Multiple ideas were explored at the Micromobility 2022 conference, presented by the WMG department at the University of Warwick's dedicated event facility, The Slate, on 9 June.
The UK's only live, dedicated micro-mobility event was opened by Minister Trudy Harrison, Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, and attended by numerous personalities in the field of micromobility, to raise awareness and contribute to the future of green and sustainable transport systems.
For clarity, the term Micromobility refers to small, lightweight, efficient vehicles that can make short-distance journeys. Types of micromobility vehicles we could see in our communities include bikes, hoverboards, e-bikes and e-scooters. They can be used to save time, avoid congestion, remove parking problems and, most importantly, use much less energy than a car, contributing to the Government's zero-carbon goals.
The conference touched on many key issues, including making micromobility safe, accessible, integrated and attractive to new users. It particularly highlighted the need for Government, local authorities and industry coordination. WMG announced the 'UK Micro mobility Roadmap' to support this strategy: a Pathway to safely reduce congestion, improve job availability and introduce new rules that will be part of the new bill. Introducing a flexible regulatory framework, to address local authorities directly, was the main point of the discussion presented by Programme Director John Fox from WMG, regulating rental mobility options to ensure consistency across local areas, through getting a local licence that could be applied to e-bikes, e-scooters and e-cargos - displacing cars. Agility was the keyword of the conversation - as a facilitator to create new trials and designate specific towns for participation. Interventions were made during the discussion, considering the broader implications of micromobility, including the policy landscape, the user, the supply chain and the business model.
Emily Cherry, Executive Director at Bikeability Trust, focused on the recent success of the Trust's campaign to train 4 million children in 2021 - and introduced new plans to offer micromobility training for novice cyclists who need proper guidance. Oliver Parsons-Baker, Transport and Mobility at Deloitte, drew attention to the discrepancy between the European and British markets. The bike boom of 2020 continued in 2021 with e-bikes merging into the fast lane of vehicle sales across Europe for a market speed up, representing only a tiny percentage of the final slice of European registrations: as an example, France sold 1 million e-scooters in 2021. Parsons-Baker focused on the potential of the British market currently restricted by regulations and how shared providers are facing economic headwinds with a consequent reduction in value, which currently positions the British market behind Europe. However, they believe with changes in the law will come a change in this trend.
Paul Tomlinson, Cycling Director from Halfords, drew attention to customers' needs and buyer desires. An interesting intervention from the most extensive e-mobility service in the UK focused on a view of e-scooters as a vehicle helping to democratise mobility in society, one which is well-positioned to help the public and demonstrated how the e-scooter trend is currently favoured by younger, lower-income users, a completely different slice of the market when compared to e-bikes, which tends to entice an older and more economically stable consumer. In any case, the 80 per cent difference in purchase costs was argued to be particularly relevant. In addition, it was noted that the situation became especially clear during the electric bike trial scheme during the tube strike for a week that allowed for a clearer perspective on cycling to be gleaned by the Government.
Tomlinson stressed the benefits of e-scooters on the environment as a huge factor: sixty per cent of riders use their e-scooters for long journeys – that is, journeys that would otherwise require cars, taxis or public transport – while at the same time they help people to become more physically active, encouraging them to ‘go out’ in circumstances when they otherwise may not have chosen to. Finally, Tomlinson briefly dwelt on the issues related to storage and range anxiety, focusing on the necessity to develop a new type of dialogue within the world of micromobility. He particularly emphasised the need for a renewed approach in relation to customers' choices and opposing sides of the field and new gaps arising from the market that must be addressed - for example, the fact that e-bikers want e-bikes that look like standard bike, rather than a conceptually separate vehicle.
Dr Kay Inckle, Campaigns and Policy Manager at Wheels for Wellbeing, raised vital points on how to ensure equal access and participation for those with disabilities, also promoting inclusive cycling through their recent collaboration with Bikeworks. Dr Inckle focused on the need to shape a diverse and inclusive proposition where the price gap between the disabled and non-disabled world is erased and the challenges related to shared micromobility expanded.
The discussion on diversity was followed by Georgia Yexley, General Manager at Tier Mobility, who addressed gender equity, focusing on why people choose one mode of transport over the other - for example, how fewer women have driver's licence. Having recently announced UK's first e-scooter training specifically for women, with a collaboration between Tier and Bikeworks, she stressed the importance of appropriate measures and innovative ways to look at regulations, indicating the relevance of inclusivity and the substantial minorities that could allow us to move from trials to get more use of ownership; finally, how rules that are developed from practice can be very generic and are ill-suited to solve all the issues related to diversity, particularly if there's no framework to support innovation.
Several exhibitors attended the event to give attendees a chance to trial some of the latest micromobility solutions; manufacturers in the micromobility sector and research organisations offered different perspectives on the micromobility landscape (Beryl, TaiSan Motors, Evmi Solutions, Dock-y, See.Sense and Voi Scooters among many others) and an entire area was dedicated for networking in between panels and discussions.
The event not only saw the demonstration of many new exciting, and existing micromobility vehicles, from e-scooters to e-cargo bikes but also outlined the opportunities for the UK to lead this sector in battery development and recycling, human factors and behavioural change, and materials development.
The University of Warwick’s WMG department has proposed a set of regulations that will allow micromobility vehicles such as e-scooters to operate legally in Britain. 100 organisations representing road users, safety groups, transport authorities and industry have helped shape the roadmap. If the roadmap was adopted, the public could legally operate eScooters and other micromobility vehicles by mid-2023.
Programme Director John Fox, from WMG, University of Warwick, previously commented:
"Despite progress on electrification, transport emissions are increasing; Micromobility is essential if we are to achieve net-zero emissions from this sector. With around 70% of journeys in the UK under 5 miles, Micromobility vehicles can significantly impact our emissions. They use typically 5% of the energy of an Electric vehicle to make trips, and their manufacture is also considerably less carbon-intensive.
"Micromobility offers many other benefits, including air quality improvements, greater footfall in high streets, and taking up much less space than a car to move the same number of people, which releases more reach in urban areas for other things.