A lot of potential lies in micromobility providers working to become more accessible — so long as the programs are deployed correctly, said Maria Town, CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities.
"I'm so excited about the potential of [Lime's] program," Town told Automotive News. "And yet, if they don't invest the necessary time to really understand how to deploy this in a way that makes sense to people with disabilities and work with community organizations to manage their deployment, it's going to be self-defeating.
"Micromobility solutions will only become as equitable as they purport to be, and as accessible as they want to be, when we're seeing these companies working with governments, community organizations and individuals to collectively address access, safety and equity."
As other methods of transportation evolve and grow their accessibility options, micromobility providers have fallen somewhat short.
"Micromobility com- panies have espoused these ideas that micromobility can help connect people to mainstream transit, and many companies have created these distribution and outreach plans that prioritize neighborhoods that may not be as connected to standard bus or rail lines," Town said.
"In theory, that idea is a valid one and one that could create access for a lot of disabled people, but in practice, I don't think we've seen that come to fruition," she added. "Micromobility solutions need to be nuanced in order to fit the nuanced communities that they seek to connect."
But at a small scale, some progress has been made.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency piloted adaptive scooter programs at the start of 2020.
Adaptive scooters were also deployed as part of an e-scooter pilot program in Chicago last fall.
In partnership with the Outdoors for All Foundation, the Seattle Department of Transportation in 2019 offered free adaptive-cycle rentals for individuals with a variety of needs, including those with limited leg movement and those needing more stability.
Despite these improvements, micromobility providers have been generally slow to deploy changes.
Boosting the accommodations of these devices is not easy — and is often more challenging than the fight for better accessibility in public transit, said Kersten Heineke, a partner leading the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility in Europe.
"The vehicles themselves will always be more challenging to be made accessible than a bus," Heineke said. "That's one of the disadvantages of these types of companies. The public transit operators have had 30 years to think about accessibility. They are a bit ahead in that regard.
"These companies are new. They have many challenges," he added. "It's not because they don't want to think about it, but because there is simply a lot to think about if you're a micromobility provider that's growing heavily that's also been struck by COVID quite massively."
Updating micromobility also is more challenging because providers lack precedent and regulation, Town said.
Concerns over low usage of adaptive micromobility vehicles is another reason progress has been slow.
"While we're seeing some promising and creative thinking around adaptive shared micromobility, the number of trips made in adaptive vehicles, to date, has been small," the National Association of City Transportation Officials told Automotive News in a statement.
But some experts say that rather than a lack of interest, lower usage could be attributed to an insufficient number of adaptive vehicles available; the selective cities in which they are available; and the devices' inability to address a wide range of mobility needs.
A lack of awareness about the adaptable vehicles, as well as barriers associated with some services being hailed digitally only, are also key to address.
"There's certainly the numbers of folks out there who could benefit from more accessible mobility solutions," Town said, "but I think questions around cost, deployment, safety and storage are critical for these companies to address if they actually want this investment to pay off."