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Podcast: Micromobility and Urban Transportation with Kyle Rowe, Spin Inc.

Posted on November 13, 2020


Kyle Rowe

Kyle Rowe
Global Head of Partnerships
Spin, Inc.
LinkedIn | Twitter


Freedom to move. Kyle Rowe, Global Head of Partnerships for Spin, joined the podcast to talk about the role of micromobility in transportation. He discussed how micromobility helps people travel the last mile to their destination and how Spin, Inc. works with local governments to improve the experience of traveling by bike or scooter. He talked about how COVID-19 has impacted micromobility programs. Kyle also shared his career path which included time in the City of Seattle Department of Transportation.

Host: Javon Davis

 

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Episode Transcript

Message

This is Brian Murphy, ELGL’s Data Manager. The ELGL Diversity Dashboard is the first national data collection on the gender, race and age of local government leadership. We’re excited to launch our third full year of data collection. This year, we’re expanding our collection to include all levels of local government positions, not just Chief Administrative Officers, in an effort to get a better understanding of diversity across a wider variety of local government positions. This year’s survey is looking for responses from local government leaders working in many different positions. We look forward to hearing from department heads, project managers, analysts and others as we hope to get data on the diversity of local government leadership. You can find more information on the survey and a link to respond at elgl.org/diversity-dashboard. We hope you’ll respond and follow the data as we work to make local government more diverse.

Javon Davis

What’s up GovLove listeners? Coming to you from Philadelphia, it’s me Javon Davis. Today we are chatting about Micromobility with Kyle Rowe, the head of Global Partnership for Spin. Kyle, welcome to GovLove.

Kyle Rowe

Thanks Javon. Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

Javon Davis

Of course, you know, we love to start our episodes off with the fun lightning round of questions. So are you ready?

Kyle Rowe

I’m ready.

Javon Davis

Okay, so when you can go to like a barcade, what is your favorite arcade game to play or to play at home in general?

Kyle Rowe

So I always look to see if there’s a bubble hockey game in an arcade. I grew up playing ice hockey my whole life and just very fond of the of the bubble hockey. It’s it’s nostalgic mostly. But unfortunately, you know, especially where I live now in Seattle, it’s it’s pretty hard to find. So I always appreciate the the arcades looking out for the hockey players.

Javon Davis

So when COVID is over, and you can you know, travel the way that we used to, what is the first place you’re going to go to when that is safe to do so?

Kyle Rowe

Oh, British Columbia. So living in Seattle, Vancouver is only a couple hours north and British Columbia for folks who haven’t been to Vancouver area north up through Squamish into Whistler. The gold coast of Vancouver Island is some of those beautiful country. And typically, in the summer is I my wife and I and even friends and family we go up there all the time. It’s not too far. And there’s just a lot of fun things to do, a lot of skiing, climbing and hiking and everything. And we you know, the borders been closed, all all all year, pretty much. So that’s been that’s been tough. And really excited to get back up to to BC and see that beautiful country when I can.

Javon Davis

Yeah, tragically, I also had to cancel my very first trip to Canada, in July and I’m really sad about that too. But…. I can’t wait to recreate this.

Kyle Rowe

Where were you gonna go?

Javon Davis

I was gonna go Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto. So two days in the first two and then four days in Toronto.

Kyle Rowe

Oh man. That would have been good.

Javon Davis

Yeah.

Kyle Rowe

I have to get back there.

Javon Davis

Absolutely. All right. So I know you’re a big biker. So what is what is one of your favorite biking cities and you cannot say Seattle.

Kyle Rowe

It’s definitely not Seattle. Seattle has a lot of hills, a lot of rain and a insufficient bike network in my opinion, which is great for job security. No, I think one of my favorite cities to bike round is probably Portland. It just, you know, a few hours to the south. It’s got a really strong bike culture. The infrastructure is is good. I wouldn’t say it’s it’s it’s good for an American standard, but not nearly at the level of other cities in the world, like like Amsterdam or Copenhagen. But you know, a lot of the neighborhoods that are fun to hop between, especially if you’re a foodie and you want to go kind of explore different spots are that’s quite flat, and really comfortable, really courteous culture in my experience from drivers. So I’ve always found that a really enjoyable place to bike or scooter around. Now that there’s those scooters in Portland. So I think that’s probably my favorite for the US and Europe, definitely Amsterdam. Every time I get a chance to visit Amsterdam, I do, because that place is just an absolute joy if you have two wheels. It’s that the number one way to get around that town.

