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Looking Back: Lessons from Milton Keynes
January 21, 2021
When we first launched e-scooters in Milton Keynes in August 2020, we were optimistic about bringing shared micromobility to the local community. Milton Keynes would be one of the first cities in the country to kick-off a trial of e-scooters, and it would also become Spin’s first city in the UK. Among various other reasons, we were particularly excited to be working with a local authority whose leaders have a strong history of embracing responsible innovation and a deep commitment to building a more sustainable future.
The trial in Milton Keynes, however, surpassed even our most optimistic expectations.
By the end of September 2020, a combination of residents and visitors had already taken more than 30,000 e-scooter rides. Many regular riders were increasingly opting to ride e-scooters rather than getting around by car or other less sustainable modes of transport. And throughout the early months of the trial, we continued to work closely with local officials and community members to ensure our operations ran smoothly and safely on the ground for everyone using the road.
As Spin continues to expand our community-centered services to other towns and cities in the UK and beyond, the lessons we’ve learned in Milton Keynes will certainly be relevant and brought to bear elsewhere. Ultimately the effectiveness of our approach is best summed up by the satisfaction expressed by our local authority partners and riders. In this regard, Milton Keynes has proven to be a clear demonstration of how Spin lives up to its core values and strives to meaningfully deliver on its broad range of local commitments.
The Spin Approach
What exactly is the Spin approach?
To start, our partnership promise remains at the foundation of everything we do. This deeply-rooted commitment means we only launch and operate with permission, and we design our service to meet the specific needs and priorities of our local authority partners.
We are committed to true sustainability; we recently began the ambitious undertaking of becoming a carbon negative company by 2025 with our UK operations playing a leading role.
We believe in the power of smart regulation; rather than take an adversarial approach, we endeavour to work with local authorities and cities to design trials with effective accountability and compliance metrics that reward good behaviour and positive outcomes.
Spin is committed to investing in the local community by hiring employees (full-time and hourly workers), not “gig-workers” or independent contractors. We understand that investments in our workforce (e.g. upholding a local Living Wage pledge and fairly compensating all team members) go hand-in-hand with delivering a high-quality e-scooter service. That’s why Spin uses in-house employees who are properly trained to operate, repair, and coordinate our fleets, which in turn creates stable jobs in the cities where we operate.
With its robust network of high-quality foot-and-cycle paths, a strong history of embracing responsible innovation, and a commitment to becoming a leader in sustainability, the city of about 270,000 people located a half-hour train ride north of London turned out to be the ideal partner for our first UK launch. Let’s break down a few key elements that define Spin’s approach in Milton Keynes to see why this partnership has proven to be so successful.
I. Safety First
From the beginning, the local Council made it very clear that safety was paramount.
Based on our significant operating experience, we recognise that first impressions matter. So, in Milton Keynes, we made a point to launch our service with only 60 e-scooters to start. This was done out of an abundance of caution, even before such limited scale launches became the preferred standard in the UK. Over the next three months, as residents grew more accustomed to their presence and learned how to safely ride and park them, Spin gradually increased the number of e-scooters available to about 300 in total.
Critically, Spin’s decision to gradually expand our fleet was justified by growing ridership trends and customer demand.
As of this writing, over 46,000 rides on Spin e-scooters have been completed to date in Milton Keynes, with an average rate of five rides per vehicle per day at its peak during spells of warmer weather.
Alongside the steady growth of the trial, Spin purposefully engaged folks via multiple avenues to encourage safe riding and educate riders on the rules of the road. A few examples include:
Whenever someone gets on a Spin e-scooter for the first time, that person must pass an in-app safety test before they ride. This locally-tailored test is based on trial rules, Department for Transport (DfT) guidelines, and priorities designed in concert with our local authority partners.
Spin distributed free helmets to those who either attended an in-person safety event, or completed our in-app safety survey. Riders are also always able to access Spin Safe Digital, our online learning education centre, whenever they need a refresher.
Spin e-scooters were set with a maximum speed limit in Milton Keynes of 15 mph. We also introduced additional safety measures, including in-app marked parking zones and slow-down zones (maximum 10 mph) in dense pedestrian areas, such as outside Milton Keynes Central station.
In response to COVID-19, Spin also added anti-bacterial handlebars, combined with a thorough disinfection regime for every time our e-scooters are brought to our warehouse to recharge. Before starting a trip, riders are also encouraged to wash their hands before and after use, maintain their distance from other riders, and wear a mask at all times.
