The two-wheeled commute: Micromobility and your future

| Podcast

Scooters. Bikes. E-mopeds. If you’re an urban dweller, you’ve probably seen a variety of these vehicles whizzing by—and you’re likely to see more in the future. In this episode of The McKinsey Podcast, McKinsey partner Kersten Heineke speaks with global editorial director Lucia Rahilly about micromobility: who’s using it, why it’s becoming more popular, and how cities can adapt to a future of tiny transportation.

Following their conversation, we hear from NYU associate professor of psychology Tessa West about toxic coworkers. In her book, Jerks at Work: Toxic Coworkers and What to Do About Them (Portfolio, January 2022), featured in a recent edition of our Author Talks series, West describes how to handle jerks at work–and how not to become one yourself.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

The McKinsey Podcast is cohosted by Roberta Fusaro and Lucia Rahilly.

The growing micromobility trend

Lucia Rahilly: Kersten, I will confess I was a micromobility skeptic for several years. I live in New York City, and, lo, these many years later, my family takes tremendous delight in pointing out not just the profusion of bicycles on our local streets but also now all these e-bikes, scooters, delivery mopeds, and so forth. You are based in Germany, in our Frankfurt office. Have you seen a similar trajectory locally over time?

Kersten Heineke: We are definitely seeing a similar trajectory. Especially with COVID-19, we’ve seen the number of bikes on the street increase massively. At McKinsey’s office building here in Frankfurt, they actually had to take away parking spots for cars because they couldn’t fit all the bikes anymore. This happened post-COVID-19, even with people not going into the office that frequently. There’s definitely a massive increase in micromobility usage, in micromobility ownership, and in micromobility that is shared.

We see lots of bikes, and lots of e-bikes. We also see cargo bikes, where people put their kids either in the front or in the back, depending on the model, or they put something else in. We also see vehicles that look completely different and that are something between a car and a bike. We’re going to see more and more of these vehicles on the road.

Lucia Rahilly: We’re seeing all this evidence of micromobility in our day-to-day life in various forms. You colead McKinsey’s Center for Future Mobility, and you’ve been studying this kind of disruption for some time. What does the actual research tell us about attitudes toward micromobility at this juncture?

Kersten Heineke: We are seeing a couple of trends now. One is that micromobility is the only thing that’s up in usage post-COVID-19. Public transit is still down versus pre-COVID-19 levels. Car sharing, e-hailing, ride hailing, and so on are on the same level, maybe a bit up.

People want fresh air. The other reason for this increase is that, especially over here in Europe, cities invested heavily in bringing micromobility infrastructure—bike lanes, especially—to another level. It has gotten much, much more convenient, faster, but also much safer to use a bike to get from one location to another.

I’m personally one of those COVID-19 converts. I’ve been converted from going to work by car every single morning to going to work by e-kickscooter every single morning I go to the office. And it’s the best time of the day. It’s my 12 minutes of quiet time.

Micromobility equals flexibility

Lucia Rahilly: Say more about the use cases that prevail for micromobility. Do folks look at e-scooters and mopeds and the like as alternatives to cars?

Kersten Heineke: It really depends on the person. For most people, it is complementary, but it is replacing certain use cases. For some folks, it is replacing the morning commute. For many others, it is replacing trips once you are downtown or in the central business district and you need to go to different types of appointments.

The other trend we see is people tend to use different modes of micromobility or different form factors for different types of trips. The e-kickscooter is very popular for leisure trips, when you are a tourist in a city and you want to explore the city or when you want to go quickly from point A to point B; also at nighttime, or when you’re doing leisure trips other than tourism.

People tend to use different modes of micromobility or different form factors for different types of trips. The e-kickscooter is very popular for leisure trips. The moped is more for larger cities where you have longer distances.

The moped is more for larger cities where you have longer distances and need to get from A to B a bit more quickly. The bike is also very much used for commuting and shopping. In that case, it’s more of an ownership thing rather than a mobility-as-a-service or sharing thing.

Last-mile delivery

Lucia Rahilly: In New York, we see lots of delivery happening on mopeds, particularly food delivery and so forth. It occurs to me that high-speed package delivery exists. It was on the upswing prepandemic and then seems to have spiked, at least in my building, during the pandemic. Do you see a future for micromobility related to that famously vexing challenge of last-mile delivery?

Kersten Heineke: Absolutely. I was at the Eurobike Convention, in Frankfurt, which is a trade fair that focuses exclusively on bikes and micromobility. I saw so many vehicles that are dedicated to last-mile logistics. Think of it like a bike that has four wheels. It has a huge cupboard at the end, a huge box at the back, where you can put in a significant amount of packages, where you can put in food and keep it warm, where you can put in groceries and keep them cool. We will see many, many form factors.

