The Smart Mobility newsletter is starting up again. In a slight departure from our regular structure this edition is a series of short summaries of the various news that happened over the holidays with no personal comment.
There is a new generation of electric vehicles taking off in cities around the world that fall between two-wheeled EVs and traditional cars. They are already popular in East Asia and gaining popularity in Europe as well. North America could be next. The properties of minicars, such as a smaller size and efficient charging, might address two of the most pressing challenges in the US: reducing road deaths and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, this will happen only if cities in the US can make room to operate them. Besides the reductions in emissions and reduced manufacturing requirements minicars offer other societal upsides. They are much safer for other road users like pedestrians and cyclists. They also bring benefits in terms of accessibility for those who need transport but are unable to drive full-sized cars.
Having received notices of incidents involving vehicles operated by GM’s Cruise, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launchee an official probe into the autonomous driving system of the company. The investigation follows reports of three crashes in which Cruise vehicles braked quickly and were stuck from behind by other vehicles. NHTSA will fully assess the potential safety-related issues and review the safety logic of the hard braking incidents. Moreover, there were multiple reports of Cruise vehicles, which were operating without onboard human supervision, becoming immobilized. This may put vehicle passengers in unsafe locations such as intersections and become an unexpected obstacle to other road users.
Legislation meant to increase funding and support for a holistic approach to street design through “complete streets” projects has been signed. These projects are planned and designed to consider the safety, convenient access, and mobility of roadway users of all ages and abilities. This includes all vulnerable users such as pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders and motorists. Under this legislation, the state’s contribution to the non-federally funded portion of complete street projects will increase to 87.5 percent, which will help municipalities to implement these street projects.
“In a region like ours, in which transportation is mostly focused on personal car ownership, it is imperative we craft long-term solutions for those who remain unable to drive, “said New York Assemblymember Jonathan D. Rivera.
There was an uptick around the world of streets opening to pedestrians and various micromobility solutions during the pandemic. The most common motivation was people needing to avoid cramped public transportation and finding places for exercise. Bloomberg reports that some, though not all, of these have become permanent even after restrictions around Covid have lifted. Examples are given of streets from New York to Paris, Milan, Stockholm, and Bogotá. Each case is unique due to the built environment of the city, but are similar in that they are reorienting the public space of the street toward a range of activities besides vehicle transportation, such as, cycling, art, exercise, and community events.
In a kind of tale of two cities, Pairs and LA, TechCrunch suggests that the future of Micromobility is far from certain, though there may be a way forward as the industry finds its place in the concrete jungles around the world. Both Paris and LA were early adopters and key battle grounds for e-scooter companies. At present, however, Paris is considering banning scooters altogether after their contract with Dot, Lime and Tier comes to an end in February 2023: a decision that was excepted before the end of 2022 and remains unclear. There are two main reasons for this about turn in the city. The first is a quite significant increase in accidents and the second is the relatively small impact on vehicle use, with few car trips being replaced by scooters. LA, a vastly different city in terms of built environment and culture (which includes the regulatory landscape in terms of scooters) is limiting scooters, though not moving to ban them. Santa Monica, for example, is looking to limit permitted scooter operators to one or two. Overall the city appears to be headed toward consolidation around a few larger actors, with some increased regulation. Whether this will lead to the intended goal of fewer cars on the road remains to be seen.
Berlin’s public transport operator has seen success with Jelbi, an app that provides a one-stop shop for all forms of public transport, from e-scooters to bikes and vehicles from Miles Mobility and Sixt. This superapp allows a user to find all these via one payment and booking system. Jelbi’s head Jakob Michael Heider put it this way, “We want to offer people an attractive one-stop shop for shared transportation so that they don’t need to own a car.” The app, which was launched in 2019, has about half a million downloads and a about half that in registrations. That is a good number of users considering the 3.7million city residence. The app is quite unique in directly offering users transportation options for public services as well as private operators. The transport operator sees this as a win-win, as long as it reduces private car ownership and singe car journeys. It is not all a bed of roses however, and they are struggling to gain further attention in the city.
This article has a clear message. The only thing that gets a city to the top of the Oliver Wyman and Berkely list for best public transit is investment. Zurich rose to second place, just behind Hong Kong, by increasing its investment along with an advanced master plan. The Scandinavian capitals have likewise invested in EV charging as well as multimodal networks that include park and ride stations and infrastructure for micromobility. US cities struggled in large part due to inherited car-centric infrastructure. At the bottom of the list came African and Middle Eastern cities where public transit is sparce to non-existent.