Micromobility, Urban Clutter & Industry Solutions

by | Aug 19, 2021

One of the most common talking points regarding micromobility recently has been the concern that a deluge of e-bikes and e-scooters on the streets will exacerbate existing urban clutter issues- especially in this ‘new normal era of citizens desiring more space in crowded areas.

Some jurisdictions have already stipulated within the legislation that e-scooters are required to be parked in bays, but others have not yet taken action (see our post here). However, preempting the problem, the micromobility industry has developed some innovative plans with which to tackle these concerns over urban clutter. This post aims to explore four of the main solutions to the problem and will illustrate that utilising even a mixture of them will enable cities to both incorporate micromobility solutions and retain less cluttered streets.

Solution 1 – Geo-fencing

Geo-fencing was the first solution to the clutter problem that was tested by micromobility providers and, historically, it hasn’t been very effective in minimising the concern. GPS mapping, as it is, just isn’t exact enough to effectively monitor and police e-scooter usage and many cities (such as San Francisco and Chicago) have since changed their requirements from simple geofencing to physically locking the scooters off of the pavement.

However, recently, a company named Fantasmo has developed a more effective means of geo-locking micromobility solutions. Instead of relying upon GPS satellites from orbit, Fantasmo takes a  ‘ground-up approach by building a 3D map similar to GPS… but literally from the ground level. Using camera footage to first develop this model, the company can then use advanced mathematics and existing GPS solutions to pinpoint scooter locations- increasing the effectiveness of geo-fencing tenfold. The company has recently imaged Paris and so, now, when a French rider is ending their ride they can use their provider’s app to scan their surroundings to determine whether they are in a designated micromobility parking corral.

Solution 2 – Designated Parking

Different to a micromobility corral, designated micromobility parking typically takes the form of booths in which riders can dock their e-scooters or e-bikes. Similar to those seen for the ‘Boris Bikes’ in London, they are essentially racks in which scooters can be stored following a journey. They follow the same logic for decreasing micromobility clutter as geofencing does, essentially restricting the areas in which scooters can be parked upon the end of journeys. These have grown more popular as a solution following a study from the Norwegian Institute of Transport Economics, which recommended their use as a means to cut down on urban micromobility-based clutter.

Some jurisdictions have tested designated parking stations as an effective means to ‘tidy’ their streets, though there have still been complaints that these take up space on the pavement. This has not deterred some companies from developing the tech further, however. Charge and Pwrpark are examples of companies that have to incorporate sleek power banks into designated parking stations, which aim to ensure e-scooters will have full batteries for citizen usage.

Further, Voi has redesigned its e-scooter parking racks in collaboration with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in order to better accommodate the blind and the partially-sighted in urban areas; in doing so, Voi has addressed one of the issues that have been raised in regard to these parking bays. It will be exciting to see how this solution can be further improved if the industry and municipalities decide it is an acceptable solution.

Solution 3 – Teleoperation Repositioning

This third emerging solution to the clutter issue is, arguably, the highest tech of them all. In a nutshell, teleoperation repositioning involves adding remote-driving to the functionality of e-scooters or e-bikes. This enables micromobility providers to remotely move their assets from being illegally parked or to designated areas (at low speeds); as well as move assets from low-demand areas to higher trafficked ones, to increase usage and profitability. With this technology, you may soon see riderless e-scooters slowly moving around your city!

One of the teleoperations companies that are currently developing such a solution is Tortoise, which recently announced a partnership with Segway to move their new micromobility vehicles in a pilot located in Idaho. Tortoise founder (and ex-Uber executive) Dmitry Shevelenko stated ‘This is futuristic technology, but it’s remote-controlled instead of being entirely autonomous. We use a laptop and Xbox controller to speed-drive the scooters from A to B’.

Another teleoperations company currently working on the technology behind this solution is JumpWatts; this Irish company has gone one step further than Tortoise and has created an entire suite of functionality technologies for e-scooters and bikes to draw upon. Named ‘Virtual Valet’, this suite provides e-scooters with the means to get up if they have been tipped over, remotely reposition themselves and, most excitingly, respond to rider requests to move to specific locations (meaning the scooters will drive to you, like an Uber).  CEO of Jumpwatts, Arun Gunasekaran, has said ‘The micromobility space is ripe for innovations that not only improve the bottom line for fleet operators but also create a better experience for users and municipalities. Our vehicle enhancement technology, Virtual Valet, is just that, a way to increase profitability and decrease chaos in the streets. Jumpwatts is currently planning a pilot in Dublin to test this exciting new technology.

Solution 4 – Citizen-led Reporting Strategies

A fourth solution to the clutter issue is somewhat less futuristic than teleoperations, but it is still a software-based solution. Citizen-led reporting strategies have previously relied upon users notifying service providers via an in-app interface- or even calling a number on the e-scooter- but software company Captur has recently provided a more efficient solution (as citizens may not actually have the app or be aware of the functionality). Members of the public scan a QR code on a misplaced vehicle and then have the option to take a photo/write a paragraph highlighting the issue.

Report submission is incentivised through the process and in the recent Captur/Beryl pilot on the Isle of Wight, residents who submitted reports earned donations toward a charity that they had nominated. More recently, Captur has partnered with TIER in London and Voi in Oxford to tackle scooter misuse (and for each report will donate £1 to a charity of the reporter’s choice).

Naturally, following a report being sent to the micromobility provider, the provider despatches a team to the location to pick up the e-scooter.

In Closing

Each of these emerging solutions to micromobility’s urban clutter problem has its pros and its cons. Dockless micromobility is far more popular than station-based designated parking solutions (as it is inarguably more convenient), but the technology that keeps scooters where they should be isn’t perfect as of yet (despite efforts to 3D map cities). Citizen-led reporting strategies do seem to be a good idea to address abandoned or illegally parked e-scooters- but they rely upon citizens being able to access the e-scooters. What if they are visible in dangerous areas? Even teleoperations solutions would struggle to remove scooters from being dumped in a canal.

The answer is relatively clear. All of these solutions need to be incorporated into the modern micromobility landscape in a manner that supports other solutions. Geo-fencing will keep micromobility solutions out of forbidden areas, teleoperations will move them where they are needed (on demand) and designated parking bays can be positioned in ‘out of the way areas and be used to smartly store and charge e-scooters until there is a surge in demand for them out on the streets. While, as a final (and hopefully unused) line of redundancy, citizens can report abandoned scooters.

Potentially, with MOBIX, upon a MOBIX user’s acceptance of their agent’s journey plan as they are driving into an urban area (including deep parking), an e-scooter could be deployed from storage, fully charged, to meet the user at their parking spot. It sounds futuristic, but it could be a reality far sooner than you think!

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