How Mobility Data Can Inform Impactful Policy Outcomes


Photo by Marek Rucinski on Unsplash

Micromobility has a huge amount of potential, especially in terms of closing the first-mile and last-mile gaps between riders and transit. People need safe, affordable ways of getting to buses and trains, or they won’t use them. Shared bikes and scooters can close those gaps, but cities need to know how to integrate those systems into their policies.

This is where data enters the picture. The New Urban Mobility Alliance (NUMO) recently developed a tool called Micromobility & Your City, which gives cities access to huge amounts of data about how these systems work for cities and their residents. Remix worked with the NUMO team to develop this tool to help cities find metrics that best reflect their desired outcomes. 

In September, NUMO hosted a webinar to discuss how cities can use micromobility data to meet their goals and develop more relevant policies. Here’s what their panelists had to say.

1. With more data, cities can maximize the potential of micromobility.

When cities have to make decisions and develop policies around micromobility systems from a reactionary place, they can’t maximize the potential of those systems.

NUMO advisor Russ Brooks notes: “In the past, often, cities and local governments started with the technology and then figured out a use case for that technology.” This approach gets micromobility options onto streets and may help cities achieve some of their goals around safer streets and better access to resources.

The other option is to use the data to find out where micromobility could have the greatest impact, then follow the results to evaluate success.  

Rachel Zack, Director of Policy for Remix, says that this is where planning comes in. She shared results of a recent survey showing that during the COVID-19 crisis, cities care most about getting people to and from affordable housing locations, grocery stores, and medical facilities, and that short trips are most important to people.

This webinar screenshot shows what planners expressed as their dataset needs

“Bike share and scooter share are an integral piece of solving some of those needs,” Zack says, pointing to the ability of these systems to power short but essential trips. A city’s next step, in this case, would be to add micromobility options in the transit gaps between residences and necessary places, then track the success of those solutions.

By starting with potential use cases like these, says Brooks, “We can directly tie new services to those outcomes from the get-go and really try to maximize their potential.”

2. Data lets cities focus on where they can make change.

According to Brooks, data also shows cities where they have the potential to make change. Cities’ goals in improving transportation options often relate to higher-level concerns like environmental impact and equitable access, and there may be some levels at which cities can't take direct action.

Consider access to necessities, an important priority for NUMO and Remix. There are numerous factors that contribute to a person’s ability to access services like education, healthcare, and job placement, from the availability of childcare to rent levels and where pricing separates people from the services they need. Cities and operators don’t always have the authority or the support to regulate those issues.

What they can do is add micromobility in strategic locations so that more people can get where they need to go. Beijing has done just that. By placing dockless bike-sharing options in neighborhoods more than 500 meters from transit, the city has nearly doubled access to healthcare, education, and jobs.

3. Data answers the questions that drive policy development.

In developing the Micromobility & Your City tool, Brooks and his team made sure that cities had access to almost any data point they might need to evaluate equity, access, and environmental impacts.

For example, if a city wanted to evaluate whether docked or dockless bike systems improved access to necessities, they could check metrics like:

  • Use case surveys
  • Percentage of trips that start and end at necessary locations like grocery stores and clinics
  • How many trips start and end in underserved areas

By drawing on hard data to answer these questions, cities can gauge whether micromobility has a positive impact, and make policy accordingly.

4. Data lets cities measure actual impact, not just potential impact.

As micromobility systems become more prevalent, cities often find themselves having to make key decisions based on what those resources could do. Data lets cities measure whether their theories have real-world relevance. This extends not just to whether people are using new mobility solutions, but how they use them.

The Beijing use case is the perfect example. Now that the city’s leaders know for certain that people use shared bikes to get where they need to go, they can create micromobility-friendly policies and expand the use of those systems.

5. Having more data means cities can choose their focus.

When cities have access to multiple data points surrounding micromobility, they can make more informed choices about what policy changes might have the greatest impact.

“Having all of this information in one useful platform is really good for city planners,” says Fernanda Rivera, General Director of Road Safety and Sustainable Urban Mobility Systems for Mexico City. “Now you know what you have to measure and what data is important. You decide what to prioritize.”

No city has the budget to do everything. When they know what projects can have the greatest impact on equity and access, they can make the best decisions for everyone.

6. Data directly connects goals to action.

Consider Portland, Oregon, and the issue of electric scooters being used on the sidewalk. In neighborhoods with bike lanes, only 8% of riders took to the sidewalk. On roads with speed limits of 35 miles per hour and no bike lane, that number soared to 66%.

This data point calls attention to the need for supporting infrastructure. Cities might not realize the need for that infrastructure right away, but with data, they can take action and start getting results.

To learn more about how mobility data helps cities, watch this webinar recording and hear additional thoughts from NUMO, then check out Micromobility & Your City