What is micromobility?
The word ‘micromobility’ can be used to mean a wide range of vehicles. In this report, we use it to describe small vehicles used by people to get themselves around a city and that can be safely ridden alongside conventional bicycles in cycle lanes. In practice, this currently covers mainly conventional bicycles, and certain electric bikes (e-bikes) and electric scooters (e-scooters).
Technological advances in batteries, small motors, satellite navigation and smartphones have enabled these vehicles, and an associate layer of services, from sharing to security, around them. Advocates believe they are broadly compatible with slower, more active, lower carbon streetscapes, and generally they use pre-existing street infrastructure. Cities and transport authorities around the globe have adopted a wide range of approaches to their regulation and management.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK and London authorities took a cautious approach to newer forms of micromobility, such as e-scooters. Since the onset of the pandemic, as people began to avoid using public transport due to fears about the virus, a rise in car use and the associated environmental harm this might cause may have played a role in the government accelerating e-scooter trials (see Box 2).
In this section we discuss the importance of a consistent approach to defining micromobility, and some of the difficulties that have accompanied this challenge.
Micromobility, electrification, and the Highway Code
Researching and regulating micromobility is made harder because it is not clearly defined in law. The Highway Code recognises a number of different vehicle types related to micromobility, and these do not neatly map to the actual types of vehicles available today. It does not recognise e-scooters outside of the current trials, which is why they are illegal to drive on the public highway.
The Highway Code recognises:
- Non-powered bicycles
- E-bikes, which must have the speed at which they assist the rider capped
at 15.5mph and require the rider to pedal rather than just using the
engine – otherwise they need a licence
- Lower-powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters, restricted to the
pavement and capped at 4mph
- Higher-powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters, which can travel at
4mph on the pavement or 8mph on the road
All human-powered and electric vehicles can contribute to London meeting its net-zero goal where they replace petrol and diesel car journeys, and smaller vehicles reduce congestion by taking up less space on the road and when parking. Like conventional bicycles, there are reasons to regulate the use of e-bikes and e-scooters, such as the potential for a crash to result in the injury of a pedestrian. However, regulation should be proportionate to the impact of the use of micromobility on others in the city; for instance, the risk of a crash harming a pedestrian is considerably less for micromobility than for conventional cars and larger vehicles. We need to welcome this innovation, while making sure that it does not disadvantage pedestrians and vulnerable road users, especially people with disabilities.
For this project, we have defined micromobility as small vehicles which can safely be ridden alongside bicycles in cycle lanes. We focus on the case of conventional bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters, as the main examples of micromobility vehicles. The definition we use is based on the outcome of using micromobility, rather than on specific features of the vehicles in question, per se. Nonetheless, our definition is likely to overlap considerably with the low speed, low mass sub-category of micromobility vehicles defined by the International Transport Forum – vehicles weighing less than 35 kilograms and a design speed no higher than 25 km/h (see Box 1). 25
Box 1: Classification of micromobility
The International Transport Forum (2020) proposes that micromobility vehicles are classified according to their speed, their mass, and the combination of these two. They propose four categories, described in the table below.
Lightweight mopeds limited to 45km/h fall outside of the definition used in this report because although they offer some of the benefits of micromobility, such as emitting less carbon than conventional cars, they cannot safely be ridden alongside bicycles in cycle lanes.
There are benefits to thinking about this range of vehicles – bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters, and similar vehicles – as a set, which we call ‘micromobility’. While each type of vehicle is unique, they share important characteristics that mean they complement one another. For instance, building more cycle lanes would benefit all forms of micromobility, as would increasing the provision of safe, secure parking for smaller vehicles. A greater proportion of trips being made by cycling, e-biking and e-scooting will likely lead to a reduction in the risk of serious injury from riding any micromobility vehicle if fewer trips are made by car (see Chapter 2). These and other features of micromobility vehicles give us reason to consider all micromobility vehicles – those already popular, those on the rise, and those not yet invented – together.
