This month on the ‘Women In Shared Mobility’ series, our CEO Sandra Phillips interviewed Polina Mikhaylova, Co-Founder of KNOT.
Women in Shared Mobility: COVID-19’S IMPACT ON SHARED AND MICROMOBILITY. WHAT WILL MOBILITY LOOK LIKE IN A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD?
Polina Mikhaylova, Co-Founder of KNOT
Sandra Phillips, chief executive officer, movmi
Before we begin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi everyone, thank you for thinking of me, it’s always cool to share with girls in mobility especially as we are not very large, in numbers. My company is named KNOT and we are based in France. We work in the scooter sharing industry and basically what we do, is the docking stations for scooters. You know the nightmare of scooters laying all around city streets, which are not charged and all the problems that regulation and policies makers can have with it. We actually make the product which helps to stop and prevent this, by providing docking stations that are universal, that can charge scooters and don’t occupy much space on public property. They can be installed everywhere and are available to any scooter provider with an open mind. Today we have 15 people who work on the whole project, we have mechanical, software and electrical engineers and we produce all the hardware ourselves as well, in Italy, Spain and France. We have already deployed in seven countries and hopefully, next month we will also add bicycle sharing to make it even more universal for different types of mobility.
1. how HAS Covid-19 impacted shared mobility in Europe and especially micromobility during the last couple of weeks?
Well, it’s super interesting to follow what’s happening in shared mobility, because on the one side – public transportation is going down and public transit usage is more dangerous at this time because you cannot provide the big enough social distancing between people, so people are still quite tight in public transport but you still have a lot of people who need to go to work, like medical workers or people who still work in the restaurants and so on. So right now this could be a perfect time for shared mobility to keep going, for them to use it, but most of the private operators (I would say ninety percent of private operators) said they will shut down operations because their profitability will just drop down but you still need to take care of all the material, so it doesn’t make any business sense for them to keep working. On the other side also, to protect users, because they’re not able to clean all handles and to provide a secure service for its users. There are some shared mobility projects like the Libre or public bike sharing that are still operating and it’s super good and it’s actually for free for a lot of medical workers. It’s really great but on the private side it’s a real mess and nobody’s working right now so for us it’s a bit different because we are not a provider of the scooter sharing services, we are providers of the station – so we are dependent from the others and a lot of our stations have shut down as well.
2. do you tHINK SHARED MOBILITY SHOULD BE CONSIDERED AS AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE OR NOT?
For me shared mobility and micromobility should be considered an essential service because it’s the way to move around cities and it’s one of the most secure ways today. You can just take your bicycle or scooter and move around the city. You don’t meet anyone but you can still make up the kilometres to reach your work and do different things. For me it’s definitely something that needs to be considered as essential and also if we’re going deeper, it’s definitely a service which needs to be supported by the state and regulated by the state. If we take, I know for me the most talked about example is the bicycle sharing, and what happened with the bicycle sharing a few years ago when it first started only with the public operators and stations or like the city bike in New York which is kind of a public/private mix and then it completely turned around with the Chinese model – with bicycles all around the cities completely private but you cannot rely on the services hundred-percent. For example, if we just think about tomorrow, in cities like San Francisco and New York when it’s totally active again and we don’t have Uber or Lyft anymore, the whole public transportation in the city will stop and it’s terrible. In this way, when people get used to these good services which are very reliable and very nice to use, we need to go further and also get some public investment.
3. PANDEMIC ASIDE, WHAT OTHER CHANGES OR DEVELOPMENTS HAVE YOU SEEN IN THE SHARED MOBILITY SECTOR?
We don’t see it yet. I think there are some weak signals right now that there will be a big paradigm change. I mean today, the big investments in Uber, Lime and all these companies, are completely private but at the same time, these companies have still not yet reached profitability. If you think about it, you just take a public bus and on the public bus, the user pays only 30% and the other 70% is paid by public services. If we come back to the previous question asking ourselves ‘is it an essential service, do we need to move people around the city?’ – Yes, but we also need to involve other actors to finance this mobility, so for me the investment level will go down which could be good, because we need to rethink the way we do it.
We don’t need to make massive spread investments in order to make global companies, because this business is purely local. I mean, there is one way of operating scooters in Washington and that’s completely different to cities like Paris, Prague or even smaller cities of 10,000 people (which Lime and Bird wouldn’t be able to operate in a profitable way) but these people still need some kind of shared micromobility, so it needs to be local. We need to get coin investment from the public and need to get investment from the private sector but not investment that seeks only the gain from it. Businesses need to understand that most people are moving around the city to go to the office, to go to their job, so it’s also their responsibility to give money or to raise money for these companies to buy their services and also to increase their profitability.
4. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LESSONS LEARNED? WHAT WILL SHAPE THE FUTURE OF TRANSPORTATION IN OUR CITIES?
The main role and the main thing that would shape transportation for me, is the understanding from the public sector that infrastructure is king. We hear a lot of things about the security on the roads, like scooters are very dangerous, bikes are very dangerous – you need to wear helmet, you don’t have to wear helmet there’s insurance and stuff like that but, it’s all coming from the comfort and the accessibility of the roads for bicycles, scooters and all these micromobility instruments, so they can ride easily around the city and don’t have to ride in the same lane with a car. The biggest lesson for me is, if we take a city like Strasbourg (I live in this city so we’ll use this example) – the city itself has 300,000 people and we have 800 kilometres of bike lanes and it’s the most bike-able city in France. If we compare it to Paris, there are less kilometres of bike lanes in that city, which is 10 times the size of Strasbourg, so of course, it’s more secure to ride a bicycle in Strasbourg and everybody’s using this way of transportation. We have 20 times more bike users compared to that in Paris.
