big data to simulate the future of regional and global transportation systems. She has served in research and lecturer roles at Stanford, UC Davis, and UC Berkeley. Following her academic career, Dr. Clewlow served as the Director of Business Development & Strategy at moovel, the mobility services arm of Daimler Automotive, according to the company’s website. She has been honored as an MIT Energy Fellow, EPA STAR Fellow, and DOT Eisenhower Transportation Fellow. She holds a Ph.D. in transportation and energy systems from MIT, and a B.S. in computer science from Cornell.

For its part, Populus Technologies, Inc., according to its website, started in 2017 and based in San Francisco, CA, is a data platform that helps private mobility operators and cities deliver safer, more efficient streets. The venture capital-backed startup works to transform the future of mobility in cities through better data and analytics. Building on several decades of transportation expertise at MIT, UC Berkeley, the Populus team prides itself on providing cities and private mobility operators with data and analytics to facilitate a safe, equitable, and efficient transition to the future of urban mobility. Comprosed of leading experts in urban data science, transportation planning, and shared mobility, Populus works with key agencies and private transportation companies to transform how people move in cities, building tools and data for the future of transportation. The company has established itself for pioneering new methods for collecting and modeling data to simulate the future of cities and have built strategic partnerships across the mobility ecosystem.

E-Scooter's Rapid Adoption and Popularity

Although commercial shared electric scooter services have been available in U.S. cities for less than 12 months (less than 5 months in most markets), a remarkably large number of people (3.6%) report having used them. While there is variation across cities, as compared with the adoption of prior mobility services the overall number of people who have adopted electric scooters in such a short period of time is pretty remarkable.

A large-scale, representative sampling across the cities featured in the report find that a majority of people (70%) view electric scooters positively: that they expand transportation options, enable a car-free lifestyle, are a convenient replacement for short trips in a personal vehicle or ride-hailing service (i.e. Uber, Lyft), and are a complement to public transit, according to the article. While further analysis of micro-mobility services is essential to guide transportation planning and policy decisions, overall, initial data analyzed from the Populus platform suggests that the vast majority of people want them in cities.

As explained by Dr. Clewlow, the data illustrated some variation in public opinion. In particular, San Francisco stood out as an outlier with the lowest amount of public support, although overall a majority of people (52%) view them positively. She cites a number of complex reasons (mostly relating to housing and concerns about gentrification) that may influence the lower rates of support in San Francisco. A key takeaway from the study is that the policies, regulations, utilization rates, and attitudes of San Francisco may not translate to other U.S. cities.

The report cites several key factors that have facilitated a more rapid rate of adoption for micro-mobility: 1) the widespread proliferation of GPS-enabled smartphones has more than doubled over the past decade; 2) traffic congestion in most U.S. cities is increasing and it can be faster to travel short distances of 3 miles or less using a bike or scooter; 3) the amount of private financing of micro-mobility has fueled the supply of these services — which has led to faster adoption.

Diversity Among E-Scooter Users

While prior station-based, non-electric bikeshare services have predominantly been used by men by a factor of 2x to 3x, this new study suggests that electric scooters may enjoy more support and adoption by women. Populus’ analysis of publicly available docked bikeshare data in the U.S. shows that 75% of trips are made by men, and 25% by women. This is not the fault of the providers, but rather it reflects a failure of the United States to invest in bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.

For smart cities, paying attention to gender preferences of alternative transportation also proves worthwhile. There is currently greater gender parity in early electric scooter adoption; a few theories supported by academic research on why that might be the case has been covered in the full report issued by Populus. If U.S. cities can harness this new wave of interest in micro-mobility to improve bike and scooter infrastructure, said the report’s authors, they might make progress on closing the active transportation gender gap. Cities where women feel comfortable and safe riding bikes and scooters on the streets are ultimately cities that are safer for everyone. The data also suggests that dockless electric scooters may also enjoy higher adoption rates by lower-income groups. Given that much has been written on the equity challenges of publicly-funded docked bikeshare systems, many have suggested that dockless micro-mobility could offer cities an opportunity to expand access to those who need it the most. Since the report’s issuance, a number of mobility providers have, in fact, announced programs for low-income riders in largely under-served communities, as noted in a recent S&RC article on Bird and a feature on Lime, each of which have announced new mobility equity-focused initiatives.

Amidst the virtual surprise that was the arrival of electric scooters in cities across the country, many cities continue to work to determine how to develop policies and frameworks for managing this latest wave of transportation innovation.

The full report, as summarized on the Meeting of the Minds site, places data in the spotlight for future mobility strategies. The author states that without data, the public sector will struggle to craft effective transportation policies and plans that can help them achieve their goals of safety, equity, and efficiency as new private mobility technologies continue to evolve. However, with cooperation and access to data for monitoring progress towards public goals, cities have the opportunity to harness new private investments in mobility for a better transportation future.

As noted, Meeting of the Minds was one of the organizations which shared the report on behalf of Populus. For its part, Meeting of the Minds brings together urban sustainability and technology leaders to share knowledge and build lasting alliances. The organization fosters person-to-person and city-to-city learning, by spotlighting projects and practitioners working on urban solutions in eight focus areas. Those areas include: environment; economy; technology; governance; society; resources; infrastructure, mobility. Meeting of the Minds connects people through digital and in-person events and resources. The organization reports that its top interest topic among its network is smart cities, and that its participants come from a broad spectrum, with 34 percent from the private sector, 20 percent public, 19 percent non-profit, 15 percent start-up, 10 percent academic, and 2 percent philanthropic. The Annual Summit of Meeting of the Minds, to be held in Sacramento, CA, fro November 27-29, 2018, will feature 90 speakers over two days of thought leadership on urban sustainability, connected technology, social equity and innovation. Early bird registration for the Summit is open thru Friday, August 17, and can be coordinated on the organization’s site

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