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The Micromobility Revolution: Scooters Taking Over Tel Aviv

עודכן: 27 בפבר׳ 2020

Micromobility consists of transportation modes of small, light vehicles, most used for the “last mile” of a commute, the area between train station and office, or gym and home.

Tel aviv/Israel November 7, 2018 Bird Electric Ride Sharing Scooters - Image
Tel aviv Bird Electric Ride Sharing Scooters

In the past two years, we have witnessed a micromobility revolution, with a variety of e-bike and scooter services flooding downtowns of major cities. As all revolutions, the future is still unclear. Drama, though, is easily found, especially in Tel Aviv. Scooters have become a topic with serious emotional charge, and residents or visitors either can’t stand them or think they’re the best thing in the city besides the beach, with no middle ground. The municipality has also been an active player, imposing fines and regulating the providers, which include Lime, Bird, Wind and more.

In a panel at the Smart Mobility Summit 2019, an annual summit bringing together leaders of the field from around the globe, Tel Aviv was cast as a main staging point for the revolution. It is considered to be one or two years ahead of the rest of the world in regards to adaption of micromobility services. Despite the fast adaption, there is still plenty of untapped potential. Each new generation of scooters attracts more users, caused by improved stability and better design, along with slowly improving infrastructure. Tel Aviv became Bird’s first launch city outside of the US, and was attractive because of its many early adopters and young technophiles, along with good weather and a (relatively) cooperative municipality, says Caroline Hazlehurst, a chief executive at the firm.

Yaniv Rivlin General Manager at Bird Israel Rides the Company's Scooter. Photography: Yanai Menachem
Yaniv Rivlin General Manager at Bird Israel Rides the Company's Scooter

Cooperation between the providers and the city is imperative, with a delicate balance needed to be maintained. Eric Wang, CEO of Wind, sees a scooter provider as essentially having two customers: the users, who want a better way to get around, and the city, who wants to lessen congestion and increase mobility. Yet since the municipality is also tasked with enforcing traffic laws and imposing order, sometimes the desires of the two customers clash, with the scooter providers caught in the middle. For example, Meital Lehavi, Tel Aviv’s Deputy Mayor, revealed that the municipality is going to ask providers to visibly number the scooters, so the city will be able to better track traffic violations. It’s possible that there is also a political motive involved, since the municipality wants to be seen as attentive to the protests of the older, wealthier residents, who view the influx of a horde of whizzing scooters as a nuisance or a danger. This puts the scooter providers in a tight spot, and they will most likely be reluctant to acquiesce to such a request, considering it to be an invasion of their users’ privacy (which, as Facebook taught us, can strongly affect revenue).

Putting the conflicts of some residents aside, both commuters and the municipality are aligned in their desire to increase micromobility in the city. Congestion is terrible, and will only get worse, unless new solutions are adopted. Today, around 12 percent of all trips in the city use micro-transport (16 percent in the center, 8 in the city periphery). Of that, around a quarter use shared scooters, while the rest are bicycles or personal scooters, and the city wants to see that grow to 25 percent by 2025. To give some context, approximately 500,000 cars enter Tel Aviv every day, as opposed to only 7,000 shared scooters.

Looking towards the next stage of the revolution, it’s important to remember that today we are seeing micromobility’s baby steps. Horace Dediu, an expert in the field who was the first to coin the term ‘micromobility’, said you can start to imagine the amount of change the field is going to go through if you compare mobile phones two years after launch to what they are now. Today, no standardized regulation or legal language to address liability exists, and there is a vast range of potential improvements in safety, power and intelligence of the vehicles. Tel Aviv, with its unique features and a plethora of untapped homegrown technologies, is poised to become a beacon for the revolution – so long as it doesn’t become an island, a specialized ecosystem that can’t be replicated anywhere else.

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