Micromobility The first and last-mile: the problem and the solutions
The ‘first and last-mile’ is a term that describes the beginning and end of an individual’s public transport journey. Usually, after traveling on public transport, we need to walk, or take a second mode of travel to reach our final destination. This gap from public transit to destination is seen as counterintuitive to establishing a truly connected city.
Intercity rail links are cited as a common example. Individuals traveling to and from their local station often need to take a bus, or walk. Without some form of connection between the two points, travellers are effectively stranded.
In order to solve this issue, cities are increasingly turning to micromobility services to cater for shorter rides in urban environments and enhance the quality of life for its inhabitants. However, the principal problem that municipalities face is that there often isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every travel situation.
The first and last-mile problem
According to a report published by McKinsey, the use of public transit drops by up to 90 percent when passengers need to walk more than half a mile to the nearest transit stop. As such, cities are faced with two options: either expand transport routes, which is expensive and not always feasible, or tolerate poor accessibility in lesser-populated areas.
Essentially, the first and last-mile problem is that public transport doesn’t take us exactly where we want to go and walking isn’t always the fastest option. In such cases, we realise that most cities are built for vehicles, not people.
The obvious solution would be for city dwellers to simply drive to and from transit stations, but owning a car comes with its own issues. According to the World Economic Forum, traffic congestion cost the US economy nearly $87 billion in 2018, not to mention its 60 percent contribution to the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions.
While ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber may appear to be a quick and affordable solution to the first and last-mile problem, the reality is that they account for up to 14 percent of traffic in some cities, adding to urban congestion, rather than easing it.
Exploring micromobility solutions
In order for first and last-mile solutions to work, transport infrastructures need to accommodate micromobility modes of travel. Organisations need to develop interconnected travel options in order to reduce walking distances and the number of transfers required between destinations.
One example of a micromobility solution that has seen a positive impact on the first and last-mile issue is France’s Vélo'v Program. Based in Lyon, the bikesharing scheme groups docking stations by proximity between origin and destination. The program has found that closer stations exchange more bicycles than those that are placed further away and that most trips last between 26 and 34 minutes.
Wayfinding can also play a part in directing travelers to common destinations through visual signage. In order to navigate a micromobility infrastructure, travelers, who may be unfamiliar with the environment, need to know how to get to their destination in a simple and straightforward way. Likewise, wayfinding apps like Bike Howard in downtown Columbia, USA, are growing in popularity and enable travelers to plan excursions in real-time.
Local transit connections like shuttle buses can also connect those short distances between origin and destination, providing there is enough demand for the route. One example is Detroit’s recent Night Shift partnership with Lyft, which uses the city’s bus system to provide and on-demand ridesharing service. The bus service enables riders to travel to and from late night jobs between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Electric scooters can also help contribute to solving the first and last-mile problem of urban areas, as illustrated in an analysis conducted by McKinsey. A recent study conducted in Munich, Germany, which involved installing 2,000 shared e-scooters in the city, found that on average, a scooter completes 5.5 trips a day and travels two kilometers. Results from the study suggest that micromobility could be a competitor to public transport and help close the first and last-mile gaps to public transport stations.
Some closing thoughts …
Solving the first and last-mile problem requires careful planning, detailed research and seamless implementation. There are many case studies out there that demonstrate the impact that micromobility can have in creating a connected city and addressing our urban traffic congestion.
By balancing public transport systems like buses with private ridesharing schemes in the form of bikes and scooters, cities can start to close the gap between the origins and the destinations of travelers in our cities.