What shared micro mobility can bring to French cities

March 12, 2019

The vast majority of French workers still choose the car to go to work. This is not sustainable over the long run for a variety of reasons. The graph here below shows how dependant we have become on cars in our lives.

france city dependency on cars, sustainable mobility?

It’s often easier to jump in the car which is parked right next door than it is to go find your bike in the backyard or on a balcony. Inner-city old houses typically have little or no space for a bike however the flat always comes with a parking spot in front of the premises. This issue has cleverly been addressed and to a large extent solved by cities such as Grenoble who introduced the so called ‘Métrovelo’ by the thousands. In addition to realizing much needed extra bike parking spots and bike-lanes, this has motivated city dwellers to use these rental bikes without the need of actually owning a bike. These shared bike schemes have resulted in fewer short car rides in town.

However the share of car rides in metropolitan areas remain high. This can be significantly reduced by (shared) micro mobility and multi modal exchange zones. The latter is nothing more than a hub which connects public transport with shared micro mobility such as e-bikes and e-scooters.

This ensures a smooth and fast journey from home to work or vice versa. Once commuters have adopted these new means of transportation the heavy users may choose to actually buy a (foldable) e-scooter or e-bike to save on the long run and always be assured of having access to a two wheeled vehicle. This is actually already visible in several French cities where, encouraged by the success in Lyon and Paris, locals can be seen zipping by on an e-scooter more frequently. Fortunately, with the use of a helm. New national legislation addressing the use of light and shared micro-mobility is due to be published before the summer still. Elisabeth Borne (French transportation minister) has previously declared that „our goal is not to hinder the service but to set the right frame for the development of new mobility services for our citizens”. This is hopeful and makes sense considering the fact that French city centres are soon meant to become 30 km/h zones.

In our meetings with French cities the last few months that consider introducing forms of shared e-mobility, usually the same topics come up. These can be seen as critical success factors and summarized as follows.

zero mobility ride in bikelines

How to connect the underserved areas? When the geofence in the app allows certain underserved areas to be connected better with the city center and key industrial zones, this may incentivize workers to leave the car at home more often.

Here, shared micro mobility can really add value to the existing public transportation network. Provided of course plenty of e-scooters are around from the early morning in the designated area.

Prevent vandalism and theft. Cities want to prevent this as much as the operators themselves do. Petty crime can lead to more crime (broken window theory) and badly treated scooters don’t reflect well on a city’s reputation. Downright theft actually leads to fewer mobility options which was the whole point of introducing them in the first place. There are several things that can be done to mitigate these acts. First and foremost, the hardware should contain functionalities preventing the use of locked scooters, for instance sound or flashlight alarm systems. So called ‘lock-to’ mechanisms also help, enabling users to lock the scooter to an actual physical object. Taking scooters from streets at night, and lastly, optimizing the service area and banning bad users from the app will surely also work.

How to prevent blocking of sidewalks and too much ‘visual pollution’? Another key aspect to ensure local adoption and acceptance. Educating and informing users in the app plays a key role here. Most specifically, users can be required to upload a photo of the parked scooter before being able to end the rental. Moreover, geofencing the service area with so called ‘islands’ can also help avoiding scooters to be parked in busy pedestrian zones such as around train stations. Lastly, the app should mention existing bike parking spots and if the scooters have a ‘lock-to’ mechanism this will help a lot, too.

Sharing of data. Giving the authorities access to anonymized data and an interface of real time positioning of the scooters allows for optimizing local infrastructure and catering better to the needs of local residents, event organizers and visitors.

zero mobility escooter

How do we go about running the operations locally? Contributing to increasing local employment is always a positive aspect. Ideally, these are fulltime contract jobs rather than the occasional gigs for students and freelancers. It’s necessary to collect the e-scooters at night with an electric van and clean, maintain and charge them in a warehouse. However, when the volume and service area increase, look for instance at Paris, it can be essential to rely on the freelancer community as well to locate and charge scooters for a neat compensation. For them to be dropped on the streets in the early morning on designated spots. It becomes simply too complex and too costly to collect a fleet of thousands of vehicles yourself in rush hour. Besides, minimizing car rides is the whole point of offering shared, light forms of micro mobility.

Most of the largest French cities are publishing a form of a public tender this year. It’s the right way to go about it when you as a city want to exercise some form of control over what’s happening on your streets.

The fleets of scooters deployed during or after the summer will help avoid a lot of congestion, noise and emissions. The timing is right; worldwide car sales are down and mobility as a service (MaaS) is up.