Navigant Research Blog

Dockless Systems Creating Better Business Case for E-Bike Sharing

— February 20, 2018

Just as electric bicycle (e-bike) sales in the US have not been as robust as in Europe, e-bikesharing programs have been similarly slow to develop. However, a number of dockless e-bikeshare programs have recently been deployed in the US—removing major costs and user friction points traditionally associated with dock-based bikesharing.

Over the last several years, a combination of urbanization, city policy, and bicycle lane expansions have driven new growth in the global bikesharing industry. As a result, bikeshare companies have been raising enormous sums of money, particularly in Asia. Chinese bikesharing companies Mobike and Ofo have raised over $2 billion so far for their operations.

In comparison to conventional bikesharing, e-bikesharing is much newer and far less widespread—largely due to the higher associated costs and added complexities of recharging e-bikes (which is generally done by fleet teams). However, the business case and user experience for e-bikesharing is improving considerably through the advent of dockless sharing programs that avoid the need for expensive new infrastructure and can be provided without government subsidies (unlike dock-based systems that generally receive public funding). In terms of user costs and convenience, many public bikeshare programs mandate a day pass purchase with a price tag of $7 or more for a single ride and keep the bikes at special docking stations where the bikes must be returned. Conversely, dockless programs charge as low as $1 per half-hour rental and customers have the added convenience of dropping off their bicycle wherever they please when finished.

Major Dockless E-Bike Programs Being Deployed

In 2017, the first dockless e-bike share program was launched in the US from New York-based JUMP Bikes. The company’s program is currently available in San Francisco (roughly 250 e-bikes deployed) and Washington, DC (150 e-bikes), with plans to expand to other cities such as Sacramento, California and Providence, Rhode Island by the end of 2018. In early 2018, the company raised an additional $10 million in funding for its expansion plans (along with an original $7 million investment). JUMP is also partnering with Uber to provide San Francisco residents and visitors with the ability to rent JUMP e-bikes directly from the Uber app.

LimeBike is another dockless bikeshare (and now e-bikeshare). Called Lime-E, the e-bikeshare service is expected to be available in Seattle and Miami in early 2018. At the end of 2017, LimeBike raised an additional $50 million in funding on top of its initial $12 million seed round.

Dock-Based Programs Now at Risk

Dockless e-bikeshare companies are leveraging smartphone technology (which is used to unlock the e-bikes) and existing infrastructure (e.g., public bicycle racks, parking meters, etc.) to replace the expensive new docking infrastructure traditionally required for bikesharing programs. Additionally, improving lithium ion battery technology is resulting in e-bikes that have longer ranges, are lighter, lower in cost, and remarkably similar to traditional bicycles. Together, these trends are directly enabling e-bikes, which are generally more expensive than regular bicycles, to be increasingly used in sharing schemes. Dock-based programs (for any type of bicycle) are now facing a significant threat to their market share unless they can add more docking locations to match the convenience of dockless systems, keep their user fees competitive with dockless programs, and reduce their reliance on government subsidies.


Smart City Technology Helping Low Income Residents, Too

— January 23, 2018

Particularly in the developing world, there are valid concerns that smart cities could exacerbate the digital divide and primarily benefit wealthier residents. However, a number of emerging companies and initiatives demonstrate that smart city technology can also be utilized for digital inclusion, citizen empowerment, and to increase low income residents’ access to essential city services such as transportation and healthcare.

Key Company and Project Examples

A new company called Cityblock Health was recently spun out of Alphabet’s urban innovation unit, Sidewalk Labs. Cityblock raised over $20 million from a range of investors to help low income Americans access basic health services. Through the company’s Commons platform technology, it will partner with community health centers and partner organizations across the US to reconfigure the delivery of health and social services—and make healthcare services more personalized for qualifying Medicaid or Medicare members. Specifically, the company is targeting issues with misaligned payment incentives (between payers and providers of Medicare and Medicaid), siloed medical and social service delivery, and fragmented data. Cityblock is expected to launch its first Neighborhood Health Hub in New York City in 2018. The Hub will differ from traditional siloed health clinics, using the company’s custom-built technology to merge health services with the community. Caregivers, Cityblock members, and local organizations will all engage with each other in one physical meeting space to discuss and solve local health challenges. Cityblock will be an interesting startup to follow as it aims to integrate primary care, behavioral health, and social services all under one roof.

Another significant example of the potential for smart city technology to help low income communities (and further explained in one of my previous blogs) is Columbus, Ohio’s proposal for the US Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. One of the primary reasons the city won the Challenge—and beat out the better-known technology centers of San Francisco, Austin, and Denver—was due to Columbus’s ability to demonstrate that its plan would result in increasing poor residents’ access to new transportation options. Additionally, Microsoft, along with its partners G3ict and World Enabled, launched the Smart Cities for All Toolkit in spring 2017 as part of its broader city engagement program. The toolkit is designed to help city officials and urban planners make more digitally inclusive and accessible smart cities. Tools developed for cities include a guide for adopting information and communication technology (ICT) accessibility standards and a guide for ICT accessible procurement policies.