Javon Davis

So I’m a big optimist, so I try to find the best in every situation. So what are some of the things you hope stick around after the virus? You know, we’ve had to transition so many things in our live. What is something you would want to see stick around or through the pandemic?

Kyle Rowe

Yeah, great question. No hesitation, open streets like this. The safe streets and open streets focus that we’ve had, and the speed at which they’ve come together across many cities in the US, whether it be residential street that is closed down for people to get around in a more comfortable way and allow for that social distancing. I have there’s a street in my neighborhood that has been closed to only local traffic can come through but then it’s all ped bikes, scooters, wheelchairs, skateboards. And I mean, the life on that street is just incredible. It’s it’s become almost like a community gathering place that can be actually safe during pandemic. And then on the on the retail corridors is on the, you know, the business corridors is they’ve allowed for businesses to kind of stretch into the, into the street and onto the sidewalk. And so allow, again, allow for them to have more room for customers in a socially distant manner. But then that naturally comes the street, slows that street down, allows us to celebrate the public space and give it back to people. And and you know, very European. It’s fascinating that it took a pandemic for us to realize this because I think, you know, a lot of cities have been pushing for this for a while. A lot of people I know good, good transportation planners in every DOT around the US have been pushing for this. But now it’s actually come to fruition and I really do hope it stays.

Javon Davis

Yeah, no, I’ve been really it’s been it’s been really different walking around Philadelphia and seeing you know, whole streets blocked off for restaurants and people biking and walking around with it is such a welcome thing. I think it’s, I think people are going to realize that this might be a better way to live in cities. So I guess we’ll see what happens.

Kyle Rowe

Yeah, I’m curious how we, how we keep that going through the winter. It’s gonna be, it’s gonna be tricky to allow for it. But you know, it’s, it’s something that Europeans seem to do well, so I’m hopeful that we can make it work and maybe we need to bundle up a little more, but keeping those streets open to folk to people not not cars is is important.

Javon Davis

Yeah, absolutely. So now we’re back to thinking about the post pandemic world. You’re out to brunch with your friends. Are you more of a Bloody Mary person or a Mimosa person?

Kyle Rowe

Definitely Mimosa. I just I’ve never been able to get into Bloody Marys. I, I have a like savory breakfast. They you know, they’re occasionally I’ll get one but I mostly have a sweet tooth for breakfast. So the Bloody Mary is just not what, what I’m feeling in the morning. But uh, that is a good question.

Javon Davis

I’m right there with you. Yeah. That’s this is my signature question that I say and like, it’s such a everyone has their own reasons and broad answers for why they are either on either side of the ball there. So yeah, that was the lightning round. And we’re gonna jump into the to the actual interview. And I wonder to start us off, just give everyone a background on you. Can you tell us your life story in two to three minutes?

