How micromobility startups can win permits and influence cities

Learn how IoT can help micromobility operators win more city permits and gain market share.

Camden Gaspar article author avatarCamden GasparSeptember 02, 2021
How micromobility startups can win permits and influence cities

It’s no secret that regulatory compliance is top of mind for shared escooter and ebike companies these days. Micromobility operators are competing intensely to win a shrinking number of city permits, and trying to stand out based on their equity, sustainability, accessibility, efficiency, and safety records.

In a webinar with Micromobility Industries, Particle’s Chief Revenue Officer Rinus Strydom joined Avra Van Der Zee, VP of Strategy and Policy at Superpedestrian, and Dana Bacharach, Senior Business Development Manager at Ride Report to discuss how IoT can help micromobility operators win more city permits. As discussed, IoT plays a major role in helping operators collaborate and partner with cities and help mutually advance key transportation goals.

Watch the full webinar recording to learn how Particle’s IoT solution makes it possible to get to market faster and help operators partner with cities here: How Micromobility Startups Win Permits and Influence Cities webinar.

Why Micromobility Success Starts with IoT

With early shared micromobility operators, there were two key requirements. One is the speed to market and the second is being able to provide consistent data to the cities they operated in.

“When it comes to data, oftentimes, what we heard from operators that had tried and failed to build their own IoT solutions, was that they had a lot of anomalies in their data,” said Rinus Strydom, Chief Revenue Officer at Particle.

“When they had all these anomalies, they needed to go in and selectively delete them. The cities hate that because that affects their revenue, but they’re also not getting information on those deleted data sets,” he added.

IoT presents great opportunities for operators and cities alike, but there are some major challenges that have made IoT adoption difficult so far.

“If you’re doing a do-it-yourself IoT project, you’re typically having to deal with 20 different vendors – all of the hardware components, the cloud aspects, global cellular coverage, etc.,” Rinus said. “Operators have to cobble all of that together, get it certified, and hope that all those 20 different vendors work together correctly.”

The big problem for city transportation managers is that so many different operators are vying for permits, and each one comes with its own tech stacks and data structures. For cities, the task of making the data among operators consistent and valuable is extremely difficult.

That’s why Particle has spent the last decade building an IoT solution that can be easily integrated with micromobility vehicles so that operators can get to market faster without compromising on data quality.

Particle has consistently worked with many micromobility manufacturers and operators around the world, since the onset of the shared micromobility explosion in 2018, and has developed expertise in this market. It has designed its micromobility solution in a way allows for consistent data structures at the vehicle level that can easily be mapped to the Mobility Data Specification

But collecting reliable trip and user data has always been a pain point for micromobility operators. Vehicles that rely solely on GPS data often return invalid trip data. For example, riders who drive through Urban Canyons – routes that are between tall buildings – often lose location data because of connectivity issues. This causes friction between cities and operators because cities often use trip data to calculate revenue. 

Particle’s micromobility-specific IoT solution uses Location Fusion, which triangulates GPS, cellular Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth signals, to provide the most accurate location data irrespective of where the vehicle moves. This provides operators a much more consistent stream of data from riders in dense parts of cities, with fewer anomalies. 

“When I talk to people in the industry who are deploying Particle, they all said that the last thing they want to do is try to build connected vehicles themselves,” Oliver Bruce, Podcast Host at Micromobility Industries, said. “You end up with a high cost per vehicle. And if you don’t do it right, you lose the data. It’s not something operators should be doing themselves.”

What Do Cities Want Out of Micromobility?

City planners and leaders have ambitious goals around transportation. All over the world, people are moving into cities and suburbs at a rapid pace. This is straining infrastructure and leading to a host of issues, such as pollution, congestion, noise, safety, and equitable access. 

When bringing in new modes of transportation, cities don’t just want to give permits out to anyone. They want to bring in operators that can help them reach their goals. 

“Policymakers have a laundry list of areas they care about, like livability, equity, sustainability, data security and privacy, and safety,” Dana Bacharach, Senior Business Development Manager at Ride Report said. “Oftentimes they have 2035 or 2050 plans they’re trying to meet to achieve their goals, and they’re trying to see how micromobility fits in.”

Operators who can help cities meet those goals will win permits and gain market share. 

Micromobility is a key tool for cities, but Dana noted that it’s still a polarizing subject for cities across the world that felt burned by early ride sharing and micromobility providers.

“In the early days of Uber and Lyft, the way they came onto the streets really took cities by surprise,” she said. “It was really difficult, and I think it eroded a lot of trust between shared mobility operators and cities themselves.”

Early shared mobility startups like Lime and Bird took to the streets in a similar fashion. Flush with VC cash, they deployed hundreds, if not thousands, of their dockless bikes and scooters onto unsuspecting city streets. 

