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On the Rebound: Micromobility Ridership Continues to Climb

A new report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials found 2022 ridership on bike- and scooter-share systems across the country have nearly rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

The shadow of a bicycle on pavement in front of a bike lane symbol painted on the pavement in white.
Rent-to-ride bikes and scooters continue to rebound since the pandemic-era slump, with some of the heaviest use in large cities.

Ridership on shared micromobility — as this industry is generally known — reached 113 million rides in the United States in 2022, according to a recent report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), up from 112 million rides in 2021.

Ridership has not yet reached 2019 levels showing 136 million total trips in the U.S. on sharable bikes and scooters. These statistics only represent the ridership on devices operated as part of an overall network, and do not represent trips by individual cyclists on their own bike or personal scooter.

“The key takeaway for city officials is that shared micromobility programs are increasingly popular and integral parts of the transportation system in cities across the U.S. and Canada,” said Billy Richling, program manager for communications at NACTO. “These programs can help advance city goals like reducing traffic, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and offering people more options to get where they need to go.”

The report also shows some clear trends, as the industry continues to mature. Electric scooters — a whimsical transportation device that seemed to strike a near overnight sensation when they flooded city streets five to six years ago — have shown declining ridership. This could be related to cost. The NACTO report concluded scooters tend to be the more expensive option compared to conventional pedal bikes and e-bikes. Assuming the trip was a basic pay-per-ride option and not part of a membership plan, the average cost for a 1.5-mile trip on an e-scooter in North America was $6.50 in 2022. This compares to $5.50 on an e-bike, or $3.90 on a conventional bike.

The study found the most successful micromobility programs were those that operated as some form of public-private partnership with a city. These were able to control costs while also ensuring the equitable deployment of the devices.

These partnerships often lead to more robust infrastructure developments, considered a key component behind growing micromobility use. Since 2018, Austin, Texas, developed about 100 miles of new bike lanes. Infrastructure matters, say advocates.

“Policymakers will widen the highways, thinking that that’s going to solve the [traffic] problem, but it actually just induces more demand. And so, we could take that knowledge to bike lanes; if we create bike lanes, the demand will come,” remarked Heather House, a manager with the Carbon-Free Transportation program at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), during a panel last month at the Micromobility America conference in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“If you don’t have safe, connected bike lanes, it’s going to be hard to jump on a bike and get where you want to go,” House added, noting RMI research showed shifting 25 percent of short vehicle trips across the 10 most populous cities translates to 30 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), or removing 388,000 cars from the roadways, and “serious savings for the individuals as well.”

E-bikes are clearly where riders’ attention seems to be directed. Bike-share systems are quickly adding e-bikes to their fleets, with trips on e-bikes increasing 38 percent from 2021 to 2022 in the U.S. and Canada, according to the NACTO report. Some of the biggest increases were in some of the biggest cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco where some 70 percent of station-based bike-share trips were on an electric bike, not surprising given that city’s terrain.

Only 10 cities in North America accounted for 90 percent of station-based e-bike trips, with New York, Montreal, Chicago, Toronto and Boston rounding out the top five, underscoring the popularity of this mode of travel in large urban areas.

“On the streets of New York every form of micromobility is pretty much being used now,” said Sarah Goodyear, co-host of the podcast The War on Cars, who lives in Brooklyn, New York. Goodyear moderated a panel discussion at last month’s Micromobility America conference.

“Micromobility is, in my mind, one of the main avenues that we can use to create systemic change in transportation, which is, of course, one of the main contributors to climate change,” she added. “In New York City micromobility is already on the street everywhere, constantly.”
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.