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2022 in Review: Instant Delivery, Transit, Electric Vans, Parking Reform
Curb Management Scoops up Big Bucks
2022 was a momentous year, both on and off the curb. As the world moved away from lockdowns and social distancing, new trends emerged, while other slowly-simmering developments crystallized or fell back. Here were some of the biggest changes to the curb economy in 2022:
Instant Delivery Falters
Instant delivery, ultra-fast delivery, 15-minute delivery… this segment seemed to have as many names as it did billions in VC backing at the start of the year. In March, JOKR Co-Founder Aspa Leka took to the Curbivore stage with VC Turner Novak (whose firm also backed Canada’s Tiggy) to expound on their world-conquering vision. Now the company, which had raised hundreds of millions of dollars and planted its flag in cities as varied as Boston, Warsaw and Medellin, has retrenched to a handful of low labor cost LatAm markets. Other competitors have been even less lucky; once upon a time an enterprising consumer could live off of promo-code driven free meals from the likes of Fridge No More, 1520, Gorillas, Buyk, Weezy, Voly, Skump, and Cajoo - all of which have either folded or been gobbled up by an even faster firm. (And yes, I made up one of those names, but the rest are real…)
This consolidation makes sense, given the commoditized nature of their products; it’ll be interesting to see if eventually even Getir and Gopuff tie-up. We’re also relatively bullish on operators like Duffl; concentrating on homogenous and dense communities like college campuses means fewer SKUs and a smaller delivery radius.
Transit Comes Back
Across the globe, transit systems saw riders return, as more and more office workers headed back to an actual office. While some European and Asian cities now see ridership numbers similar to their pre-pandemic days, America’s metro systems have been slower to recover. But while ridership may be down (especially in SF and NYC,) long overdue expansions - many of which had been delayed by Covid lockdowns - are finally open. Regions as varied as DC, the Inland Empire, Boston, LA, SF, and Tempe added rail service. And even more ambitious projects opened abroad, including London’s transformative Elizabeth Line. Expect a continued growth in public transit, as ILJA, ARPA and IRA cash gets turned into infrastructural steel and concrete (and of course - EVs / charging stations.) If congress weren’t divided, new bills like Rep. Cori Bush’s Bus Rapid Transit Act and Light Rail Transit Act could mean even more funding, but don’t hold your breath for those.
Parking Minimums Start to Fall
Building transit is one thing, but it will only be so effective if we still forcibly bundle car parking into every new apartment, office, and retail complex. That’s why it’s been so encouraging to see cities finally start to heed the call of Dr. Shoup and get rid of parking minimums - instead allowing developers to choose the number of spots they think are necessary for a new building. Cities as small as Culver City, as large as San Jose, and as cold as Anchorage have rewritten their codes to allow for more cost-effective and sustainable development. And California also took a whack at parking minimums near transit, on a statewide basis.
Discussing the developments with Parking Reform Network’s Tony Jordan, he added “It’s clear that parking reform is no longer just happening in stereotypical places like Portland, the SF Bay Area, and Minneapolis. When Anchorage, Lexington, and Gainesville eliminate their mandates it sends a signal to their peer cities that these reforms are mainstream. Of course, the vanguard is still active, Portland and the Bay Area anchored this year’s statewide reforms in California and Oregon and it will be very exciting to see dozens of new case studies come out of those states in the coming years.” The real test will be what happens next: while less off-street parking means more foot traffic and livelier cities, it could make the battle for on-street parking even more contentious. Cities will need to show courage when loud suburbanites show up with pitchforks demanding that parklets and streateries get turned back into car storage.
With restaurants fully reopened and folks no longer holed up in their houses, there was some fear at the beginning of the year that consumers would abandon delivery as a means for getting food and goods. Instead, those pandemic-driven habits seem permanent, as the industry has stabilized. Grocery delivery is flat YoY (although meal kits are struggling) while the major restaurant delivery apps are still showing growth. But with the torrential expansion of 2020 and 2021 behind us, players will need to get creative to keep growing sales. On the grocery side, that explains why Kroger and Albertsons want to consummate; on the restaurant side - expect offerings from the like of Virtual Dining Concepts, Nextbite, Kitchen United, and C3 to be even more important as operators look for new revenue streams to unlock. And of course e-commerce is still putting ever more delivery vans on the road.
Vans Get Electric
Speaking of vans, 2022 felt like the year that electrification finally hit its full stride. Just this week, USPS announced a more aggressive plan to deploy 66,000 electric delivery vans by 2028. And in an encouraging sign for the industry, the rationale wasn’t just environmental benefits, but a lower lifetime operating cost - something even the most revanchist of business operators can’t ignore. Amazon also saw its fleet of electric Rivians start to make its mark, while other deliverers turned to the likes of BrightDrop, Xos, Cenntro and more. What’s even more exciting about the electrification of delivery is the explosion of form factors it supports: look out for more urban-friendly vehicles from the likes of Waev, Nimbus, XOTO, ElectraMeccanica, and Arcimoto (many of which will be on display at Curbivore 2023,) not to mention couriers lighting up the streets on ebikes and scooters.