They were popular, which showed there was demand for these services, but the laissez-faire deployment caused frustration on the part of city residents who felt they were cluttering sidewalks and causing people to ride in an unsafe manner. This led to heavy-handed bans of micromobility operators.

While many cities are loosening those restrictions and trying to work with operators, there’s still work to be done. 

“One example is Toronto is keeping e-scooters illegal even though that’s one of the markets that I think could be the next Paris or New York. It’s because it is still so polarizing,” Dana said. “And so I think cities are being very careful in the way they craft their messaging around micromobility programs and around the policies that micromobility will help reach.”

New micromobility operators have a chance to rewrite the narrative around their business models. By using higher-quality vehicles outfitted with technology that ensures safe, sustainable, and equitable usage, operators can become a vital part of any city’s transportation mix. Higher fidelity trip and user data, along with the features that connectivity enables, will make it easier for city officials to justify investments in micromobility infrastructure and operation.

Cities Are Using Data to Keep Score

Cities are using micromobility data to drive initiatives around transportation equity, safety, sustainability, security, and planning. But how are they using that data to make decisions about which operators to award permits to? How can operators set themselves up for success?

According to Avra Van Der Zee, VP of Strategy and Policy at Superpedestrian, the best go-to-market strategy is one where operators can deliver on promises to help cities with their initiatives. That means having the data to prove results.

“You’re seeing a host of new mechanisms to ensure compliance. You’re seeing scoring criteria and permits that look at the operators’ track records,” Avra said. “That transparency is powerful. We’re seeing audit mechanisms built into the operation of a permit.”

Avra gave the example of Seattle, which uses data to levy fines against non-compliant operators. Many compliance issues are tracked using vehicle data, which is more reliable now due to advances in IoT technology.

“It’s taking it a step further into detection and enforcement against rider actions in real-time,” Avra said. “Innovation will help in the sense that cities and operators won’t just know what a vehicle is doing, but they’ll also be able to take immediate action to stop misbehaviors like speeding or going the wrong way down a one-way street.”

Over-The-Air Updates = An Operator’s Competitive Advantage

As the micromobility industry continues its growth, competition between operators for a limited set of permits means that operators need to find competitive advantages wherever possible. One advantage is reliable over-the-air updates for vehicle fleets.

As regulatory requirements for micromobility constantly change, operators need to be agile in pushing updates to their vehicles. For example, if city officials want to lower the speed limit for shared mobility vehicles in a given area, operators will need to ensure the vehicles can be automatically slowed to that limit. 

Rather than taking the vehicles offline to push updates, over-the-air updates allow operators to make changes in real-time without costly disruptions

“For us, we’ve got customers that have hundreds or thousands of IoT units in their fleets, and they typically do the over-the-air updates. Each wave can be a couple of hours and then it’s completely and reliably done,” Rinus said. 

Low-cost IoT platforms or those that are cobbled together with different vendors can lead to unreliable over-the-air updates for fleets. Rinus shared the story of an operator that used an inexpensive IoT platform. When they tried to push updates over the air, the system had a major outage. The operator’s fleet ended up being offline for over two months while they tried to find a fix.

“One of the things that Particle focuses on for over 250 customers is making sure that for everything done, there’s a digital twin,” Rinus said. “For example, if a device or a vehicle is offline, for whatever reason, when it comes back online, then it can update the data from the OTA update.”

IoT Security for Micromobility Operators

Oliver shared that he typically recommends that operators look for manufacturers and vendors that are plugged into a global solution. 

“That generally helps with standardization. You benefit from the learnings of every other city,” Oliver said. 

This is especially true when it comes to data security. What kind of role can a provider like Particle play in ensuring micromobility operators maintain proper data security?

Rinus made the analogy to Salesforce. In its early days, Salesforce launched with its concept of being a cloud-based Customer Relationship Management software that didn’t require companies to have on-premise software. 

At first, companies were scared of the idea of entrusting data security to a third-party provider. But today, as Rinus pointed out, the idea of having on-premise software is almost entirely antiquated. Providers like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud are best-of-breed when it comes to security, and major organizations trust them.

“It’s the same kind of paradigm shift in micromobility,” Rinus said. “Particle handles data for 250 customers, each with hundreds or thousands of units in their fleets. We’re often transferring data at scale, usually to an AWS or Google Cloud instance. We’re able to do it with everything you need to be fully secure – SoC1 and SoC2 compliance, regular data security audits, etc. It’s so much more secure than what most micromobility operators could do on their own.”

Micromobility operators and manufacturers can’t ignore the advancements in IoT that will make their success possible. Speak with a micromobility IoT expert at Particle today and see how we can help you win city permits and expand into new markets more easily.