Readiness for Shared Micromobility: Public Perceptions in Metro Vancouver
Shared micromobility – a phrase used to describe a variety of shared, publicly available, human and electric powered vehicles including bike share (dockless and station-based), electric bicycles and electric scooters – is booming in cities around the world. Shared micromobility offers transportation alternatives that generate low emissions, low noise levels and offer flexible integration with transit; however, cities with such new mobility have struggled with its regulation and ensuring it is complementary within an established and crowded transportation system.
Thus, this project aims to explore public perceptions of shared micromobility in Metro Vancouver, to understand the potential for adoption and integration with regional transit and inform policy, infrastructure needs and best practices for regulation. We employed three methods to explore these objectives: case studies, focus groups and an online survey.
In September 2021, one thousand (1,000) Metro Vancouver residents completed an online survey with questions to assess awareness, knowledge, and experience with micromobility, as well as support/concerns and perceptions around its integration into the region and with transit. Age, gender, and regional targets were used to ensure population representation.
Current Micromobility Ownership & Use
Thirteen (13%) owned 1 or more electric (e-) micromobility devices: 8% an e-bike, 5% a single axis e-mobility device (e.g., unicycle, hoverboard, segway), 4% a kick e-scooter, 4% a seated e-scooter/moped, 3% an e-skateboard. Ownership was highest in Vancouver/UBC and North Shore neighbourhoods, amongst men, younger populations, those working, those with higher education, and those with children at home. Seven percent (7%) rode an e-bike and 5% a e-scooter regularly (> 1/month up) and 16% chose some form of micromobility device as one of their top three modes for connecting to public transit.
Perceptions of e-scooters and e-bikes: A majority agreed that e-scooters are good for short trips (76%), make it easier to connect to transit (71%) and reduce car reliance (63%). A majority also thought e-bikes (80%) and e-scooters (76%) could be used to replace short
public transit trips (<15 min) but less so longer transit trips (e-bikes 41%, e-scooters 29%). All survey respondents (those who use and do not use e-bikes and e-scooters) were asked top 3 motivators for using such devices: the most common were environmental benefits, ease of travel with assist, fresh air and time outside, physical activity, and reduced transportation costs. Likewise, the most common barriers to use of e-scooters and e-bikes were weather, fear of theft, discomfort riding in traffic, cost, and lack of safe and direct bike routes.
Perceptions of shared e-scooters: Just over half (57%) agreed that a shared e-scooter program would be a good for their region (17% disagreed and 26% were neutral or didn’t respond). Agreement was higher among younger respondents but similar across sub-regions in Metro Vancouver. 1 in 4 thought they would use shared e-scooters regularly (weekly to monthly) and for everyday commuting. Respondents reported the primary reason would be for fun and recreation (67%), but also to replace trips currently taken by active modes such as walking (44%) or cycling (41%). Those respondents that said they were most likely to use shared e-scooters were more predominantly living in the City of Vancouver, UBC, Burnaby and New Westminster areas as well as younger age groups, men, those with higher education, those working part-time and those with better self-rated health. A majority (74%) thought that shared e-scooters in Metro Vancouver should include helmets.
E-scooter safety & regulation: There were mixed results on safety, with 40% feeling e-scooters were safe, 36% not sure, and 21% feeling they were not safe. Road safety was the top theme of open-ended comments, relating with other common themes including speed and interaction with other road users, most notably pedestrians (on sidewalks). 39% thought users should have a driver’s license. 69% were comfortable with the current limit (24 km/h), while 19% wanted lower, and 12% higher. 78% agreed helmets should be a requirement for riding e-scooters. 81% thought that e-scooters should be permitted to ride on bike lanes, 73% on quiet residential streets, 64% on off-street paths/corridors, 23% on sidewalks, and 17% on busy streets. 58% agreed e-scooters should be parked only in designated stations. In the open comments, many expressed concerns that they had seen such programs in other cities and that the devices were often left abandoned, blocking sidewalks, and cluttering public space.
Reports & Documents:
In partnership with HUB Cycling five focus groups (total participants n=37) were conducted between February and March 2020 to identify public perceptions of, and motivators and barriers to use of shared micromobility. We recruited individuals to participate in each of the following groups (7 to 8 individuals per group, 37 individuals total):
- Early adopters, who already own a micromobility device (e-bike, e-scooter, etc.)
- Shared mobility users, who are existing car and bike share members
- Public transportation users, who use public transportation at least three times per week
- General population (Surrey location), with a mix of transportation behaviours and opinions;
- General population (Vancouver location), with a mix of transportation behaviours and opinions.
A summary of themes that emerged from the focus groups were:
Motivators: While they may have initially tried personal or shared micromobility for fun, many noted that it eventually became a larger part of their life out of convenience, cost savings and physical and mental wellness. Early adopters felt that shared micromobility could offer the region a lower cost way to try micromobility devices and could facilitate widespread adoption of personal micromobility use which, they felt, in turn benefits the region in shifting people from cars, attracting tourists, facilitating business transactions and necessitating infrastructure improvements.
Barriers: Many participants were excited at the prospect of shared micromobility in Metro Vancouver, although but were not interested in personally using the devices (“Great idea but it’s not for me”). Participants cited not having the technological capacity or the appropriate means some shared micromobility programs may require for access, such as smartphones, specific apps or credit cards. Many also had doubts relating to whether micromobility devices could compete with their current transportation methods in regard to cost, convenience, cargo capacity, reliability and consistency of access and supportive infrastructure across the region and safety.
