Like all technology, global patterns of mobility vary greatly and are often influenced by legislation, market forces, and cultural expectations. The technology surrounding mobility is changing rapidly across the globe, such as the explosion of shared bike systems and dockless shared bikes being used throughout Asia now coming to the United States, at times even contributing to social concerns like “bike pollution.” In addition, Japan is known for dense public transportation with a complex subway network and the safe and punctual Shinkansen trains, which remarkably have had no injuries in the past 50 years, and operate with an average delay of only 50 seconds per 200,000 trips. This evolution of public transportation can be explained with social context: companies cover the commuting expense, thus reducing the incentive to live close to the city, thereby avoiding the congestion. Even with these varied trends, we still see patterns of technology adapting to the local context, and it’s valuable to learn from one another as we build a more sustainable future.
To explore future mobility modes, the City Science group is working with Media Lab member company Panasonic to explore the use and potential adaptations of the popular MamaChari bikes. Like other mobility modes, the MamaChari bikes have developed and adapted over the past decades. Bikes for women first became popular during Japan’s economic boom in the 1980s, when many households had one income, and women were encouraged to stay home and take care of their children. Women used bikes to quickly navigate their cities and make frequent trips to shops and schools, kids in tow. Even as women gradually entered the workforce in the 90s and 00s, the stereotype of the Japanese biking woman remained. By 2008 electric-assist bikes were introduced to the market, and again they targeted women with children as the primary users. Today, MamaChari bikes are stable, secure, and ubiquitous in Japan, but they have yet to enter other global markets.
Previous work in the City Science group includes the PEV (Persuasive Electronic Vehicle), a lightweight autonomous tricycle which can operate in bike lanes, and works well in solutions for dense urban areas. The PEV, like an electric-assist bike, acknowledges a future where urban areas will continue to increase in density. This rapid urbanization causes a need for new mobility modes which may not be totally dependent on cars. We can observe this demand in Japan, where in the dense metropolitan areas, 20% of the households with more than two people now own an e-assist bike, much higher than the country average of 3%.