THE FUTURE OF MOBILITY, HOW CAN MICROMOBILITY SUPPORT A LIVABLE REGION
A moderated panel comprised of academics, urban planners, and entrepreneurs discussed the rising popularity of micromobility options (ie., small human or electric-power transportation devices including bikes, e-bikes, scooters, e-scooters, etc) that could potentially reshape Vancouver’s public transportation sector. The event was followed by an electric scooter and e-assist bicycle in the Robson Square Plaza.
Host: TransLink Tomorrow
TransLink is the transportation planning authority for the greater Vancouver region (ie., 21 municipalities, one Electoral Area, one First Nation Treaty Area). TransLink Tomorrow is a forward-looking initiative designed to enable innovative transportation planning. It provides support to industry, entrepreneurs, and academics interested in designing cost-effective and efficient mobility solutions (ie., battery electric buses, accessible fare-gates, on-demand micro-transit). TransLink Tomorrow issued its first Open Innovation Call in April 2019.
VSIR Thinking Points:
- Twenty-five years ago, the Canadian architect Moshe Safdie wrote a book about a future city characterized by daylighted buildings, open spaces, effortless mobility, and shared automobiles. Today, many of those ideas are deeply embedded into the planning principles of the world’s major cities (ie., London, New York, Madrid, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Toronto, and Vancouver. Micromobility is also becoming a defining feature of “livable city” development plans. Several economic and experiential factors (ie., competitive pricing, reliability, compactness, user-friendliness) are converging to accelerate the wide-spread adoption of micromobility services. Globally, the micromobility market could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars within the next 10 to 15 years.
- Transit-intensive cities around the world are experimenting with shared mobility frameworks that optimize social as well as economic benefits. Unlike most single-occupancy automobile trips, micromobility does not compete with public transit. As young professionals in Canada’s large and medium-sized cities continue to shy away from automobile ownership, the demand for shared mobility services may continue to rise. Rising migration flows and intense land-use competition within Canadian cities are additional demand-drivers. The appeal of e-bikes and e-scooters could further expand with the adoption of “smart” urban governance initiatives designed to improve the tourism experience, connect pedestrian-intensive places (ie., Jericho Beach, universities, colleges), and to restrict automobile access (ie., Granville Island).
- Like any urban centre, greater Vancouver has many competing destination points and planning objectives (ie., efficiency, convenience, safety, and accessibility). In addition to responding to today’s challenges (ie., ecommerce-induced curb congestion), transportation planners must think about the infrastructure build-out needed in the future. Managing that transition successfully requires high-quality data about preferred route choices, mode-shifting behavior, and social networks (ie., underserved neighbourhoods). However, data science can only provide a partial picture of the impact, either positive or negative, that micromobility has on “livability.” Because livability is a value-based judgement that differs among population groups and which is subject to change over time, knowledge mobilization techniques such as behavioral science or design thinking might provide greater insight. Blending quantitative and qualitative data to create “actionable” intelligence will improve the both the mobility experience and the policy design process.
Micromobility already has a strong customer base, but its future growth trajectory will most likely be iterative rather than exponential. While these transportation modes are convenient and affordable from a user’s perspective, they create unexpected planning and regulatory issues (ie., sidewalk congestion, bicycle path competition) for planners. Tomorrow’s micromobility solutions might be radically different than today (ie., extending further than 2.9 km average distance for bike-sharing trips), but the Vancouver of 2030 will probably still be known for its abundant tree canopy, generous sidewalks, and pedestrian-friendly pathways along the waterfront.