As technology continues to adapt, policy makers and the legislators responsible for the Highway Code will need to adapt with it: in particular, policy makers will need to decide which vehicles need a licence (like cars or motorbikes), which can be used on pavements, and which can be used on cycle lanes.
Table 1: Categories of micromobility vehicle proposed by the International Transport Forum
|Title||Unpowered or powered up to 25km/h||Powered with top speed between 25-45 km/h|
|Less than 35kg||Bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters, some types of self-balancing or one-wheel vehicles||Faster e-bikes, lightweight mopeds and e-mopeds,
some types of self-balancing or one-wheel vehicles
|Between 35kg and 350kg||Mobility scooters, electric cargo bikes||Mopeds and e-mopeds|
Greenhouse gas emissions from transport on the roads in London remain stubbornly high. The UK has a legal commitment to reach net-zero emissions nationally by 2050. In London, the Mayor has committed to achieving net-zero by 2030. Yet, surface transport continues to produce over a quarter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across London, and the UK. In contrast, the UK’s energy sector has made significant inroads into greening London’s electricity supply. This has provided an opportunity to rethink mobility in the capital.
London’s transport system overall is in urgent need of decarbonization, through electrification, active travel, and other yet-to-be-established means. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant shift in how people move around the city, with fewer trips being taken by public transport, and more by private transport and active travel. 26 Reducing carbon emissions in the city will involve encouraging Londoners back onto public transport while making use of the recent increase in active travel by supporting Londoners to make more trips via cycling, and other small vehicles such as e-bikes and e-scooters.
The use of cycling as a convenient, healthy, and sustainable mode of travel has been on the rise in London over at least the past two decades (see ‘Where we are now’ below). In recent years, emerging technologies have allowed other modes of transport to be developed – small vehicles which use lightweight electric motors to support or substitute for human pedalling. These vehicles – such as electric bikes (e-bikes) and electric scooters (e-scooters) – provide an opportunity to enable more people to travel in convenient, and sustainable ways.
A rise in the use of micromobility could pose a risk to the finances of Transport for London (TfL) if trips taken by bike, e-bike, or e-scooter displace those taken on public transport. Future funding settlements between the national government and TfL must ensure that TfL has the budget required to enable Londoners to travel in a sustainable way. To realise the benefits of micromobility for the environment and for congestion in the city, it is important that trips taken on micromobility, as far as is possible, displace trips in privately owned cars.
Micromobility vehicles present a significant opportunity to the city. Making micromobility available to more Londoners in a safe and affordable way could increase the proportion of trips in London taken by small vehicle, walking, or public transport – bringing about a host of benefits from cleaner air and reduced congestion to better access to local services and to public transport.
Where we are now
According to the most recent data available (for 2019), people in London most commonly travel by public transport (36 per cent), followed closely by travel by car (36 per cent) by walking (35 per cent) and by cycling (two per cent, including e-bikes). The proportion of trips made by bike has doubled since 2000, though growth has been slower since 2010, growing by 20 per cent between 2010-2019. 27 However, the proportion of trips made by cycling varies considerably across London, from 8.9 per cent in Hackney to 0.5 per cent in Hillingdon. 27
For comparison, in Amsterdam, where cycling is famously common, 27 per cent of trips are by bicycle, with 47 per cent made by car (see Figure 1). 29
However, some Londoners are much more likely to cycle than others. In Chapter 2 we describe the factors that influence who cycles in London and how this could influence who stands to benefit from policy in this area.
Each mode of transport has its own perks and drawbacks. One study using data from seven European cities found that cyclists travel for an average of approximately 4.8 kilometres per trip, lasting an average of 26 minutes. 30 People who used e-bikes tended to use them for longer trips, both in terms of the distance they travelled and how long it took.
Data from some cities internationally suggests that e-scooters have tended to be used for shorter trips, though this may be due to where e-scooters have been offered so far, with many shared schemes operating in relatively small areas. Evidence from schemes operating in the UK shows that in larger trial areas, such as Bournemouth (stretching 16 kilometres from end to end), trips cover distances more similar to those usually covered by bike. Up to April 2021, there were at least five areas in the UK where the average trip covered 5 kilometres or more. 31
Car journeys in London tend to cover bigger distances than trips by other modes (average of 13.8 kilometres per trip). 32 Some car trips, especially longer ones, will be more difficult to replace with micromobility alone, but some could be replaced with multi-mode trips, such as cycling to a train or bus station to catch public transport to near your destination.
