2020 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year that everything changed. Urban mobility was no exception.
As the global pandemic dramatically altered our ability to move, interact and share space with one another, public perception of e-scooters and other micro-EVs shifted in a remarkable way. The sustainable and socially-distant benefits of micromobility became more apparent, as did its ability to rapidly adapt to public needs.
Here are the top 10 moments that changed micromobility in 2020.
In June, the New York City Council passed a series of bills legalizing e-scooters and bikes and instructing the Department of Transportation to develop a shared e-scooter pilot program set to launch in 2021.
New York’s adoption of e-scooters is a major step forward for micromobility in the US, and it could have big implications for mobility equity in the country’s most populous city. In Chicago, ridership in Priority Areas located in the city’s south and west sides jumped from 12.5% in 2019 to 37.6% in 2020, according to newly released data.
By late March, as COVID lockdowns were being implemented around the world, e-scooter companies were doing their part to help. Bird’s engineering team quickly repurposed some of our in-app display technology to highlight local restaurants serving takeout and delivery. The feature was quickly implemented in cities around the world.
“We know that nearly 60% of Bird riders use micromobility to connect to commerce in their area,” we wrote at the time. “By highlighting nearby local restaurants, we hope to make it easier for them to support their favorite local businesses while adhering to safe social distancing guidelines.”
September’s return to the school year was anything but normal. As millions of teachers and families worked through the academic challenges posed by COVID-19, Bird wanted to do our part to help by offering free rides for educators throughout the entire month.
“We’re all facing a ‘new normal’ this academic year, and at the center are the educators who’ve been given the enormous task of reimagining both online and in-classroom learning,” Bird’s Rebecca Hahn wrote at the time. “We want to do our part to help by providing all teachers with free personal mobility so they can focus on what matters most: their passion for education.”
As more new riders began to turn to e-scooters for transportation in the wake of the pandemic, the Bird team released the industry’s first Warm Up Mode in April—a gentle acceleration option ideal for beginners and those who might be out of practice.
Our data indicated that nearly 75% of e-scooter riders were looking for an option that let them learn how to ride at their own pace. This valuable community feedback was the inspiration behind Warm Up mode.
In May, an interesting new micromobility trend was emerging. E-scooter ride numbers weren’t just going up: riders were consistently traveling significantly longer distances than they were prior to the pandemic.
“We’ve seen sustained increases in trip duration of more than 50%,” Ryan Fujiu, Bird’s CPO, wrote at the time. “Initially we attributed this to a desire to be back outdoors experiencing fresh air and open space, but we’re seeing strong indications that it may be a much longer-term trend related to things like public transit concerns, nearly a thousand miles of new open streets and a spike in the construction of protected cycling infrastructure.”
Cities around the world from Atlanta to Tel Aviv have since used data and experience to improve their micromobility infrastructure, and the results have been extraordinary.
May also saw a particularly significant micromobility development in Europe: the UK announced that it would be fast tracking its e-scooter trials in response to COVID-19.
According to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, ministers were concerned with the potential spread of the coronavirus during periods of rush hour traffic. One of the primary benefits of shared e-scooters is that they offer a sustainable, socially distant alternative to driving.
Since then, pilot programs have launched across the UK including in cities and towns such as Redditch and Canterbury.
In September, the launch of Bird Air in the US changed the game for portable retail scooters.
Bird Air comes equipped with a “stow and go” vehicle design, aircraft-grade aluminum framing, never-flat tires and enhanced front and rear lighting. For the first time, a company with experience designing and building vehicles rugged enough to stand up to the shared micromobility industry was offering a retail e-scooter directly to consumers—not the other way around.
Bird Air holds over 30 US and international safety certifications, more than any other personal e-scooter on the market, that cover everything from its long-lasting battery to its responsive, regenerative braking system.
Clean Air Day in October saw a momentous announcement: Bird was officially accepted as the micromobility industry’s first signatory of the United Nations Global Compact. The worldwide initiative encourages companies to align their strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.
“To be accepted as a signatory of the UN Global Compact is more than just an honor; it’s a reminder of our clear and immediate responsibility to help care for our planet and all of its inhabitants,” Bird’s CCSRO Rebecca Hahn said at the time.
Since the announcement, Bird has been working within the United Nations’ guiding framework and engaging in learning and dialogue with participating organizations to help advance the principles and SDGs that make up the UN Global Compact.
In early December, e-scooter safety was taken to the next level with the introduction of the industry’s first Autonomous Emergency Braking system, or AEB.
Introduced by Bird, the proprietary feature uses advanced diagnostics and motor controls to gently but swiftly bring riders to a stop in case of emergency. In the event that a braking request by a rider is met with a failed brake, Bird AEB automatically activates advanced motor controls to gently but swiftly bring the rider to a stop.
“Autonomous emergency braking is now the standard in the automobile industry, but this is the first time that active safety technology has been developed for lightweight electric vehicles such as e-scooters,” Bird CVO Scott Rushforth said at the time.
In an effort to help medical personnel around the world respond to an unprecedented global pandemic, e-scooter companies came together to provide healthcare workers with free rides, free vehicles and much more.
The Bird team was proud to participate in this initiative, partnering with organizations such as the Red Cross in Italy, Médecins du Monde in France and many others. We’re honored to still be doing so today.
To sign up, simply email a copy of your medical identification card along with your name and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org. Eligible riders will receive two free 30-minute rides per day for as long as it takes to help our communities recover from this global health crisis.