Micromobility, the "slow" side of electric mobility

Micromobility, the "slow" side of electric mobility


What is electric micromobility?

Small – and electric – is beautiful.

Big news in recent years on the streets of our cities, electric micromobility is the use of small, lightweight vehicles, typically two-wheeled or single-wheeled, powered by an electric motor with a rechargeable battery and a range suitable for getting around town.

From pedal assist bicycles to electric scooters, from hoverboards to monowheels and Segways, these "new entries" in urban mobility are already changing the face of our city streets and will likely play an important role in the sustainable mobility of the future.


How it works

Whether they have two wheels or one, whether they’re steered with a handlebar or with one's sense of balance, what they all have in common is a relatively low-power electric motor (no more than 0.5 kW), powered by a battery.

The electric motor may be the sole source of power to move the vehicle (like electric scooters), or it may work in conjunction with the work of the passenger (like pedal assist bikes).

The vehicle might be purchased, rented for long periods, or rented for a single ride using a sharing service.

Batteries can be recharged using household outlets or at special charging stations installed at rental locations, provided at residential buildings, or at hotel or resort accommodations.


The most common vehicles

  • E-scooter: sometimes referred to as an e-kickscooter, the electric scooter is the most agile, versatile and popular type of electric micromobility. It can go anywhere (on roads and bike paths), requires no effort from the passenger, and can be folded up and carried under your arm on the subway or into the office. It has two wheels (three on some models), a handlebar, no seat, and an electric motor with maximum power of 0.50 kW. It has a maximum length of 2 meters, a width of no more than 75 cm and height under 1.5 meters. Current regulations set a maximum speed limit of 20 km/h, which becomes 6 km/h in pedestrian areas. As for lighting, with the latest regulations it’s no longer enough to have front, rear and brake lights; you also need turn signal lights. If you’re riding around Italy, don’t confuse the English name e-scooterwith an Italian scooter, even if it’s electric: a scooter in Italian is a small motorcycle, which doesn’t count as micromobility; it's in the legal category of normal motorcycles.
  • E-bike: an electric bicycle requires a little more effort from the user, because the electric motor only "assists" pedaling but doesn’t replace it. It’s the heaviest of the micromobility vehicles, but it’s also the most stable and the one that allows you to travel longer distances. It has an electric motor of up to 0.25 kW, which is driven by the mechanical movement initiated by the cyclist. It’s the only micromobility vehicle on which it’s possible to carry a passenger: a child up to eight years of age can ride on a child’s bike seat. There’s no specific speed limit for e-bikes (except, of course, the speed limit for the road you’re traveling on), but the electric motor turns itself off at 25 km/h.  Otherwise, the same rules apply as for regular bicycles, including fitting a front headlight and at least one rear reflector.
  • Hoverboard: this is actually an e-scooter without a handlebar: you control it by shifting your body weight like on a skateboard. It has a maximum speed of about 15 km/h, and compared to the e-scooter has the advantage of even greater portability. You can only ride it in pedestrian areas, though.
  • Segway: introduced to the market in 1999, it was the very first electric micromobility vehicle, but it never achieved widespread use. It has a platform with two parallel wheels and a handlebar, and is controlled by shifting your weight forward to accelerate and backward to brake. It has a range of about 40 km and a maximum speed of 20 km/h. They’re mainly used to get around in tourist resorts as short term rentals; it can only operate on urban roads and in built-up areas, on bicycle paths and in pedestrian areas.
  • Monowheel: the most “minimal” and currently the least popular micromobility vehicle in Italy, it consists of a single wheel with two side platforms on which to place your feet and is driven by shifting your weight. Like the hoverboard, it can be ridden only in pedestrian areas, but it offers the enviable advantage of being able to be carried with one hand as if it were a simple backpack.


The advantages of micromobility 

Small vehicles, big benefits – like greater freedom of movement, less traffic, and reduced emissions.

