Scooters and e-bikes are everywhere—and they seem to have appeared overnight. You’ve probably tripped over a scooter before…or ridden one to work. You’ve probably also gone on an e-bike joyride while touring a city.
Our guest, Rasheq Zarif, speaks with us about how these small wheels actually help fill a big need in our cities. He is a managing director at Deloitte and leads the tech sector for the Future of Mobility.
No one can argue that micro-mobility is disrupting America’s cities (and abroad!). How can we work these micro-machines into our cities? What benefits can we get from them?
Rasheq is also the lead author of a new report, “Small is beautiful: Making micromobility work for citizens, cities, and service providers.”
Robert (00:04) From GRIDSMART Technologies. This is POLICYSMART. I’m Robert Johnson. This episode we’re talking about an invasion of the small wheeled kind. They look like scooters and e-bikes. In some communities, they’re considered to be from another planet and others they are a welcome addition to the mobility mix, but in every case, they’re everywhere. In neighborhoods at intersections, in public parks and on busy streets. They came in the dark of night and now they are forced to be reckoned with these micro machines providing micro mobility scooters and e-bikes don’t leave crop circles or abduct farm animals, but they are disrupting the places where they operate in ways that can be good and bad. Our guest studies the future of transportation for Deloitte Consulting’s strategy and analytics practice from his office in San Francisco. Rasheq Zarif is the lead author of a new report entitled “Small is Beautiful, Making Micro-mobility Work for Citizens, Cities and Service Providers”. His take on small wheels filling a big need begins with his childhood interest in the future of things that move.
Rasheq (01:13) I remember being a kid and reading popular science magazines trying to like draw out how you would lay out a ton of his vehicles on the road, so how sensors will be laid out on the road. And, and it was just always crazy to think about the future of autonomous vehicles. And then when I went to college, I really enjoyed physics. Specifically, I got attracted to fluid mechanics. Um, and then is that kind of led me towards my mechanical engineering degree and I always kind of saw things how people in, in just as a whole move that’s kind of like fluid and its always got me thinking of how we can be more efficient in that sense, uh, in that always got me intrigued, a sense of how the future’s going and then, of course, sci-fi, Back to the Future. That’s something that I watch over and over again. I lost count how many times I’ve watched that show.
Robert (02:09) Well today we’re talking about your new report entitled small is beautiful and it looks at what’s going on today in cities around the country as it relates to micro-mobility. But it also leans into the future a little bit. Can you tell us the essence of your report?
Rasheq (02:30) Yeah, Robert in a nutshell, the micro mobility craze has hit the North American market and it’s also expanding throughout Europe and the rest of the world, uh, within the last two years. And that the growth of dockless bikes and scooters, uh, has been quite exponential and numbers that have not been seen, it’s even been greater than the growth of ride-hailing. And when you look at how people are shifting towards the use of these assets in order to move around, it’s intriguing to see how people are keenly adapted to changing their modes of transportation. And yes, this report looks at the, the benefits of how micro mobility has an impact to a city, for example, but also the challenges that are facing their sense of integrating such new solutions, uh, where we have structured regulations and rules that are in place that are not able to adapt to such changes. So there are some considerations that are laid out and not reported, to be able to plan for. And it also gives a framework in a sense of how we should be able to use these lessons for future modes of transportation.
Robert (03:41) I want to get into the details, but first I want to hear your thoughts on why you think scooters and bicycles that are shareable – you can leave anywhere, wherever you happened to get off, take them up an elevator with your whatever – why do you think people are so into these? What, what’s going on?
Rasheq (04:03) I personally believe that what has caused this shift of people to use these modes of transportation is because of how they’ve been disconnected from anchor points. For the longest time bicycle and the sharing bikes had been tied to docks, and you would have to go to a location to get a bike, and I had a certain level of utilization, as a result. The fact that the technology has shifted that allows these bicycles and scooters to basically be anywhere, it just makes it a lot more convenient not only to access them but to leave them where you might be at your final destination. So it’s a true first mile, last mile solution versus having it being positioned at a docked location. And I think that in addition to the fact that it’s just, it’s just cool to utilize an asset that is electric powered that assists you to get to your final destination, really kind of contributed to that craze of “Hey, this might be something that catches on.”
