Policy

Portland, Kansas City, Charlotte… Who’s Next?

In recognition of the immense challenges that COVID-19 placed on transit and other transportation options, cities like Portland partnered with Spin to rethink transportation. Kansas City, MO and Charlotte, NC are two other cities that found new ways to work with us to improve the availability and accessibility of our service, despite the strain COVID-19 has placed on our ridership.

As the impacts of the pandemic on transportation systems continued to grow, it became clear that quick action was needed to ensure safe and reliable transportation options like e-scooters remained available for two reasons:

1.) stay-at-home orders drastically reduced the number of people commuting, and ridership across all modes saw significant reductions, making the future of micromobility services very uncertain;

2.) but residents in these cities have come to rely on transportation options like scooters, and still need access to them to fill transit gaps, facilitate commutes to essential jobs, or to provide access to essential services.

Because of this new reality, both Kansas City and Charlotte temporarily waived their administrative fees, which are payments we are required to make to operate scooters in the public right of way.

Kansas City’s administrative fee normally requires us to pay $1 per day, per scooter deployed. Charlotte’s administrative fee, meanwhile, is typically a per-minute variable fee for the time a scooter is parked and in which zone.

These new policy decisions have had a meaningful impact in both cities.

Affordable Transportation Where People Need It Most

In Kansas City, the fee waiver allowed Spin to increase our average fleet size by more than 57 percent compared to last year, which in turn enabled us to redouble our efforts to equitably deploy our fleet.

The above image shows increases in ridership both citywide and in the City’s LifeX zones — outlined in pink — when we compared September 2019 and July 2020, which are the months of highest deployment numbers for each year.

With more scooters on the streets overall, we were able to increase the number of scooters deployed in the City’s LifeX zones, which are six zip codes in the city where 94 percent of the residents live below the federal poverty line, and average life expectancy is 15 years less than the city-wide average.

The LifeX program is a place-based initiative, designed to mobilize residents in these neighborhoods to increase health, fitness, and overall well-being, and shows which communities within KCMO can benefit from greater accessibility to more affordable transportation options.

This resulted in a 146 percent increase in overall trips to/from those zones when comparing months of peak deployment in 2019 and 2020. We also saw a 35 percent increase in how long people were riding, a trend that we have seen in other cities with stay-at-home orders and reduction in transit service.

Keeping Micromobility Alive in the Face of Unexpected Events

Since May, Charlotte’s fee waiver allowed Spin to continue operating during the first few months of this crisis when tremendous uncertainty and changing travel behavior due to COVID-19 hit our ridership hardest.

Charlotte’s policy decisions helped us weather the initial storm and set the stage for us to play an essential role in the city’s recovery.

This was demonstrated during the months of May and June, where a 44 percent increase in trip length and duration (compared to last year) indicated that many Charlotteans were using Spin as their primary mode of travel to facilitate commutes and other essential trips.

Over the course of these two months, more people recognized Spin as an essential transportation option, and we saw a corresponding 55 percent average increase in the number of trips week over week. This coincided with a 653 percent increase in weekly first time riders, comparing the first week in May with the last week in June.

Charlotte’s fee waiver made it possible for us to weather the initial uncertainty in those first couple months of the pandemic and laid the groundwork for a comeback. Above you can see how scooter ridership — both length and number of trips — continues to go up.

Finding A Way Forward Through Partnership

Both Kansas City’s and Charlotte’s collaborative approach not only enabled us to sustain our operations and strong commitments to the communities we serve, despite an incredibly challenging time for all, but also exemplifies an innovative approach in the public sector supporting the private sector in pursuit of shared goals.

Josh Johnson, public policy manager, and Julio May, urban planning GIS specialist, both contributed to this post.

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