  • For the individual traveler, electric micromobility gives the opportunity to move easily around the city, without having to depend on public transportation schedules and routes, and without having to deal with traffic and parking problems.
  • From a system perspective, increased uptake of electric micromobility can play an important role in the green transition. We’re talking about electric vehicles: if the energy used to recharge the battery comes from renewable sources, they’re completely zero-emission.
  • They’re lightweight, which means that for the same mileage they still consume much less energy than an electric car.
  • They’re small, so they contribute much less to traffic congestion and take up much less space for parking.
  • They facilitate multimodality because they can be carried on board a train, streetcar or subway with which to cover sections of your route. In this sense, they’re the ideal vehicle for the so-called first (or last) mile (getting to the subway or streetcar stop for those who don’t have one nearby), thus making it easier to leave the car at home, even for medium-length urban commutes and even for those who are not directly served by public transport.
  • And they don’t require large investments in infrastructure, just simple charging stations easily installed at rental points.


Electric micromobility for rent

One of the main advantages of electric micromobility is their relatively low purchase price; they’re much more affordable on average than mopeds, which are the cheapest vehicles equipped with combustion engines.

Nonetheless, rental, over medium to long periods or for a single trip, is a particularly popular solution. It’s also the most efficient. Especially in large cities, shared mobility fleets make it possible to serve a large number of users with fewer vehicles sold. This is the so-called Mobility as a service (MaaS) model, made possible by apps and smartphones and considered by analysts to be an important element of future mobility, because in the long run it reduces the environmental impact related to vehicle production and batteries.

According to research by the Boston Consulting Group, while for electric bikes, rental and sharing still earn negligible revenue globally compared to purchase (less than 1 billion euros in 2021, compared to 30 billion for purchase), for e-scooters, sharing is already worth twice as much: 2 billion euros annually, compared to 1 billion for rental and 1 billion for purchase.

For both vehicles, annual growth is expected to be between 10% and 30% for sharing, and over 30% for rental.


Deregulation and the micromobility law

Where can I ride? What’s the maximum speed? Do I have to wear a helmet? Electric micromobility users still have to deal with these questions on a daily basis, because as usual with recent innovations, the legislative framework is still evolving.

While pedal assist bicycles have been authorized in Italy since 2003, e-scooters and other means of electric micromobility were first introduced, at the regulatory level, with the ministerial decree of June 4, 2019, which opened an experimental pilot phase for these micromobility vehicles in urban areas. That decree allowed e-scooters, hoverboards, segways, and monowheels to circulate in urban areas on streets with a maximum speed limit of 30 km/h and on bicycle paths, provided there was a special resolution from the relevant municipality. The vehicles were required to keep a speed of no more than 20 km/h for e-scooters and Segways and under 6 km/h for monowheels and hoverboards. It was up to the municipalities to define circulation zones for these electric vehicles, including establishing rental and parking areas.

After this experimental phase, the circulation of e-scooters in urban areas was then deregulated in early 2020, when they were categorized with bicycles and thus obliged to comply with the national Traffic Code. This happened with the law converting the so-called "milleproroghe" Decree, i.e., Law 8 of 2020 (which extends the duration of various government measures) as a result of which e-scooters could be used throughout the country on city streets with a 50 km/h limit and on bicycle paths respecting a speed limit of 25 km/h.

The rules changed once again with Decree Law 121/2021 of September 2021, later converted into Law 156 of November 9, 2021, and the new Milleproroghe Decree of late 2021, which introduced the regulations currently in force.

These regulations stipulate that:

  • all micromobility vehicles can be ridden from the age of 14,
  • restore the speed limit for e-scooters to 20 km/h on roads while leaving the 6 km/h limit in pedestrian areas unchanged,
  • introduce mandatory helmets for minors on e-scooters.

A draft reform of the national Traffic Code is currently being discussed that could introduce new rules for e-scooters, specifically mandatory helmets also for those over 18 years of age, license plates, and compulsory insurance.


The challenges to be faced

Our cities are built for cars and – in the luckiest cases – pedestrians. Making room for the new micromobility vehicles is not something that can happen overnight, and it poses challenges in terms of both regulations and infrastructure.

A major challenge concerns the safety of these vehicles, particularly for e-scooters.

The latest consolidated ISTAT data covers 2021 and reports a nearly fourfold increase in the number of e-scooter accidents over the previous year. However, we should keep in mind that the year of comparison, 2020, was the year of the pandemic, when road traffic was virtually zero for a few months.

