Micromobility Is Making a Comeback After an Uncertain Year

Scooter companies like Lime and Bird are introducing new products to the micromobility landscape in a number of cities. Meanwhile, New York City is introducing its first scooter pilot project.

a row of lime scooters
Shutterstock/Mikel Dabbah
When e-scooters and bike-share operations all went quiet last year as the world held its collective breath waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic, there was much speculation around how these forms of mobility might return.

With summer only a couple of months away, below are a few glimpses of micromobility in 2021.

Lime is debuting its “moped” operation in Washington, D.C. Mopeds are basically small electric motorcycles that look and operate much like the iconic Vespa “scooter,”  a nearly ubiquitous symbol of urban micromobility going back decades.

Lime's mopeds can achieve a speed of 28 mph and can travel nearly 90 miles on a charge. The company is introducing some 600 of these “e-mopeds” in the nation’s capital, according to its blog. Riders have to be at least 21 years old and must watch a safety tutorial before they can begin riding.

Lime also requires a “mandatory helmet selfie check” to ensure riders are wearing a helmet. Two helmets are stowed on the vehicles, with sensors onboard that know if the helmet has been removed from its storage area. Facial recognition technology can also tell if the photo of the driver matches the picture on their driver's license.

For riders who prefer the slower e-scooter, Lime is introducing new features such as rentals that don't require app downloads and free rides up to 10 minutes in duration.

“Scooters could see a record summer,” remarked Nico Larco, director of Urbanism Next Center and architecture professor at the University of Oregon, as he kicked off the recent Urbanism Next conference.

Meanwhile, Bird just announced its next generation of scooters will have a “Beginner Mode” to ease new riders into the thrill of scooting. The mode allows riders to gradually ease up to full speed.

“We know that reducing unnecessary car trips in cities helps keep our streets safer and our air cleaner," said Brendan O'Driscoll, head of product, growth and data for Bird, in a statement. "When riders feel secure on Bird scooters, they’re more likely to rely on them regularly for essential short-distance urban trips. That’s what we’re striving to accomplish every day." 

Lastly, the nation’s biggest city, New York, has announced the launch of a one-year e-scooter pilot project. The NYC project will operate in an 18-square-mile section of the eastern Bronx, home to 570,000 residents. Phase I will introduce 2,000 to 3,000 scooters into the East Bronx.

“Building a sustainable and multimodal transportation network that serves all of New York City is one of the most important tasks in front of us as we recover from the pandemic, and e-scooters will absolutely help us get there," said Corey Johnson, speaker for the New York City Council, in a statement.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.