Recommendations: While there will be early adopters who are already familiar with the devices and the programs, theses focus groups following are key considerations when implementing shared micromobility programs in Metro Vancouver:
- Emphasize the benefits that individuals and their families will experience from making use of a shared micromobility device and program, whether it be cost, convenience or physical and mental wellness. Benefits to the region, such as environmental, social and economic, may be expressed as secondary but important.
- Provide education, training and trials to help overcome barriers of lack of familiarity with the devices, the technology needed to access the devices, and the regulations for the devices.
- Adopt a proactive approach to safety, including ensuring the integrity of fleet maintenance, to help to ensure all road and sidewalk users are safe and feel safe.
In 2020 HUB conducted case studies (review of documents + key informant interviews) to extrapolate learnings from 4 peer cities that had experience implementing shared micromobility and inform possible expansion of SMM in the Metro Vancouver region. The five case study cities included:
- Washington, DC: history with shared micromobility and collaboration with municipalities;
- Seattle, WA: shared micromobility systems in place and comparable metropolitan area and climate to Metro Vancouver;
- Portland, OR: shared micromobility systems in place and comparable metropolitan area and climate to Metro Vancouver;
- Calgary, AB: comparable Canadian city engaged in shared micromobility pilot initiatives;
- Metro Vancouver, BC: to gain further insight into the regional context and opportunities including existing shared micromobility services within the region including those at the University of British Columbia (Mobi bike share, HOPR, U-bicycle).
Major themes that emerged were:
- Compromise to balance concerns and market constraints. To achieve longevity of a shared micromobility program, city objectives have to be balanced with operator profit to remain appealing and sustainable to private operators.
- Relationships with operators can take different forms but require flexibility. One effective element of shared micromobility programming was building relationships with operators based on trust, flexibility, and respect. Local agencies should be flexible concerning expectations in terms of fleet sizes and enforcement mechanisms in order to accommodate unknowns and to permit a company to thrive so that they might be prepared to commit. In the cities interviewed, a blend of request for proposals (RFPs) and/or open participation (or permitting) were used.
- Long-term success likely involves subsidies. Shared micromobility is increasingly being seen as a way to augment transit, a way to meet climate emergency and active transportation goals, and a way to make transportation more accessible for disadvantaged communities. Each city has a unique context and equity considerations. Long-term success of shared micromobility requires more planning, flexibility and funding than simply allowing an operator to conduct business.
- Pilot programs are key to learning what works. Pilot programs allow cities to test shared micromobility and learn usage patterns and demographics as well as any unintended consequences in a controlled fashion. All case studies noted that there were usage patterns and user demographics they did not expect.
Recommendations to mitigate risks and to accentuate benefits when integrating SMM into established transportation systems. Theses recommendations considered the role that SMM might play within established transportation systems in supporting economic, social, safety and environmental objectives and TransLink’s Regional Transportation Strategy.
- Develop facility and facility maintenance standards and expand infrastructure. Take advantage of the growing popularity of micromobility use (including bicycles) to invest in new infrastructure for the future and enhance user safety.
- Establish distinctions between classes of devices and enact and enforce consistent regional-wide operating rules (licensing, speed, parking, operation space).
- Establish minimum device design, maintenance and update requirements for SMM devices across the industry so that functionality remains innovative, consistent and predictable for users.
- Develop and deliver safety education and communications targeted at SMM users including visitors who might be more highly prone to injury due to their lack of familiarity.
- Track injuries to SMM users by establishing an effective and ongoing means.
- Examine connections between injury rates and pricing models.
- Set pricing models that are competitive to transit, with discounts for regular users and subsidies if SMM supports Regional Transportation Strategy targets.
- Determine public subsidy levels, if any, required to enable SMM.
- Create opportunities for fare integration to facilitate complementary use of SMM with transit.
- Establish a consistent evaluation method to measure how SMM could contribute to local and regional transportation strategy objectives over time.
- Consider the size and make-up of SMM fleets to support active transportation, sustainable modes and agency objectives.
- Set pricing, availability, and network service areas to increase use of SMM as a motor vehicle alternative and complement to regional transit, particularly during peak commute periods.
- Adjust trip planning tools to support multimodal trips and estimated travel cost comparison.
- Establish SMM device quotas that must be stationed adjacent to transit hubs at particular times to ensure reliable availability to support commuting, and multimodal trips.
- Establish where micromobility devices can and should not operate and park (or dock) around rapid transit stations and exchanges. (ideally before pilot program implementation) to maintain access and circulation.
- Grant pilot operating licenses that involve a hybrid between a permit and request for proposals to ensure a variety of operators have the opportunity to access local markets while allowing those with superior operating history to supply a majority of the overall fleet.
- Implementing a range of contract enforcement tools (e.g. performance bonds, non-financial rewards/penalties, ability to revoke operating permits) to support a thriving SMM industry.
- Levy user infractions fines/penalties against SMM operators to reduce enforcement burden.
For more information and comprehensive findings and reports visit HUB Cycling’s Readiness for Shared Mobility page
A collaboration between CHATR SFU researchers and HUB Cycling with funding in 2019-2021 from the Translink New Mobility Lab and Mitacs Accelerate.