The new draft of the national Traffic Code currently under discussion could in any case extend the requirement to wear helmets, in addition to introducing mandatory license plates and insurance for owned vehicles (sharing services already include insurance coverage).

Another problem that needs to be addressed in many cities is vandalism and theft of ride-sharing vehicles, which threatens the profitability of the industry and reduces the vehicles available to users.


Market trends

The growth of the global micromobility market is undeniable. According to McKinsey, if we consider China, Europe and North America together, the market could reach $100 billion a year by 2030.

In Italy, too, cities offering shared mobility services based on small electric vehicles are steadily increasing.

According to data from the latest report from the National Sharing Mobility Observatory, in 2021 for the first time the number of provincial capitals with sharing services exceeded the number without: 62 compared to 46.

Supply is concentrated in the North, where 35 out of 48 provincial capitals offer at least one sharing service, compared to 11 out of 28 in Central Italy and 16 out of 32 in the South.

Milan, Rome, Turin, Florence, Palermo and Naples are the cities with the greatest availability of vehicles, with the last two growing in the last year thanks mainly to the arrival of e-scooters. Compared to total mobility sharing services, micromobility accounted for 83% of rentals in 2021: in short, e-scooters and bikes now clearly outnumber cars. Data for the first half of 2022 in Rome and Milan showed a strong increase in sharing services of 83% and 113% respectively, growth driven mainly by e-scooters in Rome and bicycles in Milan.

E-scooters are the fastest-growing vehicle, particularly in shared mobility.

In 2021 alone, they accounted for half of the total rentals in Italy (17.8 million), more than doubling the previous year's performance. E-scooter sharing registrations exceeded 2 million in 2021, for about 18 million rentals.

The year 2021 saw a major increase in services offering e-scooter sharing in Italy (20 more than in 2020) with an increase in the fleet to nearly 46,000 shared e-scooters on Italian roads. The 24 cities where the service was active in 2020 were joined by 15 more in 2021, reaching even smaller cities than the first, such as Benevento, Brindisi, Frosinone, Imperia, Piacenza, Prato, Ragusa and Teramo.

On the e-bike front, growth is particularly visible in Rome and Milan with rentals increasing by 90% and 157% respectively, from January to June 2022.



The social and economic impact of electric micromobility

Although the spread of electric micromobility vehicles is still in its infancy, looking at experiences in various parts of the world, there is already important data on their social and economic impact. 

Data from the OECD shows that in the U.S., 45% of trips made by a micromobility vehicle replace what would have been a car trip, and thus contribute immediately to the reduction of traffic and pollution.

In European cities where public transportation prevails over cars, such as Paris or Oslo, the effects of substitution are less obvious, but still sufficient to have a measurable effect on air quality.

Importantly, the use of micromobility does not seem to come at the expense of physical activity: surveys in France and the United States say that only a small percentage of users (less than 15%) report walking less since they began using electric scooters.

In fact, e-bikes in particular can bring those who would not feel up to tackling climbs or long distances on a regular bike closer to physical activity, because they can do so with a pedal assist bike, which still involves some degree of physical labor.

Initiatives such as Giro-E, the Giro d'Italia on e-bikes (of which Enel X Way is a partner), have the specific goal of shining a spotlight on the combination of electric bicycles and sports activities. It was during Giro-E that Waypark Micro, a green charging structure for micromobility vehicles equipped with solar panels produced by Enel's 3Sun Gigafactory, was unveiled.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the main goal driving the spread of these vehicles.

OECD calculations say that micromobility vehicles – considering the entire life cycle of production, powering, related services, battery recovery and disposal – emit significantly less CO2 than cars. Whereas a car emits 150 to 280 grams of CO2 per km depending on the mode of use (private car, taxi or car sharing) an e-scooter ranges from 40 to 100 and an e-bike from 30 to 80.

In any event, most city governments that have focused on electric micromobility in recent years agree that it has the potential to positively change citizens' transportation behavior, reduce traffic, improve air quality and contribute to our goal of eliminating CO2 emissions.

As the OECD itself reminds us, realizing this potential will depend in large part on the right regulatory framework, which is generally still being defined.