Robert (05:07) Convenience seems to be at the top of the list.
Rasheq (05:10) Yeah, absolutely. It is convenient, but one of the challenges that is faced with it, it’s the fact that it’s not as reliable. And the problem is, is that, you know, the cities and the scooter companies are trying to find that balance of not having too many suitors out on the street to ensure this reliability, but just enough that that people are able to access that within reach. And it’s a balance that, that, you know, cities and scooter companies and also data analytics companies are looking to see how they can find that balance in order to ensure reliability and convenience for their citizens.
Robert (05:46) If you want to make sure a scooter is always within walking distance, you have to have seven or eight different apps these days. Maybe more.
Rasheq (05:57) Yeah, that is another challenge that it’s not necessarily addressing our paper, but it is something that we are looking into at Deloitte is the fact that there are many apps or many service providers for mobility solutions and it’s something that we’re looking into and seeing how we could be able to find a way that not only that people can have access to multiple modes of transportation, both public and private from a single source, but also enabling cities to have better control or at least visibility in the sense of how transportation is being used in their city that they could better plan for regulations, funding, infrastructure of movements and so forth. It’s kind of hard when the majority of your transportation is no longer transparent to you as as you see that the, the challenge of folks using public transportation in relation to all these private notes
Robert (6:47) Associated with that challenge is the first mile, last mile connection problem. Getting people out of neighborhoods down to light rail stations or bus stops. How do these small wheels solve that challenge?
Rasheq (07:06) It’s still a little bit early and some data is coming out now. Um, but it does show that the micro mobility market does compliment public access to public transportation. When you look at the cities, public transportation doesn’t necessarily cover the entire city. Uh, so having micro mobility vehicles in areas that are called transit desert enables folks to easier transportation, which then gets it out of single occupancy vehicles. This is something that is, like I said, it’s still early on, but the data is showing that that it is helping. What is key here is that public transportation companies, you know, scooter companies and also other modes of mobility, transportation work closer together in order to provide a cohesive multimodal transportation network for their citizens.
Robert (07:55) You mentioned also lower income people are able to access these forms of transportation a little more easily because they just don’t cost as much.
Rasheq (08:07) I think what I’m trying to say here is that in transit deserts where public transportation is not easily accessible, it provides people better accessibility of having transportation. But you do bring a good point in the sense of lower income people having a challenge to, you know, get to where they need to go, whether it’s school or jobs or even access to growth. It’s been something that has been well documented by public health agencies. And providing affordable transportation options to them, it’s not only beneficial for those that are lower income, but it also helps the economy as a whole.
Robert (08:42) Do you see e-scooters and e-bikes reducing the number of vehicles on the road? Whether those are the TNCs like Uber and Lyft or just people driving their own owned vehicles? Are we going to get less congestion over time because these are now part of the mix?
Rasheq (09:01) There is, I think it’s a little too early to tell. I’ll give you one statistic. The National Association of city transportation officials just last month released a report that showed the number shifts taken by shared bikes and scooters. In 2018 alone Dave recording 84 million trips. For the year prior, I believe it was just bikes alone with about 32.5 million and about 9 billion or so where dockless shared bikes. There was a bit of significant growth as a result. I would say that it will definitely help reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles on the road. Whether it would be a sole contributor to reducing congestion. I would not be competent in saying that I think what what needs to be worked on is more on the multimodal transportation that work that allows people to access easily other modes of transportation without utilizing their personal vehicle.
Robert (09:58) The challenges are numerous as well. One that you spend some time on is this idea of where people are riding these scooters and bicycles on sidewalks or on street, you know, where they belong, maybe is more in a bike lane. Uh, but those are not as prevalent as you know, normal road miles. What’s the tipping point there? When do we get more opportunity to ride these in more places?
