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Transportation

Ready or Not, Here Comes the Micromobility Revolution

At a Bay Area summit devoted to electric scooters and other new mobility devices, fans evangelized about the potential of technology. But safety was an afterthought.
Attendees of the 2019 Micromobility Conference put the pedal to the metal outside the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, California.
Attendees of the 2019 Micromobility Conference put the pedal to the metal outside the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, California.Courtesy of Micromobility Conference/Vin Chandra

Inside a luminous former factory on the Bay Area waterfront last week, software geeks, VCs, and sundry tech evangelizers zipped around on electric bikes, scooters, and hoverboards. Industry representatives from Jump, Spin, and Lyft hawked their compact transportation widgets. This was the Micromobility Conference, billed online as “an event focused on unbundling the car with lightweight electric vehicles.”

It wasn’t the world’s first summit for aficionados of tiny shared urban conveyances—one in Copenhagen in 2017 might have taken that honor. But the event’s historically resonant setting (an Albert Kahn-designed industrial space that once churned out military jeeps during World War II) and grandiose manifesto signaled a deeper seriousness than the toy-like transport devices might have implied. On the convention’s website, organizers characterized the conference as part of a movement to replace society’s dependence on the automobile with just about anything battery-powered and bike-lane-scaled. Such a shift promises be “a transformation that is not only virtuous but highly profitable.”