5. Do WE HAVE a unique opportunity and THE time, right now, to test giving more infrastructure to micromobility?
Yes, it’s a very big question I think, it’s a very complicated question and after the pandemic there are a lot of possible scenarios because we don’t know yet what will happen. Shared micromobility will have a big boost because it’s a super safe and a super nice way to move around the city and a secure one. We can also have a big boost for the usage of the personal car because it’s also actually a very secure way to the move around city because you’re alone and you don’t have any influence from outside. That could also mean a big return to the private car.
The car is still a good way to move around the city and a lot of people just have to use the car as we are not all able to use the bicycles or shared scooters, so we need to be sure that everybody has a way to move around the city according to what they need and according to what they can do. To answer, how can we secure the usage? Well, maybe we can also allow bicycles to move more with the buses and allow the user to use the bus lane for a bicycle lane. I don’t know, I’m just giving some ideas for the brainstorm but obviously I don’t have the obvious answer for that, but we can follow through with these changes and keep open the new bike lanes for many years. I think this trend will follow for sure, but how will the Pandemic impact it? I don’t know. I hope it will have some good impact but I don’t think that all roads will be closed because we still need cars right now.
I think there is a wishful thinking in the urban planner space – now that we’ve shown people what it looks like – with less cars and more space for bikes and walking and it’s safer – then people will like that.
Yes, that’s a good thing. Well it’s a complicated behavior change. It’s especially complicated when you have the choice between your personal car and a bike that somebody used just before you. Maybe for security reasons you will choose the personal car because it’s safer but if all shared mobility actors will play the game about disinfecting and using antibacterial grip or something like that, it will definitely help to to increase the usage.
6. What can do to create a mode shift in people?
To answer this question, I might take the natural approach. I know exactly what we cannot do – the worst thing to do now is to jump into ‘experimentation’. I’ve seen a lot of cities and a lot of public policy guys who think that by installing 50 bicycles for a city of three million people will be enough to test the concept. They’re like ‘hey, we have 50 bikes, you’re one million people and you will have the service for three months and if you use it we will deploy it more.’ This is something that never works because obviously people will not change their behavior because there is maybe one bike they will get if they wake up early. This is something that I think we need to change because a lot of people invest tons of money on experimentation and they never work, they fail and they are never pushed far enough to show they can be successful.
In my opinion, what we need is definitely to think big and use good examples, which we can see already in different cities. For example, take the city of Paris which closes the Seine, the river side, for the cars and only allows bicycles. Maybe a massive deployment of bicycle sharing services like we’ve seen in Mexico or all these good examples, where we can see it actually get some impact. Public participation is very important and again infrastructure is king, if we don’t have enough bike lanes and people don’t feel secure to ride in the city with a bicycle or with a scooter they will not do it because in some places it is just crazy. When I was in New York a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine going on a street in New York on a bicycle, with no helmet. You don’t feel secure even though I’ve ridden bicycles for years.
7. what would do you think is good length of time to run a pilot?
I would say one year and a half years, with two good summer periods, because I’m talking especially about the micromobility and you need the time to test it in summer when it’s better used. The first summer people get used to it, to just discover and the second they get fully used to it. I would not call it ‘a pilot.’ When you call something a pilot, it may never return. It should be called ‘the new way of mobility in the city.’ Maybe you can call it piloting and testing and we need your return, but just don’t put it on the title. We’ve had some tests in small communities around Paris which lasted only three months and that was it. The program that was designed for just a three months test and they never had the next step. We never thought about what will be next. What will be the strategy afterwards to keep it. We were just testing then just took out the material, that was it. It was the most shocking example for me. Okay, we got some contracts but that was it.
8. If you could make one wish right now, for the post pandemic mobility industry, what would it be?
I have a crazy answer and then I have a normal answer. For the crazy answer, I’ve been really waiting for the drone taxis and I’m really waiting for the flying cars. For sure, it’s something we will see in the foreseeable future and it will come. It doesn’t have anything to do with the pandemic but if we are talking about tomorrow, after the pandemic, I really think and my belief is, that public sector should take more responsibility with shared mobility, buses, metro, cars, bicycles and scooters, because all of them are the brakes for the city, which is moving in a good way, and it’s not fair that some part of it is just in private hands. We need to integrate it all into the one instrument.
We can talk about MaaS, it is something that we all want to have and without the public control, without the public investment, it wouldn’t happen. So, it’s something I talk a lot about, this is integrating to two sectors and recognizing that they’re both providing an essential service and so giving them kind of the same measuring sticks instead of being completely different. We’re not competing. It’s completely crazy – we don’t have to put cars, scooters and bicycles in the same competition They are all the answer to the same need, for the person to move from point A to point B, and we need to make it in the most efficient way, which is most suitable to this exact person, at this exact moment. If I’m just going to work, I take the scooter and if I’m getting groceries, of course I need a car. We don’t need to make these modes of transportation fight, we just need to make people understand why these ways are more efficient.
What are your thoughts on the future of shared mobility and what developments are to be expected in 2020? If you would like to be interviewed or to nominate a woman working in Shared Mobility for our next series, get in touch with us here.