Rasheq (10:32) You know, there’s a saying “if you build it, they will come,” and I think that is definitely the point here with with bike lanes for example. Our report and our analysis has shown that when you do have protected bike lanes in general, there is a significant increase in utilization, not even with shared bikes and scooters aside, but personally on bikes gets increased. Data has shown that when cities are able to implement bike lanes that are protected, it does cause that impact. And so it brings up the point on the bike lane as well. For the longest time we have considered to, from an infrastructure standpoint two roads. There is the main street and then there’s a cross walk on, no, sorry, the um, sidewalk. For the longest time, sidewalks have been used for pedestrians and the main roads for, you know, major vehicles, whether it’s trucks or buses or cars.
Rasheq (11:30) And with the bike lane, as they become more and more prevalent, it opens up a whole new market beyond just shared bikes and scooters for potentially other modes of transportation that can fit within a bike lane. But that is not as big as an actual vehicle. So it’s really interesting to see what could happen with bike lanes as we become more developed, not only for, you know, increasing the ability of folks to have transportation on that lane, but also for safety as we’ve seen reports out there – you know, accidents and even unfortunately deaths – of those that are on bicycles and scooters.
Robert (12:10) I’ve had a couple of close calls with people on scooters not paying attention here in downtown Washington DC. A few weeks ago, three guys who looked like they were college age ran a red light, essentially, and had I been another car length ahead, I probably would have run over all three of them. So people are not yet calculating the need to be as safe as they would be in another form of transportation. It seems to me.
Rasheq (12:36) When you look at the statistics, high occupancy vehicles are the leading cause of traffic accidents, are the leading cause of death amongst all transportation mode and that is still a fact that that we can’t ignore. And safety is something that is paramount regardless, no matter what mode of transportation that you’re in.
Robert (12:56) It seems though that you know with no protection around you, the the damage can be greater on a scooter than in your own vehicle you don’t have airbags, you don’t have seatbelts, you don’t have anything.
Rasheq (13:11) I think that’s why it goes back to the importance of the city’s considering more about protected bike lanes that has shown to to provide better path for those. It’s like you said that you don’t have to compete with, you know, a 2000 pound vehicle that’s going at 40 to 50 miles per hour next to the same lane as you. And I think that is an important piece they’ve taken into consideration from an urban planning standpoint.
Robert (13:33) Cities really have to rethink how they manage traffic with these new forms of mobility, don’t they?
Rasheq (13:42) Absolutely. I think that is one of the most important things and why, you know, looking at data is instrumental in determining how people move and what modes they move with. We’re at a time where the last 10 years, or not even, maybe in the last five years that the change in mobility offerings has been significant enough that traditional timestamps of our cycles of adapting road infrastructure, it’s just not fast enough. And it’s important to utilize data, not only the data that’s available, but you know there are a data analytics companies that are out there that are providing valuable insights and stuff of how do you modify all your infrastructure and meet this ever growing need. But what’s important here is it’s not to do permanent infrastructure changes, but findings, dynamic approaches that that helps regulate flow traffic. Yeah, it is a task. I’m not saying that we have an answer to it, but it’s something that we all need to work together to figure out.
Robert (14:46) And the same would be true for controlling traffic at intersections. You’ve got to be able to sense these smaller vehicles in the same way that you pick up trucks and motorcycles and and regular passenger cars. The, the whole system needs to be smarter when it comes to all of these things moving around in the environment.
Rasheq (15:09) Yeah, there’s a lot when you look at developing the mobility, there’s a lot of smart technology being implemented into these vehicles, but if there’s not an equal amount of investment being put into infrastructure and that is something that it’d be interesting to see how we’re able to complement the two to provide better flow of traffic, better safety, and also the ability to have more convenience for folks that need to get around.
Robert (15:45) Who’s doing it right today from a city perspective, is there any jurisdiction out there managing this new mobility paradigm right now or are they leading the way? Is there an example that others listening might look to for guidance?
