Can new urban mobility solutions replace the car?

More and more present in our cities, the new urban mobility devices seduce various user profiles and suggest that they are taking over the use of the car. However, not everyone is of the same opinion on the subject and some urban policies seem contradictory.

Seeing these machines as solutions for urban mobility implies major changes in our city centers, generating costs, imposing changes in the habits of the inhabitants, requiring a better sharing of the road, etc. Several questions arise: Can MPTs (Personal Motorized Transport Devices) replace the car in cities? Are they a complementary means of travel? Or are they just part of a trend?

Mobilité urbaine et EDPM : une alternative à la voiture ?-1

MPT: what are we talking about?

Defining the term MPTs in urban mobility is fairly simple, since motorized personal transport devices are now officially included in the French Highway Code. They are therefore clearly identified and their use is assigned to clearly laid down rules.

But what exactly is behind this acronym of MPMD? For example, electric scooters, gyropods, hoverboards, gyroroues, etc. More generically, these are vehicles designed for the movement of a single person, without a seat, without a motor or any kind of assistance that runs on thermal energy (they are therefore mainly electrically powered), and are not designed to travel faster than 25 km/h. The electric bicycle is therefore not included in this category, although it has similarities with these NEVs (New Individual Electric Vehicles).

The advantages of MPETs over cars in urban areas

If many city dwellers have traded in their cars for new generation electrically assisted vehicles, NEVs as in electric bicycles, it is because they offer serious advantages for travel and parking in the city.

Faster travel with EDPMs

In crowded urban areas, where driving a thermal or electric car is often synonymous with overcrowded traffic and forced journeys, EDPMs are an alternative way of reducing travel time. Despite their limited speed, they save time thanks to the presence of bicycle lanes and the ease with which they can navigate between queues of cars. This partly explains the growing importance of electric scooters in urban mobility.

Machines that promote multimodality

Many municipalities are adopting a policy of reducing the number of cars in the center. For example, this is reflected in the development of park-and-ride facilities at public transport terminals and in the pedestrianization of certain areas. However, when public transport lines do not cover users' journeys, or only partially cover them, the car may remain the preferred means of transport. This is when MPOs show another of their advantages: the ease of transporting them when not in use. For example, a person living in the suburbs might decide to take their scooter to a streetcar line or drive to a parking lot near the center and then take their scooter out of the trunk to continue their journey into the city. This offers more flexibility to motorized EDP users than to car drivers, who can be scooter drivers, pedestrians, users of shared transport modes, etc.

Easier to park... but not as easy as that

Parking in city centers can be a headache nowadays, with a progressive disappearance of parking spaces, but also a high cost when you are in a parking lot or a paying zone. By using an EV, an electric scooter, a gyropod or a hoverboard for urban micromobility, this problem is no more. The bike and the scooter can be parked in reserved spaces (hoops, parking area, etc.), the gyro can be stored at work, etc. Once again, it is a good way to save time during your trips, by avoiding the sometimes tedious search for a place for your car, and to be able to park as close as possible to your destination.

However, it must be recognized that not all cities are equally well equipped with parking spaces for personal electric vehicles. In addition, many users prefer not to leave their vehicles on the street, for lack of security (fear of theft and vandalism).

In order for MPVs to become a real alternative to standard vehicles, it seems crucial to offer users parking solutions that are numerous, well distributed in the city and secure. We could also develop city mobility around the concept of smart city and connected electric bicycle, to accelerate the use of these new vehicles.

Mobilité urbaine et EDPM : une alternative à la voiture ?-2

The limits of personal motorized vehicles to replace the car

While we are seeing more and more scooters and other such motorized devices in the city, it is also easy to see that cars, vans and two-wheelers are far from having disappeared. Traditional vehicles still have certain advantages, which make MPTs complementary solutions, rather than real replacements.

MPT in the city, still an occasional means of transport

Several studies tend to show that the use of motorized PEDs is mostly occasional. A 2019 study on free-floating (self-service) electric scooters indicates, for example, that only 38% of users make use of this service at least once a week. So why are these machines still not the primary mode of transportation? Several reasons can be put forward:

  • city dwellers who use self-service electric scooters sometimes do not find a machine near where they start;
  • Some people prefer, or have no choice, but to drive to work, and prefer to use a scooter for outings or weekend trips;
  • the purchase price of an electric scooter or a gyro-motorcycle can represent a brake, and these machines are therefore used occasionally via rental or sharing;
  • users may be reluctant to use these vehicles in bad weather or cold weather, and are content to use them when the weather is good;
  • some routes do not allow for quick and safe travel (no dedicated track, busy road with high traffic speed, need to pass on sidewalks and therefore hold the vehicle in the hand, etc.).

Moving around in groups, the undeniable advantage of the car

The very definition of the Motorized Personal Transport Unit explains why it cannot entirely replace the car: it is a mode of transport intended for one person only and is not designed for the transport of goods. It is therefore difficult to completely do without a traditional personal vehicle to go shopping, to take the children to school, to pick up a large parcel, to take a group of friends to the movies, etc.

The future of electric bicycles in urban mobility, like that of NEVs, remains unclear: are they complementary modes of transport to the car for short trips? Will they be able to impose themselves thanks to new urban developments and a rethinking of our way of understanding the city? Or will they run the risk of running out of steam, giving more room to the car with the development of small electric vehicles?

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