California-based leading micromobility companies and a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company Spin is working towards its aim to empower riders with the freedom to move safely around their community with the launch of a new 100,000 sterling pound (Rs 90 lakh) Micromobility Research Fund in the United Kingdom.
As part of the initiative over the next 12 months, the fund will support top researchers from ten leading universities (details below) in the United Kingdom and United States and a number of mobility experts from organisations (details below) in the international mobility ecosystem. They will study various safety aspects of e-scooter use as well as rider travel behaviour and the challenges and opportunities of the integration of e-scooters within a city’s road systems and existing public transport networks.
Josh Johnson, public policy manager, Spin said: “The willingness to share independent research and learnings about the adoption of e-scooters with key stakeholders has become less of a priority for operators and this needs to change. Spin is committed to improving and advancing micromobility policy frameworks globally in the markets we operate in. These studies will give everyone fresh and actionable insights. We look forward to sharing best practices with stakeholders in the UK and beyond around how to best integrate e-scooters into local transport networks while maximising safety of all road users and provide communities with a green, fun and socially-distanced way to travel.”
Initial focus on safety
Safe travel behaviour will be at the centre of research topics and will build on Spin's solid research-based policy work developed in the United States over the past 2 years. “Our top priority has always been rider safety. All operators have a responsibility to their riders to not only exceed vehicle safety standards but provide a platform to educate riders on safety best practices and how to be mindful of pedestrians and other road users,” said Johnson.
Preparation for the first piece of research is underway in Milton Keynes - with potential to extend it to other cities, including London once the e-scooter trial kicks off in the capital. The study will explore factors that influence road-user safety seeking answers to questions such as:
- Where do e-scooter users ride most often (cycle lane, roadway, pavement) and why?
- How often do safety incidents occur, and what are common factors?
- What factors or conditions (i.e. cycling infrastructure, weather, traffic volume, etc…) impact real or perceived safety of e-scooters for users and for non-users?
The study will be informed by a diverse set of data sources including qualitative and quantitative consumer survey data and on-street AI and IoT sensor data of e-scooter interactions with pedestrians, cyclists and cars captured by Vivacity Lab’s sensors that are installed in the city. The researchers will have access to anonymised e-scooter movement data (GPS) as well.
Vivacity’s roadside sensors employ machine learning algorithms to detect near-miss incidents and are able to analyse movement patterns of vulnerable road-users such as cyclists and pedestrians, as well as non-connected vehicles. Such data will be invaluable to assess why near-misses may happen and what could be possibly done to minimise them. All data shared by the sensors is anonymised with video feeds discarded at source, enabling safer roads without intruding on privacy.
The company says the research may include outputs such as a mapping of ‘safe routes’ based on riding patterns and user feedback, and recommendations on how local authorities and operators could encourage riders towards a safer use of e-scooters. Recommendations may also include infrastructure improvements or other policy changes to enhance roadway safety for all users.
Brian Matthews, head of transport innovation, Milton Keynes Council: "Milton Keynes has been a leader in transport innovation for some time, and we are delighted that the first piece of independent research supported by the Micromobility Research Fund will be taking place here, with leading academics and cutting-edge industry partners."
Data-driven policy recommendations
"Ultimately, the point of introducing e-scooter schemes is to advance our society and to bring a greater benefit to all, not just to the e-scooter riders and the service providers but to all who live in our towns and cities. Just as with many new services, this will require a rethink from everyone, including the general public and stakeholders and the path may not always be straightforward. I’m confident that building a strong body of independent research will allow policy makers, e-scooter advocates, as well as sceptics, to advance the dialogue and put forward legislation that best supports everyone," said Roger Woodman, assistant professor of Human Factors, at the University of Warwick.
E-scooter safety has been on top of mind for the public, media, policy makers, city leaders and transport officials since the Department for Transport (DfT) trials began this summer in the UK. Spin says it aims to tackle these issues head on by uncovering potential issues as well as provide policy and regulatory recommendations - parallel to the DfT’s nationwide evaluation of the trials. Spin will share its findings with the DfT. Work supported by the Fund is expected to have relevance beyond the UK trials for other cities and e-scooter operators globally.
What’s more, additional studies will look to find answers to questions such as:
- What factors influence people’s willingness to try e-scooters for the first time and then to become a regular user?
- How do people integrate their e-scooter rides into a multi-modal journey, if at all?
- What travel modes are people shifting from, if any, when they choose to ride a scooter?
- Outcomes and relevant factors which influence safe use of e-scooters
- What insights can be derived from demographic data and its relation to frequency of use?
- How do e-scooter demo days affect the general public’s acceptance of this new means of transport?
- In times when participating in physical events are limited, do digital learning materials and virtual safety training events have similar effects as joining in-person riding test tracks?
- How can e-scooters be made more appealing to a more diverse population?