Here’s to 2023
While 2022 was full of change, we’re even more excited about what’s in store for next year. From the public to private sectors - great minds are coming together to rethink commerce on the curb. And of course if you want to take a glimpse at that future, and meet some of its movers and shakers - we hope you’ll join us in March for Curbivore 2023.
🎶 SupercalifragilisticexpiAutomotus! Curb management pioneers Automotus just hauled in $9 million in fresh funding, with backers including CityRock Venture Partners, Quake Capital, and LACI. Expect to see even more cities get creative with loading zones and curb management in the year ahead.
How do you say “Amazon tax” in Catalan? Barcelona introduces a new tax on use of the public realm, which analysts expect will largely fall on Amazon and other large e-commerce players. While the funding is meant to offset the impacts of pollution and congestion, projections are for it to only raise €2.6 million per year.
Electrifying incentives: Changes to EV tax credits mean good news for Tesla and GM, whose vehicles will shortly qualify for $7,000 in subsidies. That money might be better spent on ebikes, however, as analysis of Denver’s voucher program shows the $400 rebate pushed users to replace 3.4 car trips per week.
Tri-state transit: New Jersey just agreed to hike Turnpike fares, with the cash going to fund a long-overdue overhaul of the train tunnels that connect the state to Manhattan. Things are looking less enlightened on the other side of the Hudson, as New York just approved an MTA budget that features fare hikes AND a budget deficit. Also on the table are service changes that would see frequency cut on Mondays and Fridays. That would be perhaps the most tangible manifestation of the phenomenon that The Economist recently coined “TWaT Cities” - business districts that are only busy on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Maybe the British shouldn’t allowed to make neologisms…
In robotaxi news… Cruise is offering college students - a group often thought to be trendsetters for the larger population - free rides in their automated cab service around San Francisco. Hopefully those kids have been slacking off on their risk management studies, as the NHTSA just opened a probe into the fleet’s behavior. Over in Phoenix, Waymo is expanding its downtown and airport driverless service.
Fifth Avenue or Fifth Highway? NYC officials are trying, yet again, to reimagine iconic Fifth Avenue. The famed shopping and culture street can feel a bit too auto-centric at times, so Mayor Adams is pushing to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists, transit, and the public realm as part of the city’s bid to get folks back into Midtown.
What a grinch… In a region famous for its street food, one mayor looks to be feeling particularly uncharitable around the holiday season. Santa Ana’s Valerie Amezcua just announced the shut down of 100 street vendors across her Orange County abode.
Next stop: free fares! Washington, D.C. shared plans to eliminate bus fares as soon as July. While this would be one of the largest cities to go fare free, it notably does not include the area’s subway system. Will more transit riders translate to more vibrant street life?
Santa’s little helper: The holidays naturally have all the big shippers maxed out. FedEx is looking to lighten its workers’ load with BrightDrop’s “Trace” electric carts. Other delivery workers aren’t so lucky, with many sharing their complaints, including how difficult it can be to find the right house when they’re all covered in holiday decor.
Get ready for Christmas ‘24: Holiday travel is never a joy, especially given America’s overtaxed airports and anemic transit systems. Angelenos can at least look forward to a slightly improved situation in 2024, as officials share welcome progress at the new intermodal station set to link LAX’s under construction people mover with myriad Metro lines.
Birds fly together: Micromobility pioneer Bird received a welcome lifeline from a familiar flock: Bird! Confusing nomenclature aside, Bird Canada (a wholly independent company) is expected to merge with Bird Global (the original American organization that also operates in other global locales) and throw some fresh cash in for good measure. Bird Canada has notably managed to achieve profitability in its home turf, so the hope is that applying that operational discipline to territories with less severe seasonality will keep the shared scooter biz afloat.
LA County issues first “unicorn license.” (And no, not the startup kind of unicorn.) If only permits for food vending were this easy to come by…
Holiday lights and links: Santa Barbarans have fun with Google Maps - make Little Caesars the best reviewed restaurant in town. Portland takes a bite out of REEF. So much for the chip shortage… You’ll be able to bike from Berkeley to SF in 2030. Ordering a “nothing burger” from McDonald’s. Nike’s D2C push is paying dividends. On the economics of the curb. Taxis hacked! The story of mall Santas.
The Curbivore will be taking a holiday break from publication; see you in 2023!
- Jonah Bliss & The Curbivore Crew