Poor Infrastructure a Serious Drag on Micro-Mobility

In a survey by Truesharing.ru, 71% Russians pointed at a lack or bad quality of cycling infrastructure as their biggest issue when using a scooter or a bicycle.

This survey lies on top of a high stack of studies published in the past nine months on the challenges faced by the booming micro-mobility segment. All these lead to one conclusion: the missing infrastructure is the only root cause of issues at scooter rent providers, commuters and authorities.

“Scooter safety has two parts in it, that is, a lack of the infrastructure and regulation,” said Alexander Shumsky, head of Probok.net. “I put the infrastructure before the regulation because, should the former exist, the latter wouldn’t make such a problem. So, the regulation’s main role is to stimulate cities to deploy the infrastructure rather than dividing things into allowed and not allowed.”

This takeout is not new by itself. In my circle, several dozen people have always owned a bike during the past two decades. However, only a handful had ever attempted cycling for utility purposes. All the rest used to find rationale in the safety risks of riding on carriageways. The danger appears to be real because two of those who had tried quit after a serious accident with a car. No-one mentioned the cold climate, inconvenience of storing a vehicle in an apartment or anything else as reasons not to ride.

However, it had concerned nobody except urbanists and cycling enthusiasts until the emergence of shared e-scooters in 2021. These favorite pet projects of venture capitalists have drawn money into the micro-mobility sector and corresponding attention by authorities and the public. “Everybody seems to be okay with 12,000 car-related deaths while last year’s nine scooter deaths made many feel like urgent improvement,” Shumsky said. “We should take this as good news, though, because this high level of involvement gives a hope on fast progress.”

In Kazakhstan, where scooter rent was enjoying a similar exponential growth in the last year, the largest market players jointly called the government to urgent action for the sake of the cycling infrastructure in major cities. Some of the aforementioned studies suggest strong ties between the cycling infrastructure with successful implementation of other MaaS options. For instance, last autumn’s analysis by taxi provider Citimobil suggested that rented scooters improved profitability of taxi fleets by taking shorter trips away from cars. However, insufficient penetration of cycleways impedes the scooters’ potential, said Andrey Azarov, co-founder of Urent.

“The Russian scooter rent market in 2022 is about 300,000 vehicles,” he said. “This number may seem huge, however, it’s a mere two million daily scooter trips, a negligible number in relation to cars. We’re all seriously missing the infrastructure starting from curb ramps and physical and virtual parking zones.”

Another survey by Let’s Bike It! suggests a strong link between the missing parking zones and criminal safety with 33% respondents declining to commute by e-scooter from a fear of vehicle theft. Truesharing’s study suggests that allocating a separate lane to micro-vehicles is necessary for alleviating pedestrians’ and drivers’ anxiety. For instance, the legislative allowance to ride on bus lanes resulted in taxi and bus drivers taking hostile actions against cyclists and scooter riders pushing them away from these lanes. “I see a simple solution here,” Shumsky said. “Like we used to think of sidewalks as an indispensable part of every street, we must accept that each street must also feature a cycleway.”

However, we must realize that making cities rideable is much more than laying out cycleways, thinks Andrey Borisov, leading expert at the institute for transport economics and transport policy studies of HSE University: “A bicycle rider is different from other travelers. It’s impossible to limit their routes to certain lanes because, no matter how the infrastructure is designed, they would take the route most convenient to them.”

It requires rethinking the whole system of available roads and walking paths. “For example, our towns lack physical connectedness of outskirts,” he said. “We cannot ride directly from one residential area into another, forcing us to take roundabout routes.”

Another example is a controversial effect caused by some of the measures taken against road congestion. For instance, respondents in Truesharing’s survey complained about extended traffic light timing. While this measure has proved to increase the average speed of cars, it often results in scooter riders waiting up to 15 minutes at crossroads during a 40-minute trip. Thus, it conflicts with cities’ efforts to decrease car use. “I think that further growth of scooter use will depends on the cities’ ability to resolve these issues,” he said.

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