We will also see larger form factors. We will continue to see the person on a bike delivering only a small package or delivering food with a traditional vehicle. But we will see these form factors move into accommodating the requirements of people who deliver different types of goods.

Yes, the future of last mile has a significant component of these tinier vehicles to it, especially for anything that needs to be express delivered or where there’s a certain willingness of people to pay for that delivery. Will it be cost competitive with delivering packages via a van or via a small truck? Probably not, because those are extremely competitive when it comes to cost per package and TCO [total cost of ownership].

Where is micromobility most popular?

Lucia Rahilly: Some countries must be further ahead on micromobility than others. I’m thinking of cities like Amsterdam, for example, which is famous for its bicycles—early micromobility. How does uptake of these various micromobility vehicles vary by geography?

Kersten Heineke: We have a couple of countries, like you were saying, and a couple of cities where there are a lot of different types of micromobility. Southern Europe, historically, has had a very high share of mopeds.

Countries like the Netherlands—with Amsterdam being in the lead—also the Nordics—Copenhagen is a good example—have a long tradition of bicycles. China has a huge tradition of bicycles and other types of vehicles. There are lots of motorized two-wheelers and three-wheelers when it comes to Southeast Asia or India.

The US is probably one of the developed nations that is a bit further behind when it comes to micromobility usage, simply because the distances are larger. A car is very convenient. Quite frankly, especially outside of cities like New York City, the infrastructure isn’t necessarily up to taking safe rides with a bike or with a micromobility vehicle.

More bike lanes, please

Lucia Rahilly: Let’s talk about the infrastructure investment that is necessary. What are some examples of the changes cities might have to make in order to enable uptake of this kind of alternative?

Kersten Heineke: The most basic one is to replace car lanes with bike lanes and to make sure that the bike lanes that are being built replace a proper car lane, so that two bikes can safely overtake each other. Ideally, these bike lanes should be somewhat separated from car traffic. That’s the most basic thing cities can do.

The next level is adding bike lanes systematically and thinking about how people actually travel from one point to another. Making sure that this entire journey is covered with proper bike lanes makes a huge difference.

The other big piece is proper parking. I posted a picture on LinkedIn the other week with the scooters parked in front of our office. I didn’t mean any harm by it. I just said, “Look at all these scooters. Look at all these people that came by scooter. They saved so much CO2. They saved so much space.” But the entire discussion on LinkedIn exploded around people saying, “But it looks ugly. They should be parked in a more proper way. We need docking stations,” and so on.

I agree. There is a point to be made that these vehicles can be parked in a more orderly fashion. Cities can also do something about designating certain areas for proper parking.

Opportunities for making micromobility safer

Lucia Rahilly: In the US, at least, we see so much of a trend toward macro versus micro. There’s an explosion of SUVs and other big cars for convenience reasons. How does the safety data play out?

Kersten Heineke: What we’ve seen in the data is it’s OK. Of course, the number of accidents with micromobility has gone up over the last years. Why? Because, A, there was more movement post-COVID-19. B, there’s more micromobility. And, C, there are some new form factors that didn’t exist before.

So, obviously, the number of accidents with e-kickscooters went up in 2022 over 2021. It’s probably going to go up again in 2023 simply because this is a growing industry. More people are using the vehicles and so on.

You do see some differences between the form factors. I saw in a report that the vehicle with the highest number of accidents is an e-bike. That’s not necessarily because of the e-bike as a form factor but because the e-bike has a bias toward a certain age group and ridership where there seems to be a bit higher propensity for accidents.

Who is using micromobility vehicles?

Lucia Rahilly: You raised an interesting point on demographics. What are the demographics for micromobility users?

Kersten Heineke: There is a bias toward people under the age of 49. There is also a bias toward men, especially for e-kickscooters.

The other piece is we do see few elderly riders, especially when it comes to shared micromobility. When we look at e-cargo bikes, we see very high adoption among young families, simply because this is sort of the perfect use case, where you can put your young kids in an urban environment. Definitely a bias toward younger people, below 30 or below 25.

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The future of micromobility

Lucia Rahilly: Let’s talk about some of the implications of your research. There are various stakeholders, I would imagine.

Kersten Heineke: The basic message is the micromobility market is growing, and it’s growing everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean geographically, but I also mean all the different segments: sharing, subscription, ownership.

