February 6, 2024 | Main Spotlight: Advancing Equity with Micromobility | Marta Olmos, Associate Manager of Content and Communications |
Young women walk past parked e-scooters in Charlotte, N.C.
How do you get around your community? The answer to that question depends on a lot of factors—where your town or city is located, where you live in relation to the downtown core, and even the average weather patterns in your region—but one of the most significant is your socioeconomic status. Research has shown that wealthier people are more likely to use private cars while economically-disadvantaged people are more likely to rely on public transit, biking, and walking.
Bike- and scooter-share programs have risen sharply over the past few years. Previously the domain of larger cities, Americans now ride shared e-bikes and e-scooters in communities across the nation. As of June 30, 2023, bikeshare systems serve 107 cities and e-scooter systems serve 156 cities. Many argue that these micromobility programs can fill the gaps left by traditional public transit and improve community connectivity. Surveys have found that they primarily replace walking trips, but they can also be replacements for public transit, ride-hailing, and private cars.
New research shows that low-income people increasingly use micromobility systems to connect with public transit and support car-free lifestyles, making them important tools for equity and economic growth. Main Streets across the country have already begun adopting and embracing micromobility systems—can they use them to advance equity as well?
Micromobility and Income
Financial needs have a big impact on the ways that people use micromobility services. Research from the Monash Institute of Transport Studies explored a program called Lime Access, which subsidized e-scooter access for low-income riders. They found striking differences in the ways that Lime Access riders used the service compared to full-price riders.
Lime Access riders were more likely to use the service for essential trips, like grocery shopping and medical appointments, compared to full-price riders who primarily used it for social and recreational outings. These riders were also more likely to link their trips up with public transit.
Perhaps most importantly, the study found that micromobility is a suitable supplement, along with public transit, to support a car-free lifestyle. Half of the Lime Access riders said that one of the benefits of Lime is that it lets them “get somewhere without a car.” According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average annual cost of owning and operating a car in 2022 was around $11,000. Median income in the United States is $74,580, meaning that a single car costs the median household almost 15 percent of their income. For low-income families, that burden is even higher.
Supporting car-free lifestyles with robust alternative transportation options frees up these financial resources for other uses, including wealth-building through education and entrepreneurship. In addition to these economic benefits, it also reduces pollution, improves access to healthy foods, reduces the need for parking, and enhances access to the downtown district.
Main Street Micromobility
Many Main Street communities have seen e-scooters traversing their downtowns and neighborhoods in the past few years, including San Antiono, Texas; Green Bay, Wisc.; Roswell, N.M.; Waterloo, Iowa; and Albert Lea, Minn. Bike share programs are also popular, with examples in Danville, Va.; St. Pete, Fla.; and a shared bike program between Lawrenceville and Aurora, Ind.
Main Street Waterloo partnered with Lime to bring e-scooters to their downtown. The program has grown rapidly and transformed the way that people access the area. Executive Director Jessica Rucker recommends that interested organizations understand the needs of their community, emphasize safety, conduct media outreach to educate the public, and find a local program manager to encourage program success.
As these programs grow and thrive, Main Streets can use them as tools to advance equity in their communities. Boston offers a great example of a program that combines micromobility and equity. In 2021, their Main Streets Free Transit program offered public transit and bikeshare subsidies for 1,000 employees who worked in the Main Street districts of Three Squares, Mission Hill, Nubian Square, East Boston, and Fields Corner. Bikeshare pass holders were able to take unlimited trips during the two-month pilot period. The program saw a significant increase in bike share usage, especially among people who did not own cars.
The e-scooter systems themselves can also be an entrepreneurial opportunity for local residents. Main Street Waterloo’s fleet manager is responsible for running their program, including deploying and maintaining scooters and building relationships with downtown businesses. “Through this opportunity, the Fleet Manager has become a small business owner,” said Jessica Rucker. Roswell’s program is founded and run by a local entrepreneur as well.
Other ways that Main Streets can support equitable micromobility include:
- Advocating for free or reduced-price ride programs for low-income residents.
- Helping programs secure financial support for reduced price ride programs.
- Promoting existing programs and helping eligible residents apply for them.
- Advocating for safe biking infrastructure in the downtown district.
- Encouraging event staff to use micromobility during downtown events.
Micromobility can increase access, equity, and inclusion in your Main Street. Next time you are downtown, take a look at how people are getting around, and take a moment to think about how you can use transportation tools to make your downtown more welcoming for everyone.
Community Heart & Soul, a Main Street America Allied Member, is this quarter's Main Spotlight advertiser. For more information about the products and services they provide to Main Street organizations, click here >