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On the Rebound: Micromobility Makes a Full Recovery from COVID-19

About 157 million trips were taken with micromobility devices in 2022, mirroring the level of ridership in 2019. The increase seems to indicate a full recovery from the steep pandemic downturn.

The scooters and bikes are back. Back like you remember them in 2019.

Those rentable e-scooters and bikes that had become the darlings of transportation visionaries and tech bros — and the bane of some of those same transportation officials who longed for less cluttered sidewalks — are an indisputable presence on the American urban landscape, serving as low-carbon options for millions of trips.

The industry, like so many others, took a nosedive during the COVID-19 pandemic. But its sabbatical was brief and the bikes seem to be back at full strength.

Some 157 million trips were made in 2022 on bikes and scooters operated by companies making up the micromobility industry, according to a new report by the North American Bikeshare and Scootershare Association (NABSA), roughly the same number as in 2019.

The industry has firmly moved into cities of all sizes, with 401 in North America — 363 cities in the United States — hosting a bike-share, scooter-share, or both, operation.

“The report is demonstrating year over year of success, growth and resilience of shared micromobility as an evidence-based tool that can be leveraged toward these public goals,” said Samantha Herr, executive director of NABSA, in an Aug. 22 webinar to discuss the report’s findings.

Part of the explanation behind the growth of the number of annual trips is due to the increased number of cities featuring a micromobility program, and an increase in the number of actual bikes and scooters on the streets. On an average day there are 289,000 bikes or scooters available for use in North America. This is an increase from 194,000 in 2019.

Electrification is clearly a trend in the world of micromobility. Only 67 systems included e-bikes in 2019. By 2022, that number had grown to 142. Data shows e-bikes made up nearly 31 million trips in 2022. And the number of e-bikes available for rent increased 71 percent from the year before.

“And we found that in systems that have both e-bikes and pedal bikes, e-bikes are ridden about 56 percent more,” Herr pointed out.

When it comes to mode replacement — which looks at to what degree micromobility is taking the place of other transportation modes — some 37 percent of micromobility trips were taking the place of car trips, leading to 74 million pounds of CO2 emissions offset by the bikes and scooters.

“Shared micromobility is getting people where they need to go, and helping people in their everyday lives,” said Herr.

NABSA’s data — derived largely from surveys completed by micromobility operators — shows a clear link between micromobility and public transit. Sixty-four percent of micromobility riders use bikes and scooters to connect to transit, with 23 percent of all micromobility trips taken for the purpose of connecting to transit.

For all of its growth, micromobility is still a young industry, leaving open the possibilities around partnerships with the public sector, consolidations within the industry and the ability to shape the transportation ecosystem.

“We have to start valuing what micromobility can do, and is doing, and how does that compare to some of the other mobility modes that we have?” said Adrian Witte, a planner with Toole Design, an urban planning firm and contributor to the NABSA report. “The value of having a report like this is we’re able to capture those values.”

Transportation systems do not have a history of making money and becoming profit centers, Witte pointed out, making the case for the need for increased partnerships with the public sectors, and becoming part of a larger interconnected transportation system.

“I think what we’re seeing is it’s still a hard business to run. And it was in a space that continues perhaps not to be recognized as much as it should be as a successful form of public transportation,” said Witte in some of his comments on the webinar panel.

“Shared micromobility, as we all know, is a very young industry, overall, compared to other types of industries. And so the ebbs and the flows are really a natural part of industry growth and evolution,” Herr echoed.
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 Yreka, Calif.