People might use micromobility for trips with a variety of purposes, from leisure to commuting. Evidence from Paris suggests that demand for rental e-scooter trips was driven by people using them for commuting (19 per cent) and those using e-scooters to ride around with no specific purpose (10 per cent). 33 The same study found that the median time spent on a trip on a rental e-scooter was 11 minutes. Nearly four in ten trips were taken on the weekend. A separate survey of people who use e-scooters in Paris in 2019 found that the reasons most commonly cited for using an e-scooter included saving time on their trip, the playfulness of e-scooters, and saving money. 34 Interim results from a study of users of the e-scooter trial in Salford found that the most commonly cited reasons for riding were for fun or curiosity (80 per cent), followed by leisure and recreation (26 per cent); 17 per cent of e-scooter riders had used them to travel to work or study. 35 The authors note that the fact that the trial was in early stages and social distancing was in place in response to COVID-19 at the time of their research may have influenced these findings. A survey conducted in London in 2016 found that cyclists reported making journeys by bike for a variety of reasons: the most common type of journey reported was for pleasure or exercise (54 per cent), to visit friends or relatives (40 per cent), for social or recreational purposes (40 per cent), followed by personal business (e.g. visiting the doctor) and commuting to work (33 per cent for each). 36
The proportion of people in London who have cycled at least once in the past year has not changed much in the past decade, and has actually fallen slightly from 22.6 per cent of Londoners in 2010/11 to 20.7 per cent in 2018/19. 37 However, the number of cycle trips made in London over the same period has grown substantially, by about 36 per cent. 27 This may partly be explained by the growth in the average distance travelled per cycle trip in London, which grew by approximately 15.1 per cent between 2010/11 and 2016/17. 39 Overall, the number of cycle trips recorded per day in London increased between 2000 and 2016 at nearly twice the rate that London’s population has grown. 40 Growth in the number of cycle trips per day over this period has been particularly high in inner London. 41
Some 17.7 per cent of Londoners cycle at least once a month. Of these, 12.9 per cent cycle at least once a week. A slightly higher proportion of people cycle in London than in England as a whole, where 16.1 per cent of people cycle at least one a month, with 11.2 per cent cycling at least once a week (this difference is statistically significant at the 95 per cent level).
People in inner London are much more likely than those in outer London
to cycle once per month (23.3 per cent vs 13.8 per cent) and to cycle at least
once per week 17.6 per cent vs 9.5 per cent). 42
Between 2015/16 and 2018/19, according to a survey conducted annually for the Department for Transport, there was no statistically significant change in the proportion of Londoners who cycle at least some of the time. 43 In England as a whole, however, there was a statistically significant fall in the proportion of people who cycle at least some of the time.
There is some evidence that use of cycling in London increased in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with data from Transport for London suggesting that cycling increased by seven per cent in inner London and 22 per cent in outer London between 2019 and autumn 2020. 44 However, it remains to be seen to what extent any increase brought about in the early months of the pandemic will last as the number of COVID-19 cases in the city falls and social distancing rules are relaxed.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, use of cycling typically peaked during the busiest hours for commuting, as people used cycling to get to and from their place of work. Nearly half of all hires of the Transport for London operated Santander Cycle scheme were used by commuters in October 2019. 45 During 2020, as Londoners tended to make fewer and shorter trips as social distancing measures ebbed and flowed, use of most forms of transport decreased, while people continued to walk and cycle. Use of Santander Cycles, however, rose slightly, while membership increased by 57 per cent in the year to December 2020. 46 However, the proportion of cycling trips that were used for commuting fell substantially to 36 per cent. 45 It is worth noting that Santander Cycles are in inner London; while all Londoners may use them as part of a trip to work (e.g., from the train station to reach their office), this data is likely to reflect use by those living closer to the centre of the city.
