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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Disruptive Mobility

When Uber, shared bikes and e-scooters appeared in cities almost overnight, hundreds of municipalities around the world had to grapple with the question of how to regulate them. But now, there’s a helpful guide [1], at least for the U.S.

The National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC), one of five U.S. Department of Transportation national university transportation centers, has released a guide for municipal staff on adopting local policy to respond to the emergence of new, disruptive mobility technologies and encourage their responsible use. 

The guide is called "Matching the Speed of Technology with the Speed of Local Government: Developing Codes and Policies Related to the Possible Impacts of New Mobility on Cities" [2] and offers a wide variety of tools for communities looking to update local policy and code to meet the transportation realities of today. 

The document draws on existing best practices and even includes suggestions of legislative language, such as for defining a micro-mobility device, that can be adopted into local regulations. It is also filled with an abundance of policy recommendations and decision-making frameworks for policymakers to consider. Foremost amongst these is the recommendation to discard the reactive approach of attempting to regulate each new mode of mobility separately, and instead adopt a broad definition of “micromobility” and “shared micromobility” that regulates based on the impact of the device (low carbon, accessibility, safety). The proposed mode-agnostic regulations would recognize the changing nature of technology. The guide also recommends using term-limited pilots to assess new shared mobility technology.

At a higher level, the guide also deals with much broader urban planning questions such as what should be the community’s goals and priorities for land use and the role of mobility. It makes the case that identifying and articulating the community’s goals and values for its public spaces (such as advancing equity, sustainability, community revitalization, and/or carbon reduction) should be the first step in designing a flexible code that will enable cities to respond to changing transportation technologies in a manner that advances those priorities. 

 

Personal comments

I think this guide will be an incredibly useful resource for hundreds of cities and local governments in the United States. The problem that the guide is trying to solve is succinctly summed up in its executive summary: “Advances in transportation technology such as the advent of scooter and bikeshare systems (micromobility), ridehailing, and autonomous vehicles (AV’s) are beginning to have profound effects not only on how we live, move, and spend our time in cities but also on urban form and development itself… These technological changes are being introduced much faster than how local government code and policy typically react, especially because the issues at play and their possible impact remain almost entirely outside the knowledge base or skill set of the vast majority of city staff or leadership.”

Not only does the guide provide a range of case studies and draft legislative wording, but it also offers a range of decision-making tools so that different cities can have a systematic way of mapping their own path, which may be different from that of their neighbours due to varying priorities. Most importantly, it does not assume that e-scooters and autonomous vehicles will necessarily be the last wave of disruption, but provides decision-making frameworks that are designed to manage future modes of mobility in a goal-orientated, rather than reactive, way. 

I am not aware of any similar resources such as this guide exists in the Swedish or European context. However, the trend the world over seem to be adopting e-scooter specific laws [3], rather than to regulate them under more holistic micromobility and shared-micromobility approaches. As such, despite the U.S. specific context of the guide, I think policymakers in Europe could also benefit a lot from this resource. This is especially timely for Sweden, as Transportstyrelsen is currently in the very process of investigating how to simplify rules for electric-powered single-person vehicles [4].    

 

Written by Bobby Chen, RISE.

 

Sources

1. 2020-06-12. Steering new mobility in the right direction

2. 2020-06-01. Matching the Speed of Technology with the Speed of Local Government: Developing Codes and Policies Related to the Possible Impacts of New Mobility on Cities

3. 2019-10-06. Electric scooters: Europe battles with regulations as vehicles take off

4. 2020-06-01. Utredning behov av förenklade regler för eldrivna enpersonsfordon