Rasheq (16:03) It’s difficult to say that because it’s not a one-size-fits-all. One of the things that we showed in our reporting and what we analyze is that there is regulation that should be imposed nationally to kind of give us a basic framework, but every city is unique in their own way and it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. One city I do want to point out is Los Angeles, Alita Reynolds with the LADoT, has been making major strides in trying to to develop dynamic solutions in regulating and also being able to provide equal mobility for her, her residents. She’s been behind the forefront of a major initiative of the mobility data sophistication standards, which is looking at how to standardize data from mobility companies so that cities across the US could be able to use that to make the right choices for their respective cities. It is, once again, it’s difficult to say that there’s one city that’s doing it right, but it’s important to note that every city’s unique, you just need to be able to have access to the right information to make the right decisions.
Robert (17:21) You mentioned national or federal regulations. Can you expand on that a little bit? What are you thinking there?
Rasheq (17:28) So one of the things that we see that you know that is possible to have as a national standard is, you know, as I mentioned the data standards, um, having the guidelines around provisioning, access, quality and accuracy of that data is something that would make it easier to come from the standards point of view. The other thing that is important that should be provided as a national standard is safety safety standards around me that these vehicles can, can go to rider education visibility as well as frameworks around how protected bike lanes should be put in place. And also guidelines on the public right of way. This is something that it’s not been consistent from city to city and that’s something that should be, you know, set as a policy from a national standpoint to have alignment. And, and, and I want to kind of say that if that is that from a national standpoint, the difference at a local level, is for example, community equity, providing discount programs for qualified citizens for example. Or policy, of proper parking locations for small vehicles, or policing or fines or enforcement that could be done differently, lock requirements or encouraging placements, in certain areas of the city where it might provide better accessibility. So this is where the difference could be at that level. This doesn’t even touch in the sense of the approach of how you would impose policy. And we’ve identified five regulatory principles that we think that are important to not only tackle the micro mobility market, but emerging technologies in general. This is important because so far we’ve seen very rudimentary black or whites, you know, regulation that’s been put in place that doesn’t help these new modes of transportation to be able to grow while at the same time letting cities to learn. And the five that we’ve identified: adoptive regulation, so basically shifting from regulate and forget to a responsive, iterative approach; a regulatory sandbox, where you give a certain time period and location or prototype and test new approaches; outcome-based regulation, they’ll focus on results and performance rather than the current form; risk-weighted regulation, shifting from a one size fits all regulation to a data-driven segmented approach; and the last one, one collaborative regulation, so aligning the regulation nationally and internationally by engaging a broad set of players across the ecosystem. And I think that those five areas or five potential approaches, will allow cities to one, be adaptable to new modes of transportation that are coming, whether it’s, whether it’s micro-mobility and autonomous vehicles, you know, robots that delivering, you know, your dinner to kind of step away from what has been consistent for the last hundred plus years, which is just in a car on the road.
Robert (20:22) That was the final point in your report. Scooters and bicycles are challenging us today. There’s more on the horizon and the horizon is not that far away. We need to figure out how to move a little quicker and be more responsive to what’s happening in technology and what people want. Is that what you’re saying?
Rasheq (20:48) I think we’re at a stage right now where we should take the opportunity to learn from the benefits and the challenges of implementing new modes of transportation in our cities, and the lessons learned and being able to be more dynamic and adaptable. Whether you’re a citizen, a city, an agency, or even a service provider. It’s important lesson because eventually you know it is among the horizon and we see it in the news every day about whether it’s drones, EV calls, autonomous vehicles. There’s a lot of money being dumped into the development of these technologies and being dynamic is key as well as having data to be able to adapt is instrumental to the viability and quite honestly the Saturday of our ecosystem.
Robert (21:46) Deloitte offers a robust website featuring articles, studies and other information about the future of mobility. Find it at www.deloitte.com/future of mobility. The link is in the show notes. That does it for this edition of policy. Smart. If you like what you’re hearing, be sure to share our show with your colleagues. You can also leave us a rating and a review. If you have a question or comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert (22:15) POLICYSMART is a production of GRIDSMART Technologies. Remember, to look for our next episode delivered free to your mobile device on Thursday, May 23rd. We’ll see you then.