E-bikes and e-scooters are newer on the scene, and there is less robust data about their use. Sales of e-bikes are one indicator. The number of e-bikes sold in the UK appears to be on the rise, increasing by 70 per cent between 2019 and 2020, representing one in twenty bikes bought in the UK. 48 A survey of people in a number of European countries found that a quarter of people intended to use an e-bike in 2020. 49 Meanwhile, more than four million trips were made on shared e-scooters as part of UK trials in the first eleven months of their operation. 50 Due to the implementation of e-scooter trials, one in ten people in the UK live in an area where they can rent an e-scooter and millions of trips have been taken since the trials began in July 2020 (see Box 2).
These suggest that e-bikes and e-scooters will continue to become more common on London’s streets. For e-scooters, this is especially true if they are legalized following the ongoing trials in London (see Box 2). It is likely that new modes of micromobility that we have not yet anticipated will come about in recent years.
It will be important for London to develop a gold standard micromobility ecosystem which meaningfully enables Londoners to access and use micromobility of all kinds, including those that do not yet exist.
Box 2: E-scooter trials in London and the UK
In recent years, technology has improved to enable electric motors to become smaller and more efficient. This has resulted in a proliferation of new small vehicles, that we refer to in this report as micromobility. E-scooters, represent one category of these vehicles. Riders stand on a platform and use a button pressed by their finger or with their heel to engage an electric motor. Like other forms of electric micromobility, e-scooters can be designed to travel at a variety of speeds.
England currently has several shared e-scooter trials, including one in London – in these, e-scooters run by participating companies are legal, subject to restrictions on speed, geographical area and parking. By July 2021, one estimate suggests that 10 per cent of people in the UK live in an area with access to a trial. 51 Private scooters remain illegal. Riders must have a driving licence or learners permit, and transgressions can be punished with points on the licence. Local authorities are responsible for the trials under a central government run scheme. 52 The aim is to learn from the trials for future regulation approaches.
In London, the trial is being run in a group of areas, each of which has opted in to participating, rather than being determined at a city level by the GLA or TfL. 53 More boroughs have joined the trial since it began in June 2021: in August, the scheme operated in City of London, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth, Richmond upon Thames, Southwark, and Tower Hamlets (incl. Canary Wharf Estate). Proponents of this arrangement say that it gives boroughs choice and control over what happens in their area, particularly given that local authorities are responsible for most of London’s roads (TfL is responsible for major roads, which carry a substantial minority of the city’s traffic). 54 Opponents say that this arrangement is confusing and impractical for riders and leaves Londoners with unequal access to transport options in their city.
Public opinion about the trials is somewhat divided, with one survey, commissioned by operator Voi in June 2021, finding that 48 per cent of respondents in England and Wales supported the use of shared e-scooters, while 24 per cent opposed it. 55 Another survey in early 2021 found that 41 per cent of respondents in England thought that using an e-scooter should be made legal, with 44 per cent saying they didn’t know enough to make a decision and the remaining 14 per cent against legalization. 56
A survey conducted by YouGov in June 2021 found that a minority of people in Britain say they are interested in using an e-scooter, with younger people and those who already cycle significantly more likely to be than others. People in London were more likely than those in other parts of Britain to say they were interested in using one. The survey found that most people do not think that e-scooters should be used on the pavement or on the road, but the survey did not ask people how they felt about e-scooters being used in cycle lanes. 57 People in London were more likely than others to say that they thought e-scooters should be allowed on the road.
How travel in London could change
Changes to infrastructure in London, to financial costs of different modes of transport, and to attitudes to those modes, could change how people travel in the city. For use of micromobility to lead to substantial reductions in carbon emissions, air pollution, and congestion, a considerable proportion of travel via micromobility should displace use of privately owned cars. This is because privately owned cars are among the biggest causes of these issues in London. But it is not guaranteed that people will switch from driving a privately owned car or getting a taxi to riding a bike, e-bike or e-scooter. Below we describe the existing evidence on this topic.
