Traffic patterns are going to drastically be very different, says Micromobility expert

While some bike-sharing systems are being shut off to reduce mobility, others are experiencing a sudden increase of demand as people avoid mass transit

Barcelona’s Bicing bike-sharing suspended

Bico AI, a British company founded in 2018, provides intelligence solutions for the micromobility industry, directly to operators of scooter and bike sharing systems. Today provides business intelligence to some of the largest and most successful micromobility systems operating in cities worldwide, including Paris, Barcelona, Helsinki, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City.

Its technology addresses the critical pain points in micromobility operations, ultimately allowing service providers to reduce their operational expenditure, improve asset utilization and processes to enable system scalability. 

To learn more about Bico, and how the company, and its customers, are coping with the current COVID-19 crisis, we spoke to Tom Nutley, Bico AI’s co-founder and CEO.

Good morning Tom, thank you for your time today. Can you tell us more about Bico, and the impact of AI in micromobility for Smart Cities?

Tom Nutley: Thank you. We, at Bico AI, address the main critical pain points within micromobility. The first one is availability; the biggest frustration for users is when you go to a location and want to rent a bike or a scooter, and you can’t find one. Either the location is empty or the dock is empty. On the converse, when you’re using a personal mobility vehicle or micromobility vehicle, you get to your end location, and you have nowhere to park. This is one of the main user frustrations. 

So what Bico does is it uses historical data, latent demand, and predicted demand to understand where the assets are required. And then we look at the resources; we look at capacity, average speeds, locations, number of vehicles, and shift patterns to optimize the placement of these assets in real time to meet the demand, both now and in the future. 

Q: How are cities benefiting from micromobility services? 

Tom Nutley: In terms of micromobility, the impact is a lot larger than probably many people are giving it credit for. I think the biggest problem for micromobility systems is they aren’t necessarily attributed as a public transport system. 

But they have a real key impact on people’s mobility. They’re tiny, they’re very economical. And they’re very cheap to use. And, in a lot of circumstances, they are quicker, cheaper and easier to get around, especially in peak hours. 

I take myself as an example; I use the Santander bike-share system in London. I take approximately 16 minutes to get from Saint Pancras to my office in Marble Arch. If I were to take the underground, it would take me 22 minutes.

The second point is the realization of the impact of micromobility systems when there is public and private transportation disruption. Take the Paris strikes that happened at the end of last year, and early this year; the increase of micromobility ridership, when people had to look for other options, was astronomical.

And ultimately, micromobility has the power to solve several problems [created by the amount of cars in cities]. It can solve space, we can get rid of curbside parking, parking infrastructure, and start giving cities back to people, get people walking, get people moving properly. 

Q: These days, obviously, we need to talk about the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus on your operations, and how you are supporting your customers. Some operators have suspended their services, and others are adapting them to the new situation.

Tom Nutley: There’s probably two or three points that I’ll start on. The first one is the ability of running the Bico application  from home. You don’t need people in the office dispatching workloads. It’s an autonomous product. They can use it without human intervention, other than the operators on the streets, where there’s obviously work to be done, and the provider needs to make sure they keep themselves protected with gloves, masks, etc.

The second point is the utilization of AI in these times, and I go back to the Paris strikes, I go back to London strikes, or changing weather conditions. 

We work globally with 19 different systems in different countries, in different cities. All the local governments and the local municipalities are putting in different measures. Barcelona, as a prime example, they’ve closed down the system to reduce movement in the city. I know that a lot of scooter providers are pulling bikes or pausing operations on the streets. 

In some cities, we’ve seen a surge in micromobility usage. New York and Chicago are probably the most prevalent. But in other cities we’ve seen a curtail of ridership of 50% to 75%. We have a functionality where we can add priority stations, which ultimately means that those stations create a higher priority of service, increasing the signal for several systems. We’ve moved those on requests from both the customer or the operator in the city to key locations, i.e. hospitals, to ensure that there’s always bike availability at those stations for critical staff, such as health care workers.

But it’s actually the patterns that are interesting to monitor. 

There’ve been some interesting conversations about how we can suggest reducing the operational requirements down to meet the service demand. Do we need 10 trucks for balancing, for example, given the current ridership pattern, or could we operate on two and still meet maintaining very good service? 

When we come back from this, whether that is at the end of April, the end of May, the end of June, who knows? The traffic patterns are going to drastically be very different. We will probably see a migration of more people working remotely, we will probably see a migration of traffic patterns as people still try to maintain social distancing. Some people would think: I don’t want to be on the tube [underground], I don’t want to be on a bus; I don’t want to be on a train; I want to be out in the open and let it be my responsibility the distance I want to have. 

This will affect personal mobility vehicles and micromobility services.  And trying to manage that in real time is a very, very difficult thing.

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