One big question for micromobility
This is the framework for all other debates about "shared" bikes and e-scooters
On Monday I gave a “state of the industry” presentation at a shared micromobility event hosted by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. The audience was largely local officials involved in the on-the-ground administration of bike and scooter contracts in their cities, so I focused on the big picture: the role of startups and venture capital in the creation of a new mode of urban transport, and the tension between public and private in public-private partnership. Today I’m sharing the full presentation exclusively with paid Oversharing subscribers.
I call this the One Big Question because it frames every other element of the debate about “shared” micromobility services like bikes and scooters. How much should they cost? Should they be docked or dockless? How much do we care about equity and accesibility? Should these services turn a profit or rely on subsidies? Your answers to each will depend first on your answer to that one existential big question.
We talked last week about the phrase “sharing economy”: where it came from, how it evolved, and why it’s a misnomer. Bike and scooter services are also often branded “sharing.” Bike-share, shared scooters, etc. “Sharing” in this case is used in contrast with private ownership—shared micromobility refers to the use of a bike, scooter, or other lightweight vehicle that belongs to a third-party fleet rather than you personally. That’s a stronger case for sharing than many companies in the space can make, but ultimately these are still for-hire services leaning into the consumer-friendliness of the “sharing” ideology. It’s why I prefer other phrasing, like Transport for London’s descriptions of Santander Cycles (“Boris Bikes”) as “cycle hire” and scooter fleets as “rental electric scooters.”
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