Policy

Micromobility Companies Must Partner with Cities to Increase Equitable Outcomes

By Josh Johnson, Public Policy Manager

Transportation is about access: access to jobs, services, healthy foods, health care, education, to all the things people need in order to reduce disparities and improve their quality of life. We recognize that it doesn’t matter if you are a public-sector or private-sector transportation service provider, people rely on the bus arriving on time, the bike being in the dock and operational, or the scooter being where you need it in the morning.

What lessons can we take away from how people, especially in underserved communities, have used our services in these past months? What can we do to help center equity in the service we provide? And as cities identify equity as a central planning principle, how can we help translate that into a reality within the broader transportation systems in which we operate?

With drastic transit service reductions, Spin coordinated with cities and transit agencies during COVID-19 to make scooters more readily available and accessible where they were needed to close vital transportation gaps. This was best exemplified in Detroit and San Francisco, where we worked with both cities to establish appropriate distribution levels of scooters in underserved areas, introduced new service models to increase reliability and made broader improvements to the usability and communication of our Spin Access program. These collaborations led to some encouraging results.

Increasing Deployments in Detroit’s Underserved Communities Led to a 225 Percent Increase in Trips Starting and Ending in these Communities

Let’s take Detroit for example. Prior to shelter in place (March 1 to March 22), on average Spin deployed 11 percent of its fleet to the outerlying districts in Detroit, which included underserved communities such as Brightmoor, Conant Gardens, Warrendale, University District and Rosedale Park.

In that pre-shelter in place period, trips to and from these neighborhoods resulted in six percent of overall trips. However, post-shelter in place Spin, as the only remaining scooter operator, quadrupled vehicle distribution in these districts and saw a 225 percent increase in the total number of trips (474 to 1,539) to and from these districts. This accounted for 40 percent of overall trips, and during that same period, Spin Access rides per day increased from an average of one trip per day to five trips per day.

Similar patterns hold true in other cities as well. In San Francisco, between January 10 and January 31, we distributed an average of 15 percent of our vehicles in communities of concern, including Mission, Western Addition, Bayview — Hunters Point, and SFSU Oceanview Balboa Park. The scooters in those areas accounted for six percent of overall trips.

Between April 24 to May 15 (during which time, we were the only micromobility provider still operating in the city), despite a decrease in our overall fleet by an average of roughly 100 vehicles, we still deployed about the same number of vehicles to these areas. Overall trips to and from those areas increased by 51 percent (from 1,869 to 2,820), which accounted for 16 percent of overall trips.

When we compare these two time periods, Spin Access trips increased by 518 percent (from 260 to 1,606) and daily average Spin Access users increased from six to 31.

While ridership generally decreased as cities established shelter in place orders, ridership in underserved areas and among Spin Access program users generally increased. These are people who may depend on access to micromobility for essential transportation, whether because transit service saw significant reductions, or they simply don’t have many other options available near them.

So, with that in mind, what can we learn from these past couple of months that can help us create a more equitable service?

Rethinking public-private partnerships to address transportation equity.

Working closely with the City of Detroit has allowed us to explore different service models aimed at expanded equitable access to mobility options. For essential workers living in Detroit, we’re partnering with the City, NextEnergy, and NUMO to provide subsidized monthly scooter rentals, at a cost of $2.50/month to riders. The program, open to employees of hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores, and manufacturing companies will proactively make this affordable transportation option more reliably available.

This is particularly important in Detroit where many of the workers this program aims to serve have been impacted by the need to restrict transit service as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As noted by Justin Snowden, Smart Mobility Strategist for the City of Detroit:

“Working with Spin through COVID-19 allowed us to focus on shifting scooter deployment to address transportation gaps that disproportionately affect low-income and underserved communities, which would have been nearly impossible to accomplish with multiple operators. In parallel, we partnered with Spin, Next Energy, NUMO, MoGo, and GM to create an innovative public-private partnership to address transportation equity, where 275 Detroiters working at hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies and in manufacturing will have affordable access to mobility services.”

Equity is a shared goal.

Many cities have required micromobility operators to provide discounts to low-income users, recognizing that transportation options need to be accessible. Public transit systems can keep fares low in large part thanks to subsidies from the local, state, and federal governments. We agree with the goal of providing accessible service through discounts and other programs, but how can cities provide regulatory frameworks that support these requirements and contribute to the overall sustainability of the service?

At the start of the pandemic, Portland recognized micromobility as an integral part of the city’s transportation system. And while people were encouraged to stay home whenever possible, transportation options still needed to be available for essential trips.

As a result, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) partnered with Spin to keep the cost of e-scooter rides down. For its part, PBOT reduced some of the administration fees and Spin, in turn, passed the savings to the riders. We were able to reduce scooter ride costs by nearly 50 percent. Additionally, PBOT increased the number of scooters we were allowed to have on the streets by 250 because of our support of the community.

We’ll take a closer look at the Portland partnership in a future post, but the outcomes were promising, and the PBOT model could provide a path forward for partnerships with other cities.

Rethink equity programs to better serve all.

Starting late last year, we began an in-depth look at Spin Access, our equity program that aims to reduce barriers to accessing our scooters. While many cities have required operators to provide discounts to low-income users since the beginning, we wanted to take the time and ask the people who use our program what works for them, what doesn’t, and how to improve the program. We also talked to people who don’t use our program, but might benefit from it, to better understand what barriers they experienced.

We are in the process of finalizing our path forward, but it is clear that a significant number of people depend on the service we provide to help close gaps in the transportation networks in their neighborhoods. The statistics above are more than just numbers; each represent individual lives impacted by the larger policy decisions made in City Halls and micromobility company HQs.

Re-centering equity in our recovery.

As we plan for the recovery of our transportation systems, we must re-center equity, starting by asking ourselves some basic questions: who has the greatest need and therefore would gain the most from a transportation system designed to serve them? Are our transportation systems accessible and affordable to all who depend on them? Is the service we provide reliably available in communities that need it most? Do the people who use these systems feel welcome and safe doing so?

In many ways, we have fallen short in efforts to design transportation networks that put everyone on equal footing. But this isn’t a static condition. At Spin, we understand that we can be an integral part of transportation networks in the communities we serve, but must position ourselves to be able to serve all who need us in those communities. Cities can support this by relaxing burdensome policy requirements and establishing incentives or subsidies for micromobility, which coupled with close collaboration with operators, can deliver more equitable outcomes in micromobility and beyond.

About Josh Johnson: Josh serves as Public Policy Manager for Spin, with a focus on data policy. In this role, Josh is positioning Spin to lead the industry in collaborating and innovating with the public and private sectors to deliver the data that public agencies need while safeguarding data privacy and security. Josh also serves as co-chair on the Open Mobility Foundation’s Privacy, Security, and Transparency Committee, and is a member of the Mobility Data Collaborative’s Executive Committee as well as the North American Bikeshare Association’s Research & Development Committee.

Thanks to Julio May, Urban Planning GIS Specialist at Spin, and Ellen Gottschling, Streets Program Manager, for their contribution to this piece!

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