Is micromobility the solution to getting people back on public transport in London? Josh Cottell, Research Manager at Centre for London, investigates…
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant shift in how people move around cities. In London, public transport use fell dramatically and has since increased gradually; fewer than half the number of trips were taken in July 2021 as in the same period in 2019. While people took fewer trips by public transport, they took more trips by private transport, walking and cycling.
There is a considerable risk that these changes persist to some degree in the coming years. If they do, the gradual shift in how people travel in cities like London, away from privately owned cars and towards using public transport, walking, and cycling, will have taken a big step backwards. This is important, because these modes of travel are better for the environment and for residents’ health than travelling by privately owned cars or taxi.
Transport contributes a quarter of London’s CO₂ emissions so will play a vital role in achieving the Mayor of London’s target for the city to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Reducing carbon emissions in the city will involve encouraging Londoners back onto public transport while making use of the recent increase in active travel.
Working in tandem with traditional transport
As case rates of the virus fall, one way that people can be supported back onto public transport is by improving their access to cycling as well as other small vehicles such as e-bikes and e-scooters. Together termed ‘micromobility,’ these modes of travel can enable people to travel further locally. Placing high quality infrastructure such as parking for micromobility around transport hubs could provide travellers with access to a wider range of journeys.
Many people already use micromobility and public transport in tandem, with two thirds (67 per cent) of journey stages in London made by walking, cycling, or public transport and potentially involving two or more different kinds of transport.
Technological advances in batteries, small motors, satellite navigation and smartphones have brought about wider, more affordable access to small micromobility vehicles such as e-bikes and e-scooters. Privately owned e-scooters currently remain illegal to use on public land in the UK, but England currently has several shared e-scooter trials, including one in London.
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