Where Does the Word "Micromobility" Come From?

Micromobility is the freedom to travel small distances.

It comes from the combination of “micro,” or extremely small, and “mobility,” which means the ability and freedom to move. Micro can refer to the vehicles used but it also can refer to the distances traveled. It turns out that they are related: small distances are better traveled with small vehicles.

The notion of micromobility implies that small-distance travel is not always easy. This is counter-intuitive. We think that short distances are easy and long distances are hard, but when you try to move around in cities you realize traffic congestion leads to delays and frustration.

It turns out that short distances are more difficult and expensive than long distances in terms to cost per mile. We also spend more time delayed in short trips. Think of it this way: it can take you more time to get to the airport than to fly to your destination.

City dwellers have to contend with not just traffic, but also impediments such as finding parking, paying congestion charges, and dealing with construction and event delays. Driving in cities is not fun anymore.

Micromobility is the idea that short distance travel can be made fun, cheap, and convenient again. The reason for this is that we now have small electric motors, powerful new batteries, connectivity through cellular networks, and GPS or location detection for vehicles. We also have a vast majority of users using smartphones that can be used to find and book rides.

This makes possible “on-demand” services or sharing of low-cost, small, and efficient personal vehicles. Services that bring together users and vehicles in urban areas are the way micromobility is being rolled out worldwide.

Micromobility began around 2016 with connected bicycle-, scooter-, and moped-sharing services. These services have quickly taken off with over 100 million rides in 2018 and millions of users signing up. Micromobility is now growing faster than car-sharing (or ride-hailing) and is poised to become a common way for people to travel in cities.

Small trips are the most common trips, and with micromobility, it’s possible to take these trips conveniently, cheaply, and quickly. We can again enjoy the freedom of taking a ride.

Micromobility Europe is coming to Berlin on October 1 for a full-day summit on the future of first-and-last-mile transportation. View the agenda, then get your tickets here.

Horace Dediu