Urban Equity blogs

Shared Mobility in the Suburbs: An Opportunity Lies Ahead

While waiting for the bus last week, I noticed a man and his scooter is south on Chingaucousy.  It gave me the impetus to write this post.

They’re popular in Europe, but could they flourish in North American cities and suburbs?

Ridehailing and single occupancy vehicles dominate in my neighbourhood as opposed to transit, walking and cycling. It begs the question of whether micromobility can add to the transportation equation and succeed in the suburbs?

Shared mobility can re-imagine suburban mobility. While shared automobility will expand from cities to suburbs according to Susan Shaheen in her report Mobility on Demand Strategies, micromobility such as electric-scooters (e-scooters) can reshape how we get around in the suburbs. Even some European cities operate e-scooters similar the one above as a mobility options. In the United States and parts of Europe, adoption rates of e-scooters and other mobility services are accelerating faster than ever primarily because of our smart phones.

Suburbs, while challenging with its auto-oriented developments, first/last mile of transportation journeys and transit deserts, they can have the greatest reward, especially for micromobility. While Canada is a nation of suburbs according to David Gordon from Queen’s University, social isolation exists, especially for those who are carless. All is not lost though.

There are several instances where shared mobility exists in the suburbs:

  • Arlington County, Texas developed a “risk sharing partnership with Zipcar to expand car sharing to lower density locations.
  • Enterprise Carshare has vehicles located in the outlying station along the WMATA network in Greater Washington, DC.
  • Capital Bikeshare at employment centres also in the Greater Washington area such as Tysons Corner, Alexandria and Crystal City.

In France, Amira Haberah, the co-founder of Zoov believes there needs to be new mobility solutions and alternatives to cars.

Even outside of Paris or in European capitals, most people live less than 10km from their office, but their only solution is to use a car,” said Haberah. “We’ve chosen e-bikes because with an e-bike you can easily and safely ride up to 10km making them a mobility solution that can address most of the European population need.”

via jennifer Hicks, Forbes Magazine

Zoov is piloting in the Paris banlieue of Plateau de Saclay with 200 e-bikes available to select residents, workers and students in the area.

Image from Le Parisien

Demand for shared mobility could help overcome transportation equity challenges by providing choice with alternative transportation options as well as enhancing job access and minimizing social inclusion. An example of this can be found in Los Angeles.

A public private partnership exists between the City and the car share company BlueLA. They are meant to bring zero-emission mobility options to underserved communities throughout the city. This solves the social equity problem that currently exists in many suburban communities. The program was funded in part by a grant from California’s cap-and-trade revenues. Remember that Ontario?

Intrduction of blueLA;s Car Sharing Program

Making e-scooters available in suburban cities could benefit local and regional governments, residents and companies all while reducing the carbon footprint.

Micromobility services will not only help existing residents with their commutes, but could also bring in more diverse crowds to their cities, according to Srijit Ghosh. E-scooters, for example, can transform the socioeconomic health for suburbs.

E-scooters are a burgeoning concept for Canadian cities. The first challenge is to address the regulatory environment. McCarthy Tetrault provided a good summary of the regulatory challenges in several provinces. Within Alberta, British Columbia and in Ontario, e-scooters do not comply with the requirements of various acts. Calgary is currently running a pilot of e-bikes, Edmonton is exploring the possibility of e-scooters and e-bikes. Waterloo is continuing with their pilot.

Quebec is running a pilot under the Highway Safety Code where:

  • Drivers must be 18
  • Received e-scooter training from the manufacturer or distributor
  • Must carry proof of that training while in operation.

The second challenge is the winter weather. While Calgary introduced Lime e-bikes during the winter, e-scooters have remained in operation in such places as Minneapolis. While they survived their first winter, I am sure such an option will be reviewed considering many of these options are electric-powered.

Suburban single occupancy drivers have difficulties accepting the true cost of driving and also fail to realize that cars depreciate once they come off the lot. Shared Mobiliy services should allow them compare the cost of the service against the cost of driving when gas, insurance and maintenance are involved.

Shared mobility options can transform the suburbs. It could cut down the pollution and GHG emissions, provide safer and clean streets and connect transit services in the hard to reach areas where service is infrequent.
Road designs and land use policies must be reconfigured especially in suburban landscapes, so that new and existing bike lanes can accommodate e-scooters, along with other infrastructure.

Suburban cities like Brampton, Vaughan and Oshawa would be difficult to fully realize the option of shared mobility, let alone micromobility, to solve the first and last mile. But just like in the American and French suburbs mentioned earlier, partnerships with the private sector must be established in order for these operations to be successful in those suburbs outside of Waterloo.

Furthermore, similar to the case of Los Angeles, the political will must be there for shared mobility to succeed. It’s time for the suburbs to lead and be innovative or they will be disrupted. Citizens will demand it.

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