The other piece is when you look at cities, we do believe the shared micromobility market—doesn’t matter which form factor—is here to stay and will grow sizably. The key question for players now is how can they make it profitable? How can it become a permanent part of daily city life when we talk about shared micromobility?

When we talk about personal ownership of vehicles, one of the biggest trends is going to be subscription. The other trend is offering people a portfolio of micromobility vehicles that they can then subscribe to or even own—because we believe that there isn’t a single micromobility vehicle that can truly replace a car. If you truly want to get rid of your car and live micromobility only, or micromobility plus car sharing if you’ll do a trip outside the city, it’s going to be a combination of form factors.

When we talk about personal ownership of vehicles, one of the biggest trends is going to be subscription. The other trend is offering people a portfolio of micromobility vehicles that they can then subscribe to or even own.

It’s going to be interesting to see which players will offer these types of combinations first, with the possibility to have an e-bike, a cargo bike, maybe a scooter for certain trips, and then maybe something else entirely that’s even larger at home in a clever model. And then to see how consumers will own the e-vehicle. Will it be subscription based? Financed? Ownership of parts of it?

Microcars: A cross between a bike and a car

Lucia Rahilly: Earlier in this conversation, you alluded to a vehicle that sounded something like a microcar. I was imagining, for example, as anyone who has been to India has seen, those auto-rickshaws. Or in Southern Europe, as you alluded to, there are tiny, tiny cars—those little smart cars and so forth. What is a microcar? Do you expect them to catch on in places like the United States?

Kersten Heineke: There will be a form factor, somewhere between a bike and a car, that’s going to catch on. But it’s going to look different in Europe versus the US and other geographies. In Europe, we’re going to see three-wheeler bikes, four-wheeler bikes, it will give you a certain protection from the weather by having a protective shell around it, by having a proper windscreen.

They will also have a seat for the driver and then maybe two smaller seats for children in the back. They might also give you a chance to, in a modular fashion, take out the seats and put in something where you can store cargo, so that you can take a suitcase, or you can also take your groceries, and so on. People are going to be allowed to ride them in bike lanes to a certain extent, but they’re going to be much closer to a bike than they would be to a car.

We’ll also see the microcar. Think of it like a smart car but even smaller. These vehicles already exist today. When we think about a city like New York, then, yes—these smaller vehicles are going to catch on there, too. We’re going to see these larger bikes, or the microcars, in other very dense cities in the US.

We’ll also see the microcar. Think of it like a smart car but even smaller. These vehicles already exist today. When we think about a city like New York, then, yes—these smaller vehicles are going to catch on there, too.

I don’t think we’re going to see many of these vehicles in the cities that are a bit more spread out, which I would assume is 90 percent of the US cities, maybe even more. Same goes for the US and European countryside.

Are self-driving e-scooters a thing?

Lucia Rahilly: We’ve heard so much about self-driving cars. What is the trajectory for self-driving e-scooters or e-bikes? Will that be a dominating concept?

Kersten Heineke: I have my doubts, because the cost, in terms of the sensors you need to put on them, is super high. The use case of repositioning these by being autonomous is fairly limited. So while we will see autonomous cars and other types of autonomous vehicles quite short term, I doubt that we are going to see a significant number of autonomous bikes or scooters or other micromobility vehicles.

A new look for city streets?

Lucia Rahilly: You have spent a lot of time researching mobility disruptions. When you project forward to 2030, what do you think the transportation landscape might look like? How might my local street look different?

Kersten Heineke: I’ll give you the version of 2030 for the most progressive cities. That might be 2035 for some of the less progressive cities. If you imagine a city today and a street today that has four lanes—two lanes going in each direction and one row of parking on either side and maybe a small curb and maybe a bike lane—I think what will change is we’re going to see a complete shift in how the space is utilized.

I imagine two lanes in the center of the road for vehicles—maybe private vehicles, but in many cases only shared autonomous vehicles. Then we will see a very wide lane for micromobility vehicles, including the goods-delivery micromobility vehicles.

This will ultimately still leave a massive amount of space for other things. We’re not going to need parking anymore, because you’re not going to be allowed to have a personal vehicle, at least in highly urban environments. We’re freeing up a lot of space that we can use for all the other things, like micromobility and autonomous vehicles. We can also use it to put in more parks, put in more cafés.

That’s the future. That’s going to happen because, ultimately, we need to get away from personal mobility. We need to get away from cars—at least, in urban environments—because they congest a lot, they emit a lot. And it’s by far not the most efficient way of transport.

