Telework Jump Starts E- Bikes: The Network Effect
For my entire career I have studied the convergence of transportation and telecommunications……..
In March and April bike stores were able to stay open as an essential business. Now that the economy is reopening, they are more essential than ever.
Reprinted from Marin Independent Journal, 7/1/2020 (link) (including photo credit: S. LaVars)
Here in Marin, bicycles offer a three-fold benefit. We can reduce traffic congestion, improve our health and fitness, and be responsible stewards of the environment.
Telework, the act of working remotely away from an office, and other tele-activities flourished during the lockdown because of a phenomenon known as network effects. Like an old-fashion telephone, a device or activity gets more valuable as more people use it. Telework began to replace the need for in-person meetings as more people jumped online.
Network Effect : Cycling and Telework
A similar network effect occurred with cycling. During the lockdown, teleworkers needed to get out of their homes and keep physically fit. As more people rode bikes, new riders joined in, and there were fewer cars, and safer roads.
To their surprise, they also discovered that electric bicycles had become lighter and more efficient. During the lockdown a modern electric bike could be used to run errands and replace vehicle trips. It’s a no-brainer: The National Household Travel Survey reports that 35% of car trips in the United States are two miles or shorter and half of all driving trips are shorter than 10 miles.
Meanwhile, a number of cities repurposed streets for pedestrians and bicycles. Until the lockdown, traffic engineers often lacked the political support but they quickly responded with cones, flexible posts, and paint. Since March at least 20 American cities reduced vehicle lanes and created separated bicycle lanes.
That’s important: A national study by Portland State University researchers found that at least half the adult population wants to ride a bicycle more, but resists because of safety concerns.
Looking toward recovery, teleworking is not a perfect substitute for daily commutes and electric bikes will not replace all of our transportation needs. However, both can do double duty, particularly as commuters shun public transportation. COVID-19 has given a jump start to both telework and the electric bicycle.
How do we maintain it as Marin County reopens? The focus must be on climate change, safe commutes and the new economy.
During one week in April, the United States cut its carbon dioxide levels by about one-third. In Marin we have some of the world’s strongest climate warriors and an unprecedented opportunity to set an example. Our mobility challenge is to showcase that cycling is not just for weekends or recreation.
There is heightened concern about using public transportation to get to work. Electric bikes are a viable alternative as the total daily miles for those who live and work in Marin is just 17 miles. Long-distance commuters will need a quick sprint for the last few miles from the Larkspur ferry or the SMART train station.
Welcome to New Opportunities
Both telework and electric bicycles will play an outsized role as households cut back expenses and live simpler. It’s more than being frugal and reducing the need for a second household auto. It’s about priorities and a longer term shift of the economy.
Advancements in telecommunications speeds up the profound technological change of an internet economy. The trend to shop online was already in progress before the lockdown. Three years ago, the Household Travel Survey reported one-third fewer trips for shopping and errands, compared to 1995. Today, many of us go to stores less and run errands differently.
Bicycles are the beneficiaries of this sea change. The more time spent in virtual, electronic worlds, the more time people need to keep physically and mentally fit. Until now, gyms and fitness centers have been an antidote, with their lock-in memberships. Fortunately, electric bikes don’t require new riders to be in the best of shape to confer meaningful health and fitness benefits. And, all types of riders can join in — moms with kids, the elderly and even the physically disabled.
We all wish to create better opportunities when communities reopen. For that reason, both telework and electric bicycles will be high on everyone’s list. Telework arrived first, but the electric bicycle will not be far behind. These network effects change how we think about essential issues and rewire our habits in ways that seemed impossible, just two months ago.
Jane Gould, of Tiburon, is a researcher and founder of DearSmartphone.com, an interactive site that explores how smartphones change our travel behaviors and daily routines.