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How the mobility app Bolt is nudging users away from cars

Bolt, which offers ride-hailing, e-scooters, and e-bikes, wants to move short trips away from cars and toward those other mobility options, which could help cut urban emissions.

How the mobility app Bolt is nudging users away from cars
[Photo: courtesy Bolt]

If you pulled up the app for the Uber-like mobility platform Bolt in Stockholm or Oslo last year, you might have noticed it nudging you to use an electric scooter instead of ordering a ride for a car. The company partnered with Norway’s Institute of Transport Economics to test whether a simple change in the app could convince users to avoid a car trip and help cut urban emissions.

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[Photo: courtesy Bolt]
For a pilot in 10 European cities, when customers requested a ride for a short trip—less than 3 kilometers, or 1.9 miles—the app showed some users the nearest scooter, highlighted in green, as the second option on the screen. (Previously, if a user searched for rides, they would only see available drivers; and similarly, they would only see nearby scooters if they searched specifically for that option.) For those who saw the nudge, an average of 60% decided to shift from a car to a scooter ride, if the scooter was within 3 blocks.

[Image: Bolt]
Bolt has also tried to encourage electric cars to reduce pollution; in one market, for example, it reduced commission fees for drivers with EVs. It also buys carbon offsets for its ride-hailing trips in Europe. But the company, which also manages fleets of e-bikes along with scooters, wants to push for the use of fewer cars in general.

“When it comes to traffic congestion and cars occupying an enormous part of our city space, the only solution is to decrease the number of private cars on city streets,” Martin Villig, Bolt cofounder, said over email. “By converting shorter journeys into scooter rides, we want to show people there is an alternative to owning a private car in a city and the benefits that can have in making urban areas more people-friendly.”

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[Photo: courtesy Bolt]
In the U.S., studies have found that ride-hailing increases traffic, shrinks the number of people using public transportation, and hasn’t had much impact on car ownership, despite early arguments that Uber and Lyft might help reduce the number of cars on roads. But perhaps ride-hailing apps can help clean up the problem they’ve created. Based on the data from the study, Bolt plans to roll out new features on its app to “build better mobility habits” for its customers, Villig said. Other apps could do the same. When I look at a nearby location on Lyft, the option to walk—only 15 minutes away, and free—is hidden at the bottom of the list. The same is true for transit directions and e-bikes, which most users may never notice when they’re quickly trying to get a ride.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley

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