Research: Does weather affect micromobility?

June 23, 2021

by Marcia Hannigan

When deciding whether to use a shared dockless e-bike, docked bikeshare, or shared e-scooter, weather is often a factor in user decision making. Micromobility modes are seen by some planners as a potential alternative to car travel within cities as well as offering access and egress from transit for a “last-mile” option. Bloustein Distinguished Professor Robert Noland, Ph.D. decided to explore how weather affects the use of these micromobility modes in “Scootin’ in the rain: Does weather affect micromobility?” in the journal Transportation Research Part A (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra2021.05.003).

Dr. Noland used data from Austin, TX for his research. Several factors needed to be controlled for such as large events. SXSW (a technology event) and football games were controlled for as they lead to increased use of micromobility, especially e-scooters. The availability of micromobility services for special events provides a useful transportation mode for visitors. Other controls in the analysis included weekend days (which see increased use) and days in which the Univ of Texas is in session (as students, in particular, seem to be a major source of e-scooter users as well as the other micromobility modes).

Dr. Noland’s chief area of investigation was the impact of weather conditions on micromobility. Weather had an effect on all three modes with the most significant being e-bicycles. Both bicycle modes are more adversely affected by lower temperature, wind, and rain than e-scooters. Distance and duration of trips were also more negatively impacted by the weather. Surprisingly, the duration of docked bikeshare trips had a positive association with rain. This suggested that this is a more dedicated group of users that will ride in the rain.

E-scooter usage suffered less from bad weather than e-bicycles and docked bikeshare usage. E-scooter users can “dress for the weather” more easily than bicyclists making e-scooter usage a better option for use in foul weather, though there was also a decline in usage of e-scooters. This suggested that their use for recreational purposes was sensitive to weather conditions as fewer people choose to engage in outdoor recreational activities in adverse weather. The effects may be more striking in cities with colder, wetter climates than Austin.

There hasn’t been research on user motivations for using e-bikes, docked bikeshare, or e-scooters. Additional research can explore what type of trips are made using the new micromobility modes and how they are impacted by varying weather conditions. Additional research could also be done on riders’ tolerance for discomfort in bad weather. Knowing how weather affects the type of trips and who is affected can assist cities in providing alternatives.

Dr. Noland notes that micromobility use could be enhanced by offering more protection from the weather, but, it may lead to less lightweight and less energy-efficient mobility.

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