To help spread awareness of the rules of the road, Spin partnered with JCDecaux to promote safe riding in their public kiosks.
Our attention to safety also extends to the day-to-day “behind the scenes” work in our warehouses and daily deployments of e-scooters. We greatly enhanced our sanitisation and safety protocols and even created a new, designated COVID-19 task force to monitor Public Health England guidelines and establish new procedures based on up-to-date guidance. Additionally, Spin requires all of our employees to wear personal protective equipment including gloves, face shields or safety glasses and cloth masks.
So what were the measurable results of our locally-tailored safety efforts?
When we recently surveyed riders in November 2020, a whopping 93 percent said they felt confident that they understood the rules for riding and parking. And 90 percent of respondents said they felt either somewhat safe or very safe when riding a Spin e-scooter.
The data in terms of public safety is equally impressive. Over the last six months, we had only one reported injury incident out of over 46,790 rides or 71,850 miles (total distance traveled) in Milton Keynes. While certainly even a single injury is too much, we believe our comprehensive approach to rider education, public engagement (e.g. free helmet distribution and rider training events), and enforceable in-app safety measures (e.g. reduced maximum speed / no park zones) reliably leads to improved public safety outcomes.
II. Learning Through Listening
Throughout the trial in Milton Keynes, Spin has worked closely with the Council and members of the community by participating in our monthly Stakeholder Advisory Group meeting. This public forum has enabled us to understand in real time how to best improve and meet the changing needs of the community as the trial unfolded.
As we intended, this meant making some adjustments in response to informed feedback from local residents.
As Brian Matthews put it:
“Of course, we encountered some initial growing pains as expected. While we have received a low number of complaints from residents, we have worked with Spin to introduce some additional measures, including in-app marked parking zones and a slow-down zone (to 10mph) in the pedestrian area outside Milton Keynes Central station.”
Beyond our standard parking enforcement measures, such as requiring all riders to take a picture to verify their vehicle is properly parked at the end of their ride, Spin took the added step of establishing defined parking zones in Milton Keynes. In collaboration with the Council, we determined exactly where scooters can and cannot be parked and then enforced this using geofencing technology (via GPS). This approach quickly alerts users if they attempt to park in an out of bounds area (e.g. a “no go” or “no ride” zone) and also prohibits them from ending their trip in unapproved locations.
In Milton Keynes, Spin also combined these in-app virtual parking zones with additional financial incentives, such as offering riders 50p off their next ride if they parked in a designated area (e.g. near the Milton Keynes Central Station). By implementing this approach completely within the Spin app, this light-touch method allows for flexibility should the need for additional parking zones or other related needs (e.g. slow/no-ride zones) change over time.
In several other cities, Spin has also installed dual-purpose parking and charging hubs (i.e. docking stations) to address the potential for pavement clutter and to reduce carbon emissions that stem from daily recharging and deployment operations.
Spin Hubs in other cities help keep sidewalks clear and give riders a clear place to park — and charge — scooters at the end of their rides.
Spin Hubs also offer a twofold benefit for riders: 1) they provide a visible spot to park and pick up e-scooters; and 2) they efficiently charge e-scooters and ensure reliable availability. For our local authority partners, Spin Hubs likewise provide a valuable addition to dense urban environments and help address valid concerns that improperly-parked e-scooters can pose a hazard to and block access for other people using the sidewalks.
With these clear benefits in mind, we are currently looking at the possibility of installing a Spin Hub at the train station in Milton Keynes in the near future. This will be a suitable location to demonstrate the added value of Hubs, given the high levels of ridership to and from this area.
III. Changing the way people get around
The availability of e-scooters as a personal transport option in Milton Keynes is having a real impact on the goal of getting people out of cars and onto more sustainable modes.
Sixty three percent of people who responded to our November survey said they had used an e-scooter in place of a solo car trip. And 43 percent of people who responded said they would have used a car in place of their most recent trip, if our e-scooters were not available.
Our experience in Milton Keynes has set a high standard as we expand to other UK cities. While we appreciate that every community is unique, our partnership promise is about collaboration and flexibility. We look forward to deepening our partnership in Milton Keynes and bringing our values and the lessons we learned to other communities in the UK.