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Regina Clewlow, PhD, on Small Scooters and Big Data

Monday, August 5, 2019

Micromobility—small, lightweight modes of personal transportation such as scooters and bikes—and their associated data are being used to transform how individuals travel and how cities plan, according to Regina Clewlow, PhD, the CEO and co-founder of micromobility data company Populus.

“We’ve really transitioned from mobility as a product that one buys, typically a car, to mobility as a service, and this is in large part due to the proliferation of these shared business models and the arrival of dockless bikes and scooters," she said. 

Clewlow recently spoke as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe Center’s Our New Mobility Future thought leadership series. 

Short Trips and the New Mobility

With 45 percent of trips in the U.S. being three miles or less and 78 percent of those being made by car, micromobility is an opportunity to reclaim streets, stated Clewlow. She cited the rapid adoption of new mobility services resulting from a spike in smartphones, more inner-city congestion, and an infusion of venture capital into micromobilty companies.

Half of the people in the San Francisco Bay area regularly use Uber and Lyft and, of these, two out of ten of them do not own a car, have gotten rid of a car, or have postponed buying a car, Clewlow said, and in seven major metropolitan areas, three out of five Uber and Lyft trips would have otherwise been made by walking, biking, or public transit, or would not have been made at all. 

She also cited how cities and public agencies were taken off guard as the introduction of electric scooters has more than doubled the number of micromobility trips in the U.S., from 35 million to 85 million, in just one year. In many major cities, it is just faster to bike or scooter for trips that are three miles or less. 

Watch a video highlight about applications for big data from Clewlow's talk as part of the Volpe Center's 2019 speaker series, Our New Mobility Future.

Cities and Data

“GPS-enabled smart phones are now in the hands of basically everyone,” Clewlow noted.

With smartphone adoption rising from 35 percent in 2011 to 77 percent in 2018, a large volume of transportation data, including micromobility data, is now available, she said. Furthermore, cities are now able to request very detailed trip data from private operators in standardized formats. These public agencies use the data from private mobility operators to manage their progress towards public goals, including the reduction of transportation-related injuries and fatalities, improving the availability and accessibility of transportation services, prioritizing the efficient use of public space, and reducing transportation energy use and its accompanying climate impact. 

As an example, Clewlow described how cities could use aggregated volumes from millions of scooter trips to identify new protected lanes.

“The public sector primarily has the responsibility for ensuring that these [micromobility] services are safe, that they’re equitable, and that they’re sustainable," she said. "[The public sector is] really the only entity that can hold private-sector mobility companies accountable."

Efficiency, Safety, Climate, and Micromobility

Shared electric scooters have become a model for public-agency management of private-sector mobility companies. 

“Cities are now viewing scooters as a testing ground for managing all things that move…and many cities are now requiring access to real-time data in addition to historic data…from shared bikes [and] scooters for the purposes of monitoring compliance with policies, such as vehicle fleet caps…as well as to harness this new information for long-range planning,” Clewlow said. 

As a result, public agencies have an unprecedented opportunity to re-think how they allocate—and how companies price—access to our sidewalks, streets, and curbs.

Clewlow discussed the huge number of road fatalities in the United States and the transportation sector’s major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

"But together, I’m optimistic that we can drive the progress forward and excited how micromobility has changed the landscape," she said.

Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2019