New Research Shows Positive Impacts of Micromobility May Be Underestimated

A cartoon image of scooter riders riding with a city in the background.

Spin kicked off the new year at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference in Washington, D.C., having been involved in some innovative research related to mode shift, as well as micromobility and transit integration, and we were excited to see two of our studies presented at the conference.

A New Way to Measure Emissions Impacts

Spin undertakes mode shift and sustainability research to help cities understand the impacts of Spin’s e-scooters and e-bikes on reducing greenhouse gas emissions–the root cause of global climate change–and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by getting people to opt out of taking car trips.

Based on more than 67,000 responses to Spin’s post-ride survey

 In 2021, Spin rolled out a first-of-its-kind mode shift survey in more than 20 of our North American markets. Riders received this optional survey in the Spin app at the end of their trips. The survey included questions about how far in advance they planned their trip, why they chose to use a Spin e-scooter or e-bike, what mode they would have used if an e-scooter or e-bike weren’t available, and whether or not they used an e-scooter or e-bike to connect to public transit on that trip. We received more than 67,000 responses.

We found that, on average, approximately 25 percent of Spin trips replaced private or rideshare car trips. In cities with more car-centric infrastructure and land-use patterns like Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Tampa, we found even higher levels, with more than 30 percent of scooter trips replacing what would otherwise have been trips taken by car.

To understand the impacts of these trips on vehicle emissions and VMT, Spin partnered with Ford to conduct additional research and analysis. We found that the standard metrics used to measure mode shift due to micromobility usage in cities–share of trips that displaced car modes and average e-scooter trip distance–systematically underestimates the positive impacts of micromobility. Spin linked our trip data, such as GPS breadcrumb distance, to the survey responses in four cities (Portland, San Francisco, Tampa, and Washington D.C.) and calculated distance traveled by mode displaced. We found that displaced car trips were on average a longer distance than those that displaced other modes like walking and biking, suggesting that using the conventional metrics to estimate car VMT displacement and emissions reduction by e-scooter use consistently underestimates both. 

Micromobility + Public Transit

As we consider the impact of micromobility use on mode shift, we are also focused on how e-scooters and e-bikes can serve as a component in a multimodal transportation system, particularly integrating with public transit. Through our mode shift survey, riders reported  connecting with public transit before or after approximately a quarter of their e-scooter or e-bike trips. To further investigate this potential for micromobility as a first and last mile connection to public transit, we partnered with professors Xiang “Jacob” Yan and Xilei Zhao at the University of Florida (UF) and Ford to conduct a survey of travelers in Washington D.C. Of the 271 respondents, almost 60 percent have used e-scooters to connect with public transit at least once, and a fifth of e-scooter riders responded that more than 25 percent of their trips connected with public transit.

Based on more than 67,000 responses to Spin’s post-ride survey

The UF researchers also developed discrete choice models to investigate which factors shape travelers' mode choice. Results showed that both travel time and cost were significant factors in mode choice, and respondents valued out-of-vehicle time more than in-vehicle travel time. They also found that non-white and low-income respondents tended to choose the e-scooter option and the combined e-scooter and transit options more often than white and higher-income travelers. Finally, survey findings suggest that bundled pricing, fare payment and app integration, and improving bike and e-scooter infrastructure surrounding transit stops can be effective strategies to promote micromobility as a last-mile complement to transit.

Next Steps

Getting people out of cars and onto more sustainable modes of transportation is necessary in the fight against global climate change, and we are committed to working with cities and academic partners to continue this research to better understand how to make that happen. Given the important policy and program implications of this research, Spin will continue to partner with Ford and academic institutions to expand our surveys and study of mode shift and transit integration in 2022. 

Additionally, with federal recognition and funding eligibility for shared micromobility that was included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed into law this past November, we hope this research can further inform related policy and project development, and enable better integration between micromobility and transit.

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