Project Design and Implementation Crucial

These examples demonstrate that smart city technology can be used to the benefit of low income residents—whether it’s increasing access to crucial services such as healthcare and transport, or helping to bridge the digital divide. Policymakers must be vigilant when designing and implementing smart city programs, ensuring that technology deployments will extend to and directly benefit low income residents and neighborhoods in their city. Specific projects designed for low income communities (e.g., providing transport between high unemployment neighborhoods and nearby job centers) should be pursued as part of a city’s broader smart city strategy whenever possible.


Telcos Aggressively Expanding Smart City Services

— December 7, 2017

Among the essential building blocks for the smart cities market are communication networks that connect the sensors, controllers, cameras, and other hardware infrastructure capturing valuable data from the city environment. The need for urban connectivity is creating new opportunities for the telcos responsible for providing public wired or wireless communication services to government, consumers, and businesses. Telcos are increasingly making strategic acquisitions and extending their footprint into solutions and services for smart cities and Internet of Thing (IoT) application areas. Whether through established technology such as 3G/4G or potential disruptors like 5G and narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT), cellular providers are aiming to become the leading suppliers of connectivity for smart cities.

Significant Acquisitions and Service Offerings in North America

In recent years, a number of telcos have made bold expansions into the smart cities market. Verizon, for example, has been working to expand its presence in that industry. It made a major move to extend its footprint with the acquisition of smart street lighting and sensor network provider Sensity Systems in late 2016. Verizon is supporting a wide range of smart city applications, including transportation, public safety, city management, and smart buildings.

AT&T has also significantly increased its visibility in the market since its initial smart cities launch in 2015—notably through its role in the Atlanta and San Diego IoT platform deployment projects. It is supplying Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for short-range connectivity, plus fiber and LTE for backhaul to the cloud.

In early 2017, AT&T obtained exclusive rights to distribute the sensor nodes from Current powered by GE through a reseller agreement in the US and Mexico. AT&T will be the commercial lead on future smart cities projects, with Current as its technology provider.

Significant Global Acquisitions and Offerings

Telefónica, the Spanish-based global telecom provider, has also been targeting smart city opportunities. It was lead commercial partner in the SmartSantander project, which involved deployment of over 20,000 devices in Santander and the surrounding area (including sensors, repeaters, gateways, etc.).

French carrier and service provider Orange is leveraging its expertise in 4G, fiber, LoRa, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth to install a network of connected sensors for Romania’s Alba Lulia Smart City 2018 project. Telefónica and Orange Group are key players in the development of FIWARE standards—an open source initiative that aims to establish a standard for smart cities based on the FIWARE platform.

Most recently, Telestra, an Australian telecom company, acquired fleet management systems provider MTData and created a partnership with Melbourne-based Smart Parking. The company has already won contracts to install Smart Parking’s sensors in five Australian council regions.

Telco Expansion Challenges Non-Cellular Connectivity Providers

The aggressive telco expansion into the smart cities market should serve as a warning shot to other providers of urban connectivity such as RF mesh and Wi-Fi players. These providers should quickly move to protect market share by emphasizing their relative advantages over cellular (e.g., private networks, lower operating costs) and developing more vertical solution partnerships and connectivity capabilities.

While most cities are likely to have multiple providers and types of connectivity for different use cases, cellular providers are making a clear push to capture the high bandwidth segment of the smart city communication networks value chain. There is evidence that resistance to public cellular is declining in the utility sector. With the deployment of new cellular technologies such as NB-IoT and 5G on the horizon, the same is likely true for cities.


Cities Looking to Automated Vehicles to Solve Congestion and Emissions Challenges

— November 21, 2017

Around the world, major cities have been setting targets to combat the negative effects of local transport on public health, local pollution, noise levels, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Cities are looking increasingly at the potential of automated vehicles (AVs) to help solve these problems through improved traffic flow, the near elimination of collisions, increased productivity, and reduced pollution and GHG emissions.

 Moving toward Full Automation

The concept of automated or self-driving cars has shifted from the realm of science fiction into reality, as showcased by some of the latest developments in cities around the world:

 Key Challenges Remain

Partial automation is becoming commonplace in all road vehicle classes. Full driving automation is starting to be piloted in numerous cities globally with regular commercial deployments expected in the next 2 to 3 years. Before AVs can become ubiquitous in city streets, new infrastructure investments, communication network upgrades, the need for fleets to operate in varied conditions, and concerns about cybersecurity need to be addressed. Cities also need to develop frameworks to integrate and coordinate AV mobility services with existing transit services to optimize the use of road infrastructure and avoid increased congestion. Although the AV was not at fault for the accident, the recent Las Vegas automated shuttle collision shows why vehicle-to-vehicle communications will also be crucial to the success of AVs.

If AVs are managed properly, highly integrated with public transport, and coordinated as part of a multimodal transportation ecosystem, the shift to self-driving vehicles could lead to reduced traffic congestion in cities, lowered demand for parking spaces, and highly beneficial energy and environmental effects. For more information on the potential effects of AVs in cities, see Navigant Research’s recent white paper on Redefining Mobility Services in Cities.


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