Micromobility in 2024: The Current Market, Predictions & Addressing Safety Concerns
Micromobility as a term was first coined in 2017 to describe a range of small and lightweight personal vehicles typically operating at speeds below 15 mph, and utilised across short distances. With the rise of battery-powered transportation, the term micromobility has expanded to comprise electromobility devices, with e-scooters and e-bikes the most widely prevalent examples.
These vehicles offer a convenient and cost-effective transport alternative that are increasingly used for commuting to work and for simple leisure. In dense urban environments, this increase in uptake has highlighted micromobility as an effective solution for reducing transport congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions.
As prices have become more accessible for battery powered micromobility vehicles, alongside a wider range of options on the market, sales have increased as a result. It’s estimated that there are now more than 750,000 privately owned e-scooters in the country, while for e-bikes, annual sales in 2022 rose to around 165,000 in the UK. This figure was close to 1⁄3 of all bike purchases across the market.
Estimated predictions for the micromobility global market suggest it could reach somewhere between £235 billion and £395 billion by 2030, with Europe one of the largest markets alongside China and the United States. Predictions almost estimate that by the same year, micromobility could replace up to 40% of car trips.
In the UK, many local authorities have taken significant steps towards developing shared micromobility schemes for e-bikes and e-scooters, taking influence from those already prevalent across countries like the United States. E-bike hire schemes are already active and popular in London as an urban transport alternative with Lime, the world’s largest shared electric vehicle company, beginning their operations in the capital in 2016. Santander then began introducing e-bikes to their record-breaking Santander Cycles scheme in September 2022.
The rise of battery powered micromobility devices has certainly not come without issues. There is a rapidly growing concern amongst fire safety associations and rescue services due to the rise of fires and resulting from e-bikes and e-scooters powered by lithium-ion batteries. Following 116 incidents across Greater London in 2022, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) were, on average, called to a fire incident every two days in 2023, representing a 60% increase.
Sadly, some of these fires have even led to fatalities, and the UK isn’t alone in dealing with these consequences. The FDNY has reported that lithium-ion batteries have caused more than 400 fires over the last 4 years in New York city, resulting in more than 300 injuries, damage to more than 320 structures, and 19 fatalities. Most of these came from e-bikes and e-scooters, and, as a result, regulatory action has been taken by city authorities to improve safety around battery-powered micromobility vehicles.
Micromobility vehicles with lithium-ion batteries are typically safe to use when supplied by reputable manufacturers and operated in-line with safety guidelines. However, lithium-ion batteries can store up to 10x more energy in the same space than lead acid batteries, and this high-density means they can be susceptible to overheating when handled improperly, especially when poorly manufactured. If a battery enters failure conditions, the cells of the battery disperse and cause a rapid, volatile release of heat energy in a reaction known as ‘thermal runway.’ Oxygen released from the battery’s cathode can escalate the spread of fire and produce toxic gases that are incredibly difficult to extinguish.
At the forefront of efforts to raise awareness of the risks associated with micromobility and lithium-ion batteries are the prominent charity and campaign group, Electrical Safety First (ESF). The group has made significant progress in calling for Government intervention as part of their Battery Breakdown campaign, producing a comprehensive report exploring the increase in lithium-ion battery fires and their recommendations for addressing the problem.
Significantly, the ESF has formulated a new legislative proposal, named ‘The Safety of Electric-Powered Micromobility Vehicles and Lithium-ion Batteries Bill’. Supported by The Fire Protection Association (FPA), the proposed Bill was made available to MPs selected in Westminster’s annual Bill Ballot draw, which took place on the 16th November 2023. If passed, it aims to authorise significant regulatory changes for micromobility vehicles, laying out requirements for safety assurance by manufacturers, the responsible disposal of lithium-ion batteries, and comprehensive fire safety for all micromobility vehicles in the UK.
Ultimately, UK regulations for micromobility are yet to catch up with their development and rise in uptake. E-scooters specifically fall into something of a regulatory vacuum, and are classed as motor vehicles under the Road Traffic Act 1988. E-scooter users are, therefore, required to have a driving licence, insurance, and tax. Given the restrictions in acquiring these, they are in fact illegal to use on public roads. E-bikes, meanwhile, have their own regulatory requirements, and are classed as normal pedal bikes if they meet the EAPC requirements.
However, the UK Government has plans to introduce a Transport Bill to provide regulatory clarity on battery powered micromobility vehicles, and this was announced during the Queen’s speech in May 2022. Set out in the Bill are intentions to create a new, low-speed, zero-emission vehicle (LZEV) category, distinct from bicycle and motor vehicle categories
To ensure safety in residential and commercial buildings, secure external storage facilities should be regarded as the primary solution for both short-term and long-term storage of battery powered micromobility vehicles. These should be easily accessible and safe to use for all users, located as close to the building entrance as possible without compromising fire safety guidelines.
Safety guidance from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) for the storage of mobility scooters recommends that these shouldn’t be stored within 6m of a respective building. While this guidance can be applied to e-bikes and e-scooters, this can be difficult to ensure in high-density settings. In the event that this recommended safety distance cannot be achieved, guidance suggests that vehicles be secured within a durable, weatherproof structure that provides a minimum 30 minutes fire resistance.
metroSTOR has developed a range of secure external storage and charging facilities for battery powered mobility vehicles, offering a fully enclosed unit to ensure complete protection from inclement weather for the vehicles stored inside. From single locker format to communal hub buildings, the modular units are designed to be installed outdoors to ensure safe containment away from residential buildings, and are customisable for fire-resistant enclosure specification to ensure secure containment in the unfortunate event of a fire breaking out.