The inevitability of micromobility

Lucia Rahilly: We’ve also seen converging stressors on cars lately—not just rising gas prices but semiconductor chip shortages—that have affected the availability of cars and so forth. Do you imagine any of that will accelerate the uptake of micromobility options?

Kersten Heineke: Yes. There is a combination of multiple factors. One is it’s harder to get a car. People are keeping their cars longer. It’s also harder to use cars because, obviously, gas is more expensive. We’re going to electric vehicles to a certain extent.

We’re going to see city tolls and bans for cars. There isn’t this massive single inflection point where ten cities in a country will say, “We’re going to ban cars.” I don’t see that happening.

This gradual shift has already started to happen. And COVID-19 was only an acceleration for it. Making the move toward, let’s say, fewer miles in cars, and therefore more micromobility, more other means of transport—this is going to continue to happen.

Lucia Rahilly: Kersten, this was such a fascinating discussion. Lots of fun. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Kersten Heineke: Thanks so much for having me. Loved the discussion.

Roberta Fusaro: While micromobility makes some lives a lot easier, I think we can all agree that toxic coworkers can make our lives a whole lot harder. So now let’s hear from Tessa West, author of Jerks at Work.

Tessa West: The C-suite is the place where, if there’s going to be a cultural contagion of jerks, that’s where it happens.

The workplace has changed a lot now. If the C-suite is behaving one way, even if it doesn’t directly affect you as an employee because you never interact with that C-suite, you’re very intolerant of working for a company that embraces this behavior culturally. The C-suite is in a prime place to turn that jerk behavior on or off because they decide whether that company is going to be a breeding ground for jerk behavior.

One thing that we’ve learned during the pandemic is that we feel like we can avoid the people that are difficult to work with much more, but the reality is they’re just as effective at destroying our well-being and our productivity at work as they were before. When we’re not interacting with each other, having casual conversations, walking to the coffee shop, stopping by the office of our neighbor, we’re not getting all the information that we used to get that signals who is difficult to work with and what the strategies are for dealing with it. Each type of jerk that I talk about in my book has one set of skills and another set of weaknesses, and you need to understand both in order to develop strategies for coping with them.

The only real way of solving for jerks at work is to have allies. Think about someone you work with who you’re not best friends with. You’re not that close, but what they have is knowledge about the workplace and a lot of social connections that you don’t have. So the best allies can help you expand your social network and introduce you to other potential targets of your jerk at work, or other people who can pull levers of power to help you understand what it will take to convince your boss to care about your jerk at work.

One of the biggest misconceptions we have about thinking about jerks at work is that they don’t have any social skills, that they can’t read a room, that they aren’t paying attention to how other people are supposed to be treating them, and these kinds of things. But the reality is that most jerks at work have incredible social skills.

One of the biggest misconceptions we have about thinking about jerks at work is that they don’t have any social skills, that they can’t read a room. But the reality is that most jerks at work have incredible social skills.

For example, think about the “free rider.” They tend to be very charismatic. They utilize their social skills to get ahead. The same is true for someone like the “kiss up, kick downer.” They know exactly the right ways of complimenting you behind your back so that the boss won’t suspect them.

Another misconception is that they know how their behavior makes other people feel. Most of us assume that if we’re dealing with a jerk at work, this person is doing this intentionally, and they know it makes other people feel bad. But the reality is almost no one gives negative feedback at work.

It’s nonnormative to give people negative feedback. We feel uncomfortable doing it, and so we often avoid it. But we assume these individuals know how their behavior is affecting others, even though they rarely do.

The last misconception about jerks at work is that they enjoy doing what they’re doing. Most of the time, the behavior that jerks are engaging in that harms you also harms them. It doesn’t help them to behave this way. But they’re doing it for lots of reasons, ranging from having poor management skills to doing whatever it takes to get ahead, or maybe that’s just the culture of the company.

Why is it important for us to consider whether we are the jerk? Most of us are a combination of good and bad. We can be amazing at work. We can be difficult at work. It’s important to think about how you behave when you’re at your absolute worst: when you’re sleep deprived or you don’t have resources. We all have the potential to be someone who’s not ideal—a micromanager, a neglectful boss, a credit stealer, a freeloader—when we get overwhelmed.

Half the battle in dealing with jerks at work is detecting your own inner jerk and not just stopping that behavior but looking at what the behaviors are that precede it: What is it that really turns you into that less ideal version of yourself? And then develop strategies for what you’re going to do instead. As we go through this process of cleaning out our jerks at work, we also have to admit to ourselves when we are contributing to the problem.

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