“The user of electric bicycles and scooters is male, intellectual and with an above-average income”. This is the actual profile of the so called micro-mobility user in major French cities, delineated by Marion Lagadic, through the questionnaires realized in 2018 and 2019 in Paris and Marseille. Although the conclusion of this study doesn’t differ much from the Portuguese reality. The pandemic will redefine many things in electric mobility services, but the business is already suffering from a strong hit and Lagadic, expert in urban planning and mobility, reached unexpected results in her research. Marion Lagadic said this Friday in an interview made within the Portugal Mobi Summit that “ultimately, the impact of these services in the environment might be neutral”.
That can be explained in just a few numbers. “These vehicles are mostly used for occasional trips and more for leisure. Only 6% use it every day”. The main point is to try to understand if these users would have chosen a car if these means would not have existed. “Not necessarily” answers Lagadic, based in Paris and manager of the 6T Research project.
“We found out that 42% of bicycle users would use public transportation and 44% would walk. The same happens with 33% of electric scooters users. Only between 1% to 2% admit that they would opt for the private car.”
For Marion Lagadic, there is a clear conclusion to be taken from here: “users of micro-mobility services in French cities are not car drivers that are becoming environmentally aware, they are already supporters of a mobility alternative to cars and are open to try new ways of optimizing their time.”
But she reminds us that “these services are a very important support of inter-modality, since a quarter of shared mobility trips are combined with other public transportation means, a mix that is seen as a more sustainable kind of mobility”.
The French urbanist considers that “it’s possible that people will forcefully try these new services after seeing it so much around them”. But in her opinion, “sustainable mobility should be based on having your own bike and using it every day”. Also because, in this pandemic scenario, it’s the solution that raises less safety issues.
“We have to be more ambitious if we really want to evolve towards a more sustainable mobility” defends Lagadic. And if it’s true that this involves many variables, and some of them quite complex, we can start by intervening in one of them, which is safety. “The bicycle has a problem of perception of safety. Most people consider it a dangerous mean of transportation” observed the specialist at the Portugal Mobi Summit.
Regarding this issue, Marion Lagadic points us to the Japanese example where the bicycle is massively used in big cities without major safety issues. In Kyoto, for example, where 16% of trips are made by bicycle, it’s easier to coexist with cars, since the maximum speed is 50Km/h and in some areas 30Km or 20Km, explains. “This is important because it reduces accidents” says, revealing that this is probably the key to the Japanese secret: “in case of an accident, the car driver is always guilty”. The pressure is given to the one who is behind the wheel.
Japan also serves as an example to help overcome the under-representation of women in active mobility in Western Europe. “Unlike countries like France and the UK, in Japan it’s actually a very feminine practice. The bicycle is actually used more by women and we can see elderly women going shopping on two wheels. These are practices that challenge everything we see in Europe”.
Another nipponic curiosity is the fact that this micro-mobility system is stable, contrary to European fluctuations and do not need major intervention from the government.
In that respect, Marion Lagadic points out the recent cases of mobility operators that disappeared from one day to the other. “What we observed in Paris during this pandemic was that many operators vanished, some took their bicycles from the streets for fear of robbery, vandalism and the effects of the pandemic, and some companies took everything away”. This also shows that these services “since are not public, don’t feel that commitment with the community when management becomes more complicated due to, for example, a pandemic”. On the contrary, “we see that public shared bicycles remained available for a period of one hour per user”.
Regarding the future of this market and the necessary innovations that must be adapted to this pandemic scenario, “the main challenge is to find stability, the business model is not very stable yet and this influences the relation with local authorities. Municipalities are fearful about the mobility system being in the hands of private operators that can go bankrupt and disappear from one day to the other” says. “It’s a very unpredictable sector and until it stays so, local authorities will not be very confident” adds.
But Marion Lagadic admits that these services need support if they want to exist in the long term and there is also the need to go forward with regulation, mainly in terms of parking. On the other hand, defends “the symbolic representations that keep women away from micro-mobility need to be changed, and at the same time, micro-mobility need to become more accessible to other socio-economic realities as well as be present in areas with a lower density of transportation”.
After a chaotic period due to the introduction of 15 operators of electric bicycles and scooters in Paris between 2017 and 2018, which made available over 15 thousand vehicles in a short period of time, problems didn’t take long to arise, since these services were spread across sidewalks, without parking regulation as it happened in Lisbon, recounts the expert in mobility. After local regulations, only in March of this year there was a national law that imposed a limited process of selection to three operator, with fixed parking spaces.
Marion Lagadic defends that “the mobility solutions should always be local, in line with population density and its characteristics, and authorities should have that in mind before regulating”. That is why it’s important to collect and interpret data. In this regard, some North American cities have distinguished themselves, such as Los Angeles, that developed an open network of data sharing of public and private operators.
As far as post-pandemic mobility and the possible return of the use of private cars, this graduate from the London School of Economics considers that if it’s true that “electric vehicles will always be the more shiny way to show that we care about the environment, I believe that some part of the popualation s quite dependent on the car, mainly in rural areas, and they should be able to chose a solution that doesn’t imply such a drastic change, such as the one offered by synthetic fuel. It’s an easier and more accessible change”. Even because of the pandemic issue, it’s a solution that should be encouraged, defended Lagadic in an interview moderated by Paulo Tavares and Charles Landry, co-curators of the Portugal Mobi Summit.