One of the most promising benefits of e-scooters is their potential to level the mobility playing field in cities.
Affordable, easily available electric vehicles that can transport riders the critical 1-5 miles separating home from work or public transit can have a dramatic impact on communities, particularly those in which owning a personal car may be neither practical nor desirable.
But the road from potential to realization is long, and if operators are serious about making good on micromobility’s promise to communities we need to bring diverse voices into the conversation.
That’s where experts like Dr. Shelley Francis come in.
In addition to being a public health executive, Dr. Francis is the Co-Founder and managing partner of EV Noire, an organization that specializes in providing business solutions to enhance electrification strategies for utilities, non-profits, municipalities and more.
After speaking with her and many other industry leaders at the recent E-Mobility Equity Conference hosted by EV Noire and Forth, we had the opportunity to ask Dr. Francis about the keys to making micromobility inclusive and accessible. Here are five key takeaways from that conversation.
On Actions to Understand Diverse Community Needs
The gap between programs that operators want to implement and the ones that communities truly need is sometimes much larger than we think, and, as Dr. Francis points out, this fact should be both accepted and embraced:
“A community’s needs may vary from the policies and programs that we as mobility experts are trying to implement, and we need to be okay with that. We must find ways to meet communities and partners where they are. That’s why it’s so important to engage with communities and community partners and get a clear understanding of their specific mobility needs.”
On Policies to Increase E-Scooter Inclusivity
Similar to actions taken in Chicago during the city’s 2020 e-scooter program, where automatic discounts and guaranteed deployment dramatically increased ridership in priority areas, Dr. Francis highlighted the need for structured pricing to ensure that all members of the community can benefit from e-scooter programs:
“If micromobility is to be truly inclusive, there must be competitive rates for all communities. That means tailoring fee structures so that all communities are able to utilize micromobility services.”
On Barriers to Micromobility Access
According to Dr. Francis, there are four key barriers to e-scooter and other micro-EV access that operators and cities must proactively address if these programs are to achieve long term success:
- “First, safety. Understand that users may be concerned about how to safely utilize micromobility options.
- Second, education and awareness. Operators must make sure that people know how micromobility systems work, how easy they are to utilize and how payment works.
- Third, payments. Options and fees must be affordable and accessible for communities who are unbanked.
- Fourth, government red tape. Many localities may be leery of collaborating with micromobility partners, and this may encourage them to make policy decisions to limit their opportunities to scale.”
On Strategies to Encourage Modeshift
Providing access to e-scooters and other micro-EV options is only half the battle. If cities and operators want to encourage meaningful adoption, Dr. Francis recommends starting with building meaningful community connections:
“Modeshift starts with building trust and developing authentic relationships with community champions and influencers to get the word out. Ask great questions, find out motivations for adoption, identify where or what are the transportation burdens or gaps and then utilize micromobility to address them.”
On Helping “Communities of Opportunity”
When considering the benefits of e-scooters for traditionally underserved communities, Dr. Francis reinforces the fact that affordability and last-mile accessibility must be top of mind:
“Micromobility can provide an affordable means of transportation for what we like to call ‘communities of opportunity,’ particularly in thinking about addressing first and last-mile needs.”