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Micromobility: Why urbanites prefer bikes over e-scooters (or vice versa)

Swiss-based German scientist wins 2021 Young Researcher of the Year Award for ground-breaking study on shared micromobility use

A pioneering study on why people use shared e-scooters, bikes and e-bikes has won Daniel Jan Reck the International Transport Forum’s 2021 Young Researcher of the Year Award. Mr Reck, a German national, is currently completing his doctoral thesis at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich).

Mr Reck, who holds a B.Sc. in Information Engineering and Management from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany) and an M.Phil. in Technology Policy from Cambridge University (UK), will receive the award in an online ceremony on 28 May from ITF Secretary-General Young Tae Kim during the closing ceremony of the ITF’s 2021 Virtual Summit of Transport Ministers.

Since 2008, the ITF Young Researcher Award honours young scientists under 35 years of age for research that supports sound transport policy-making. The award carries a prize of EUR 5 000.

Most studies of micromobility focus on only one of the various micromobility options, such as e-scooters or e-bikes. In the award-winning paper, Mr Reck and his co-authors analyse competition between the different micromobility options: why do users choose shared bikes over e-scooters or the other way around? 

Using a new methodology and the largest and densest dataset on shared micromobility yet, the paper develops the first comprehensive mode-choice models between four different micromobility modes: e-scooters, dockless bikes, docked bikes and e-bikes.

The results suggest that users’ choices are dominated by distance and time of day. They are also influenced by whether the vehicles are available from stations or “free-floating”: for commuting, users prefer station-based modes. The policy implications could be significant: providing docking infrastructure for currently dockless shared micro-vehicles could make micromobility a more attractive alternative to car commutes.

The study also reveals a fundamental relationship between fleet density and usage. While a minimum density is required to incite use, a plateau effect also emerged: increasing the availability of micro-vehicles beyond a specific density does not yield proportional increases in their use. Operators can use this finding to optimise their fleet deployment, while it can serve city authorities to develop evidence-based regulation for micromobility.

ITF Secretary-General Young Tae Kim said:

“Micromobility is rapidly establishing itself as an increasingly popular range extender for urban journeys - an excellent option for the last mile and even an alternative for commutes by car. Yet, we know little about which configuration of micromobility options generates the most benefits in the transition to more sustainable urban travel.

Daniel Reck’s paper opens up ways to close this knowledge gap with its novel methodological approach and the use of rich data. It also highlights hitherto unknown factors that may shape user choices, and thus can help service providers and regulators to provide the services that citizens want and that do the maximum for green travel.”     

Steffen Bilger, Vice-Minister at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure, said:

"During the discussions on Mobility as a Service at this year's ITF Summit, the importance of data for both the provision and the planning of mobility services has been emphasized time and again. We are therefore very happy that Mr Reck has received the Young Researcher Award for a study that starts right there and highlights how important mobility data is for transport planning."

Winner Daniel Reck said:

“I am honoured to receive the 2021 ITF Young Researcher of the Year Award and would like to express my sincere gratitude to the jury as well as to my co-authors. This distinction underlines the importance of studying emerging transport modes to achieve more sustainable, efficient and equitable urban transport. Our paper contributes by showing that docking infrastructure is vital to achieve mode shift and by establishing a quantitative relationship between the density of shared micromobility fleets and the likelihood of citizens using them. Both findings can help city authorities to regulate micromobility better and help achieve sustainability objectives.”

The award-winning paper “Explaining shared micromobility usage, competition and mode choice by modelling empirical data from Zurich, Switzerland” by Daniel J. Reck, He Haitao, Sergio Guidon and Kay W. Axhausen can be downloaded free at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trc.2020.102947

More information at: https://www.itf-oecd.org/young-researcher-year-award-2021

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