Before the pandemic, Los Angeles had started a caravan to lead the rest of the world into the age of micromobility. Now with the setbacks felt during the months of stay-at-home orders, L.A. will once again be counted on to shine the way.
What is Micromobility?
Micromobility is a modern term describing tiny machines used for urban transportation. Examples can be any lightweight devices used to get around the city. They include people-powered bicycles, electric scooters and skateboards, and electric pedal-assisted bikes. The speeds stay low, usually below 30mph, but the financial benefits and the environmental boosts are high. In general, micromobility can refer to bicycles, scooters, rollerblades, and shared-scooter program.
Surge in Bicycle Ridership
Due to the limited opportunities for going to the gym for exercise, bicycling has surged as a popular exercise of choice. In some cities, the surge has been so high that new roadway plans have been developed to accommodate the number of bicyclists on the road. For example, Oakland is moving forward with the “Slow Streets” program that limits traffic on a handful of roads to allow safer access to bicyclists.
The demand for bicycles and bicycle parts has been so high throughout the pandemic that it is nearly impossible to find an inexpensive leisure bike. When bike parts break, some stores have a lengthy backorder process to get new parts.
Dropping Shared-Micromobility Usership
While the COVID-19 quarantine has led to more people getting out and riding bikes for exercise and emotional wellbeing, all those Lime and Bird bikes, and scooter options have been laying around on street corners gathering cobwebs. Fewer people have been leaving the house and, of course, “sharing” and “social distancing” aren’t a perfect match.
Bird’s Scooter-Share business reports a 90 percent decline in ridership since stay-at-home orders went into effect in March of 2020. Los Angeles Magazine reports they’ve also been forced to take 84% of their scooters off the street in response.
The magazine goes on to detail the big difference from the same months a year ago in 2019. Los Angeles was the site for the largest micromobility trial run in the nation. L.A.’s DOT granted permits to Lime, Bird, Spin, and five other companies sending 37,000 scooters out on city streets. Before the quarantine, the experiment seemed to be producing a positive result logging 10 million rides in the first year.
Adapting Micromobility for Covid-19
Next City found that micromobility companies are adapting to find other ways to be helpful during the COVID-19 crisis. In the absence of commuters, the industry has started lending a hand to essential workers. Spin started offering free e-scooters to health care workers, first responders, and public transportation workers in Los Angeles. Gruv did the same thing for health care and grocery store workers in Oakland and San Jose.
The effort to make bike and scooter sharing as germ-free as possible is another adaptation. Next City notes that many companies are sending out gloved employees to wipe down rides more often. Spin has even started attaching hand sanitizer to every one of its scooters in San Francisco.
While finding riders willing to open up their apps and catch a ride has been harder, the micromobility sector has fought valiantly to be part of the solution during the pandemic and be ready for the nation’s recovery. Los Angeles was a beacon of light to all cities who hoped to relieve motorist congestion and pollution and the City of Angels will lead the way again as people return to the streets and their e-scooters and e-bikes.