Public transport left in limbo as the nation gets on its bike

Linda J. Dodson

Among technologists, the sudden surge in pedestrianisation is vindication that bets on so-called micro-mobility companies – scooter and bicycle hire start-ups – could be about to pay off.

Micro in scope

Martin Mignot, partner at Index Ventures who have invested in companies such as scooter company Bird, says: “People have been rushing to buy scooters and e-bikes. That is only going to grow in the next three months. Most people in London don’t own a car. The only option is get on a bike or get on micro-mobility.”

Mignot says many of the trends were prevalent before lockdown, but with fewer people commuting or travelling long distances for leisure, something that might have taken years is happening in a few short weeks.

In Peachtree Corners, a small city near Atlanta, Georgia, a pilot of remote-controlled scooters, which can be driven back to a cleaning and charging station between rides, had been planned before the pandemic, but now has extra relevance.

“People will be even more inclined to get on an e-scooter that’s been disinfected than say, a subway or a bus or a cab,” said Brian Johnson, city manager.

Europe is moving the fastest. In France, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo had already been pushing the model of a “15 minute city”, reorganised with more retail, coffee chains, workplaces and greenery closer to where people live. The idea is that you don’t need to leave your block to do what you want, and if you do, you could cycle.

There are threats to visions of a post-Covid car-free utopia. As people begin to travel to work again, will they really be comfortable taking buses and trains, where they must share air and space with strangers?

These worries could lead to a surge of people getting back into their cars. Revenue from public transport could also dry up, leading to declining investment and quality.

Data from connected car start-up wejo shows that across the US in April, passenger vehicle sales were down by up to 60pc for some models, and up to 20pc across the board. And in the UK, car sales plunged to a low not seen since the Second World War in April.

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