Where do Micro-EVs belong to?

February 5, 2020

In the previous post, we talked about why Micro EVs are the new breakthrough in the mobility industry after decades since the arrival of car. In the same month, UK government announced to review and legalize electric scooters soon and even Jeep plans to release their first e-bike ever. It is clear that the world is paving their way to encourage environmentally-friendly mobility mode - Micro EVs.

“The number of e-bikes on the roads will easily outpace other e-vehicles by the end of 2020.” - Deloitte

But the next question is - are we ready for a new breakthrough? And how can we strike a balance between regulations and innovations to allow growth of such smart city solutions for the betterment of mankind?

In order to address those questions, it is important to know a little bit of history on the vehicle sharing economy boom that happened from 2016–2019.

During this timeframe, we saw the rise of bicycle sharing (such as Mobike, Ofo), followed by the electric kick-scooter sharing (such as Bird, Lime, Telepod, Voi, Tier, Dott, etc).

While the bike sharing era may have caused the shared bikes to be piled in mountains, the shared electric kick-scooter has definitely caught the wave and captured a wider market audience, given its ease to ride. Statistics have shown that shared electric kick-scooters had 7x more adoption than shared bikes.

Why the rise of electric kick-scooter sharing service?

In the past, many cities have been trying to promote cycling culture by shifting away from car-based trips to reduce urban congestion and pollution. Yet, the adoption rate of bicycles is picking up slowly in some cities, especially in regions like Greater South East Asia where it’s hot & humid year-round. While cities look for sustainable mobility solutions to reduce congestion and pollution, industry players are already seeing the opportunity with huge demand waiting to be served. Hence they take proactive roles to use technology to reshape the urban transportation setting by implementing electric kick-scooters sharing — a user could pay with their smartphones; electric kick-scooters could be located, picked up and left anywhere.

Of course, there are clear reasons why electric kick-scooters are becoming popular. It simply gives the freedom of being in the fresh air, traveling to final destination effortlessly (with it being electric-powered) & seamlessly without being stuck in a jam. The amount of electric kick-scooters being used on streets has clearly led to massive deployment and explosive growth.

However, this results in a lot of negative headlines about accidents that involve injuries and littering of electric kick-scooters, thus raised concerns in several cities around the world and also making lawmakers hesitant to legalize electric kick-scooters in certain cities and zones.

Fragmented regulations.

Electric kick-scooters have experienced exponential growth in popularity within the last 2 years and are now commonly available in more than 100 cities across the world. They have been flooding cities since the introduction as one of the shared mobility options. The demand is real and the regulators were caught off-guard, struggling to set standard regulations for emerging mobility mode which solves the last mile problem in the cities. Until today, regulatory development still remains fragmented globally, regionally, and even on a city level. Below is an overview of the regulatory of path allocation for electric kick-scooters across the globe:

To regulate or not to regulate?

Innovations are moving at a faster pace than ever. While cities are still struggling to regulate electric kick-scooters, there are industry players who already have plans to move forward for the next vehicle form factor with better hardware, bigger wheels, stronger frame, etc. In the coming years, we are expecting to see a diversification of Micro EVs, e.g. egg-shaped electric wheelchair, hybrid e-bikes, e-mopeds, amphibious micro EVs. Given these trends, we foresee that the lines will be blurred between classifying various Micro EV types and it will get increasingly difficult in terms of path allocations. Policy makers will need a new approach on regulation so that cities will not be caught off-guard again.

Cities goals are clear: they want cities to be safe, to be sustainable. These are solution gaps that private industry players can use technology to fill up. However, it requires bilateral efforts between private industry players and cities to make it a success. Now, it is time to set the course right. We need to rethink new forms of public-private cooperation and partnerships with the core goals in mind. More open conversations between private industry players and cities are needed to strike a balance between regulations and innovations. We can choose to be ignorant, but here’s the deal: Either be disruptive or you get disrupted.

So here are 3 key takeaways for all stakeholders to discuss:

  • Regulate the safety aspect on the hardware of Micro EVs. In the past, sharing industry players deployed off-the-shelf commercial products that were not meant for heavy usage, nor for riding on rough pavements as part of their daily commute. Under pressure from venture capitalists, their strategy is to deploy as many of them on the street to gain exposure and capture market share fast. But when it comes to sustainability, often they forget that it is not about quantity, it is about quality. So, there should be some fundamental hardware requirements designed for safety needs but the requirement should not impede room for innovation. How can we achieve this? For example, the brake system is crucial for the safety of the riders. Mechanical brakes shall be made compulsory to all Micro EVs instead of relying on electrical brakes for vehicles above a certain speed. Braking distance shall be set within a safe range. Of course, there are other fundamental considerations such as size of wheels, centre of gravity, power-to-weight ratio, etc that determines the condition required for safe usage. Cities need to take a step back to understand the mobility technology and the fundamental measurement of hardware requirements for safety requires standardization, whether or not they are meant for sharing or private usage.

  • Infrastructure readiness and space allocation. Where do Micro EVs belong to? Various combinations of specifications in terms of speed, weight, dimensions and motor controller power exist in the market. Types of Micro EVs are getting more diversified. How do you set rules or classify them on streets, eg. What goes where, in order to ensure the safety of its users and whom they interact with? Can segregated/dedicated paths solve the problem? But infrastructure takes time to build and cities will find it increasingly challenging to categorize new types of Micro EVs with the conventional methods. Our ‘classic’ categories seem to be less and less fit for current reality. We need to rethink the way we plan, design and manage traffic in our streets. Furthermore, public space is a limited resource. If the cities’ goal is to provide a sustainable environment, it should prioritize sustainable mobility modes. Hence, it makes sense for more space to be allocated for Micro EVs, e.g. Relocating space by converting one lane of car parking lots/car lane to a Micro EV pathway. For areas such as dense urban city with limited space, it will be a good start if cities can create a car-free zone in these areas and give incentives to people who use greener mobility mode. This is to encourage people to use public transportation mode for their daily commuting so that more space can be allocated for Micro EVs, cyclists and pedestrians.

  • Couple IoT with Used Based Insurance (UBI). User based insurance is popular among car drivers, but still new to Micro EVs. On-Board Units (OBU) are usually installed in cars and used to closely monitor the driving behaviour to gain more insights on driving habits for insurance providers. Similarly, this can be achieved by making it compulsory for all Micro EVs to install IoT.

In a nutshell, the above mentioned requires a lot of dialogue and conversations between public & private industry players and other key stakeholders. It takes two to tango. Stakeholders have to be clear about the long-term goals for public interest and core goals for the cities. Regulatory frameworks to be designed with flexibility & agility to adapt to unforeseen innovation trends, so that cities do not get caught off guard every time something new floods the streets; Private industry players should also look at how innovations can help address some of the challenges and help cities to adapt. These will require iterative efforts from stakeholders.

For the mobility players and regulators out there, feel free to contribute your thoughts about striving for a balance between innovation and regulations.

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