Two thirds of car trips in London could be cycled in 20 minutes or less. 58 Most (55 per cent) of car journeys in London that could be cycled in 20 minutes or less take place entirely in outer London. But what proportion of trips taken via micromobility would otherwise have been taken by car? The most recent evidence on this comes from e-scooters and is summarized below.
- Researchers in France asked users of shared e-scooters how they would have travelled if e-scooters hadn’t been available. Nearly half (44 per cent) would have walked, a third (30 per cent) would have used public transport, 12 per cent would have cycled, and 10 per cent would have used a car or taxi, a ride hailing service or a shared car. 59 Although 30 per cent of riders said they used an e-scooter instead of public transport, just six per cent said that they had taken public transport less often since they started using an e-scooter.
- Interim findings from a study of the ongoing e-scooter trial in Salford found that of those people who had used an e-scooter in the trial, most said that they would have made all or some of the trips they had made on an e-scooter by another mode had an e-scooter not been available, with 28 per cent of men and 42 per cent of women saying they would have made none. 35 Two thirds (64 per cent) of people who had used an e-scooter had at some point done so in place of walking, 31 per cent had done so instead of a bus or a tram, 19 per cent instead of cycling, 16 per cent instead of a taxi, and 14 per cent instead of a private car. The study found that users of e-scooters in the trial commonly combined multiple modes, with the biggest group (51 per cent) combining an e-scooter trip with walking, while a substantial minority combined it with public transport: 27 per cent combined riding an e-scooter with riding a bus or a tram, and 12 per cent with taking a train. 27
- A survey in 2018 by e-scooter operator Lime found that one in five (21 per cent) of its riders in Lisbon reported that they would have used a car or taxi had an e-scooter not been available. 62
- In a survey of e-scooter riders in Essex by mobility company Spin, 31 per cent said that they would have used a car for their most recent journey instead of an e-scooter had the hire scheme not been available in their area. 63
- An evaluation of a shared e-scooter scheme in Chicago found that most e-scooter riders (53 per cent) said they would have walked or cycled instead, had an e-scooter not been available for their most recent trip. 64 Nearly a third (30 per cent) said that they would have chosen to drive or use ride-hail instead, with 12 per cent saying they would have used public transport and 5 per cent saying they would not have made a trip at all. The proportion of people saying that they would have chosen to drive, or ride-hail instead fits with evidence from Portland where 34 per cent of e-scooter riders said they would have driven a car or hailed a taxi had e-scooters not been available. 65 Cities in the USA tend to have fewer public transport options than London, meaning that the availability of e-scooters is likely to have less of an impact on road use in London than in these cities.
- Nearly half of cycle trips in Chinese cities take place at the beginning or end of a trip on the metro, as part of an intermodal journey. City planners specifically locate shared bike docking stations using data on gaps in public transport provision. 66
One way that people who would otherwise not use micromobility might do so is if they are given the chance to rent a vehicle for a short period at a low price. There is some evidence that shared schemes influence the likelihood that people go on to use micromobility. In response to a survey of people in the UK who currently used a bike sharing scheme, 30 per cent of respondents said that using bike share had led them to start cycling after a break of at least five years. 67 A study in Paris found that 40 per cent of bike share users in the city had never used a bicycle (either one that they owned or rented) before. 68
An important factor in whether people are willing or able to use public transport or other means of getting around is how far they have to walk to reach a transport hub or parking space. According to data from Transport for London (TfL), in 2017/18 people in London who walked at least once a day walked more than three times per day as part of a longer trip (e.g., from their house to a bus stop). The average distance they walked in was 0.32 kilometres, for a total of 1.07 kilometres walked per day. 69 Using this as an indicator of how far people are willing and able to walk between different stages in their trip, this suggests that infrastructure such as micromobility parking needs to be distributed widely to ensure it’s close to residents’ place of work and their home.
There are variety of factors that influence whether people use micromobility and what mode of transport they would be likely to use in its absence. In Part 3 we discuss the potential barriers to micromobility for Londoners and how policy could seek to address them.