The Future of Mobility Takes a Surprise Turn


While so many of us have focused on the transformative possibilities of driverless vehicles, a much simpler technology has popped up and begun to reshape transportation in cities, with lots of potential implications for insurance. The technology is what the experts are calling "micromobility" and what the rest of us know simply as scooters.

The technology isn't totally under the radar, of course. When a scooter-sharing startup like Bird raises capital at a valuation of $2 billion, people notice. But I'm not sure that the threats and opportunities of scooters are being understood just yet. There certainly seemed to be a lot of surprise when the Washington Post last week published   an article about the number of people who are ending up in the emergency room following scooter accidents.

They would seem to come with the territory. You have people buzzing down sidewalks at 15mph (and Bird is, unwisely, in my opinion, lobbying against laws that would require helmets) or venturing into streets, where they have to engage with vehicles with a lot more mass and steel protection than the scooters provide. But, so far, people seem to be focusing on the novelty, not the implications.

In the short term, we need to figure out what insurance, if any, covers those in these accidents and whether there are opportunities to sell new forms, as some are doing for Uber/Lyft/Didi drivers and Airbnb hosts. We also need to help find ways to reduce risk. (Hint to Bird: helmets.)

The longer term gets even more interesting if you believe, as I do, that transportation in cities can be rethought from the ground up over the next 10 to 15 years. We accept these days that cars rule the road, but that's only been true for about a century. Through the 1910s, at least, horses, people and carts all shared city streets and only gradually gave way to these loud, smelly, metal contraptions that carried people around. We could well return to a mixed-used environment, with an overlay of information technology that optimizes for speed, convenience, cost, energy use, pollution and many other factors. That environment would be so different that the risks would change considerably, and the insurance and risk management would need to, too.

My working hypothesis is that cities will become bigger and more vibrant, with many more people choosing to live in them. Space will be freed up because driverless cars will so greatly reduce the need for parking, including on streets, and cities can be thoughtful about how to redeploy public thoroughfares among driverless vehicles, mass transit, pedestrians, bikes and scooters, using all sorts of sensors and cameras to manage flow and safety digitally. Today, the first-mile problem (how to get people and goods to mass transit) and the last-mile problem (how to get them to their final destination) are complex, but the problems should yield to a bunch of smart thinking over time both for city dwellers and for those who choose to live in suburbs or even more remote areas.

That's just a hypothesis, of course. As always, I recommend you Think Big, Start Small and Learn Fast so you can find out what the future will actually hold. The time to engage on the mobility transformation is now, but you can do so by testing big ideas in limited, inexpensive ways and only invest real money when an opportunity is clear.

Let us know if we can help with your innovation efforts. In the meantime, you might want to join our discussion in the group, "Inventing the Future of Risk Management and Insurance," on our Innovator's Edge platform. If you haven't already registered on the platform, just   click here. (Registering is free and quick.) Once you're registered,   click here  to join the robust discussion on mobility and a host of other topics.

Have a great week. 

Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll

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Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.