Could city dwellers decide to permanently park their cars?
Almost half the car rides in major cities across the United States are ripe for replacement by alternate forms of transportation such as scooters and bikes, according to a new study from traffic-analytics firm Inrix.
Researchers found 48 percent of car trips in the most congested U.S. cities are less than three miles in total distance. If a small fraction of those were switched from cars to micromobility modes such as scooters and bicycles, cities could reap benefits in reduced congestion and improved air quality, the study said.
Honolulu, New Orleans and Nashville, are particularly suited for a micromobility takeover because they have the highest percentage of trips within the three-mile range among the top 25 U.S. markets. Though weather isn't necessarily a factor in the research, the Inrix report noted that year-round sunshine in those markets could further support the use of scooters and bikes.
The potential of losing customers may be disquieting for automakers and dealers as well as public-transit operators, the latter of which already have seen flat or declining ridership in recent years in most U.S. cities. Yet the stakes are lucrative for mobility providers. A 2019 McKinsey Global Institute report projected the market will be worth between $200 billion and $300 billion by 2030.
But just because there's potential to replace so many car trips doesn't necessarily mean motorists will leap at the opportunity. McKinsey analyzed the replacement opportunity for trips under five miles, and found that only 8 to 15 percent of the market would be inclined to switch.
Drawbacks include limited space on bikes and scooters for consumer goods, weather conditions and overall fitness. If they're less than ideal for consumers, they provide headaches for operators as well.
"Micromobility leaders around the world are struggling to come to grips with unanticipated levels of theft, vandalism and vehicle abuse," a report from industry consulting firm Strategy Analytics said in February. "These issues have combined to undermine the confidence of investors and operators."
The Inrix report further details the headwinds.
"While some have started to accept these popular mobility platforms as the new normal, cities have faced significant challenges in managing them due to inadequate parking facilities, vehicle conflicts, pedestrian safety concerns and network coverage," the Inrix report said. "Maximizing the potential of these services requires investment, analysis of road space and an understanding of local travel needs."
Broadly, Inrix says trips in the three-mile range are susceptible to a switch -- in some case because car owners don't want the hassle of congestion and parking, and in others because public transit does not provide enough service. Micromobility can fill those gaps.
Sun Belt cities like Phoenix and Dallas, for example, have a lower proportion of zero-to-one-mile trips suitable for scooters, while dense cities like Chicago and New York might be apt to have residents that desire a switch.
Inrix data helps distill the differences between – and within – cities. A heatmap of trip lengths created by the company shows the highest number of short-distance trips occur in midtown Manhattan and the Upper East Side. While Manhattan has more public transportation coverage than any other major location, the Upper East Side is less accessible -- which results in a greater proportion of short-distance trips.
"The ultimate success of these new modes will be predicated on two key steps," the report said. "Cities having a clear understanding of where micromobility is best positioned to offset vehicle travel; and cities having the necessary tools to engage with and manage these services."