One of the major hurdles cities face in popularizing public transportation options lies in the notorious “last mile.”
The term “last mile” refers to a gap between public transit and destination; on either end of a public transit trip, the origin or destination not be viable to access via short walk. Think one’s home to a bus stop, or a train station to a workplace.
This one point of friction is a fraction of the overall commute, of course. But it is also inconvenient enough to deter many from considering public transit options, research shows.
“We have known for a long time that these kinds of hasps keep people in their cars and discourage them from trying other transportation options,” Leanne Buhler, Strategic Ventures manager for Evolve E-Bike Share, told BCAA Magazine.
This problem is nothing new then. Yet as gas prices surge past $2 per litre across Canada, public transit options become more crucial than ever. So what is the solution to address the gap?
Moving Toward Micromobility
Despite constant planning and expansion, cities across Canada experience unacceptable levels of traffic, congestion, and emissions.
According to Buhler, “Micromobility is the missing piece of the puzzle.”
The term “micromobility” refers to smaller, slower vehicles—effectively everything between walking and cars, including e-bikes, scooters, and even mini-cars. These vehicle types, in combination with city-led infrastructure, can virtually erase the troublesome “last mile” gaps of past.
The willingness is there, especially post-Pandemic. According to the Mobility Ownership Consumer Survey, 70% of workers stated that they were willing to use micromobility vehicles for their commute. The survey, conducted last year by the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility, found that “micromobility was poised to make a strong comeback when the COVID-19 pandemic abated and people began traveling more.”
In BC, public transportation can leave much to be desired, at least when outside of major urban cores like Vancouver. Meanwhile, car-sharing programs have had rocky results in the region. Companies like Uber have experienced difficulty entering the space, while some such as Car2Go gave up on the area.
In Vancouver, startups are looking to take advantage of the trend toward micromobility. For example, there is Movmi, who notes that large ride-hailing players are beginning to realize there is no one-size-fits-all approach to transportation.
“They’re starting to realize that transportation is actually very local and you’ve got to make adjustments,” CEO Sandras Philips told Business in Vancouver.
This stance is supported by McKinsey’s report, which concluded that because “micromobility preferences vary by geography, shared-mobility providers must understand local transportation habits.”
Variety is the Spice of Mobility
Car, train, bus, bike, scooter, feet. There are myriad ways to navigate the world, but in certain situations some forms of mobility just make more sense. That’s why multi-modality is important, according to Buhler.
“It’s about the right fit for the trip,” she told BCAA Mag. “British Columbians [want] the option to pick the best vehicle for the job.”
For private e-bike-share services like Evolve, the city of Vancouver boasts more than 5,000 kilometres of bikeway, usable by a multitude of micro-vehicles not requiring a license. That includes powered scooters, which is the business of Lime.
Lime, operating out of Richmond with plans to tap Vancouver, adds e-scooters to the standard bicycle-and-car mix.
“Richmond’s leadership and vision in allowing shared electric vehicles to support existing public transit with additional sustainable options has the potential to reverberate throughout the province and across all of Canada,” Derek Robertson, Senior Manager of Government Relations at Lime, said in May.
Overall, choice empowers the consumer, and multiple options for each trip will maximize adoption.
The Province-Wide Approach
It’s easy to forget about much of British Columbia when the province’s primary population and business hub is tucked into the furthest southwest corner of nearly one million square kilometres. Yet there are four million BC residents living outside of Vancouver.
The Okanagan, home to some 400,000 and an understated technology hotspot, is another area of BC seeing some success with micromobility programs.
In Vernon, “the uptake has been amazing,” according City Mayor Victor Cumming. Out there, a firm called Neuron Mobility operates a scooter-sharing program.
Cumming noted that last year more than 13,000 people scooted nearly 200,000km combined using the program—numbers which he expects to double this year, especially with the addition of e-bikes from Neuron.
Impressively, almost half of the scooter trips replaced motor vehicle excursions, reducing traffic congestion and carbon emission, according to data collected by Neuron and the City of Vernon.
In terms of scooters and bike sharing programs, Cumming believes them to be “a very viable option for small cities and large towns throughout BC.”
Kelowna, the hub of the interior of BC, launched The Bikeshare Micromobility Permit Program last year, which allows Kelowna residents to access shared e-scooters as a transportation option.
Social and Environmental Benefits
“The sky’s the limit for micromobility in Canada, especially here in British Columbia,” affirmed Robertson.
This strong statement is reinforced by research from Movmi, who released a report in April on the very topic. The whitepaper asks: How do e-bike share schemes bring social and environmental benefits to cities and citizens?
According to Movmi, micromobility programs “can be a win-win for users, operators, cities and the planet.” To succeed, regions must take challenges seriously—such as how to attract riders, ensure operational feasibility, and improve multimodality of an area’s transit grid.
“A viable electric bike-sharing scheme can fit within a city’s overall transportation plan, accelerate the adoption of car-free behaviours, and benefit developers and other businesses,” the report states.
So let’s get rolling.
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