Kyle Rowe

Oh my god! Okay, yeah, two to three minutes life story. Start the clock. So I grew up in suburban Pennsylvania, somewhere between Philadelphia and New York, in a town called Bethlehem, PA, and, you know, the normal, normal American suburban childhood, mostly playing hockey, to be honest, and went to college and was interested in environmental studies and figuring out, you know, the, the climate change was becoming a bigger conversation and making it into even, you know, public discourse and in suburban Pennsylvania and I went to University of Maryland for for two years, was studying environmental studies and minor in geography, and then went out to the Pacific Northwest for an internship. My brother was living in Seattle, and I did an internship on Vashon Island, which is this really rural island right in the Puget Sound, so very close to Seattle, but you know, just a ferry ride away, a 20 minute ferry ride, and then you kind of step into a different world, and just incredibly gorgeous country. And coming out here, I kind of had a couple realizations. One, that one of the ways in which I could take my passion and interest in environmental studies and climate change and you know, carbon emissions and turn that into something that looked like progress because it felt like in school, you were kind of just learning the impacts the kind of the doomsday curriculum was was to focus on cities to basically increase the health of cities because you know, when we we live in dense urban places and we find healthy ways to get around town, we actually can reduce our carbon impact significantly and transportation has quickly been becoming the biggest industry for carbon emissions in the US. And I believe it surpassed movement of goods sometime a couple years ago in terms of the total carbon impact. But then the other realization I had beyond falling in love with cities and wanting to kind of dive into urban planning was mountains. And I was getting into skiing and climbing. And I realized that like, I needed to get away from these coasts, I needed to, to just, you know, come out west. And I wanted to be able to study urban planning, and be near mountains. And that really led me to move to Seattle. So I did my last two years at U dub, University of Washington, and was in this pretty small little program called Community Environment and Planning, pretty much crafted my curriculum around urban planning and transportation. And ever since I’ve been basically focused on getting people on the two wheels in whatever way I can, focused on whether it be safety or accessibility of devices. I did Long Range Planning work at the DOT in Seattle. In any way I could, I wanted to help move that modes share of people biking or scooting now to a higher percentage of the of the transportation mode split. Because that’s when you look at a city that’s got a lot of demand for movement and pretty much congested both, you know, on the road and in the bus, in terms of capacity to move people like Seattle, and like many urban areas, there’s always room in the bike lane, there’s there’s not really too much congestion in the bike lane. We can accommodate more demand and relieve some of the other modes by getting more people to hop on a bike or a scooter. So that’s my summary. Is that, yeah, I think that was about three minutes.

Javon Davis

Okay, great. Well, you mentioned when you were in Seattle, you hope you were working on micro mobility. I know you like helped be a part of the nation’s first station, this bike share permit. Can you tell us more about that, and I’m just imagining you talking to people with city leaders and saying we wanted to leave bikes on the sidewalk. And that was like the first time that ever happened. And so were heads exploding? Can you tell us more about that experience overall?

Kyle Rowe

Yeah. People genuinely had no idea what was what was happening and what was coming. I think a few very in tune stakeholders were had an idea but didn’t really know. So important context behind that project was that we had to put in a warehouse, our our station based system. We had to decommission and basically lockup our stations and our bikes, because the city lost its funding for it’s it’s station based program. So this would be basically the same type of operation you have with Indigo in Philadelphia, or City Bike in New York, or, you know, Capital Bikeshare in DC, where there’s public funds that support the operation and, and sometimes the hardware, the capital costs of this station base network. So people check out a bike at a station, and they have to end their trip at a station. And there’s a whole industry that that kind of builds itself up in 2008-9-10 era, and then quickly expanded to, you know, about 70 cities in the US had station based bike share programs with very similar funding models, because there simply wasn’t perception that solely private funded systems could sustain themselves. And they needed public subsidy like like our transit networks. So Seattle had a system called Pronto, had Alaska Airlines as a sponsor, you know, as a very typical blueprint station based bike share model. And through a bunch of political issues and lack of public support for the program, the funding for the operation was taken away, and we had to box it up, basically. And that, you know, was a really hard thing to do, given that Seattle is supposed to be a, you know, a progressive, you know, forward thinking city. And here we are entering the summer of 2017, with no Bike Share system, probably the only major US city in many years to have no bike share system. And this comes like a couple months after I took over the role as bike share program manager. So I was I was the bike share program manager with no program to manage, which was unfortunate. So at that point, there was also a new industry kind of forming mostly in China, but it was also starting to, to leak into other continents and come West. And there was interest in bringing a slightly new business model where it is totally privately owned. And because of, of innovations in the technology and the hardware side, it had the ability to not require the station and the station is a really high capital cost for these bike share schemes. So without the station, you can reduce your capital costs. And you can also allow the user to actually end their trip where they want. So they find a bike on their app, or just by coming across one on the sidewalk, and then they end their trip, wherever it is. So it’s a real a true A to B trip. Whereas for station based Bike Share, you have to find a station and that station may be full, so you can’t put your bike in. And there’s all kinds of headaches that come up with a station based Bike Share the the classic, what they call a dock block, where if you try to end your trip and you get dock blocked. So the the opportunity came to maybe try out a new business model, a new relationship with the private sector in that we didn’t put out an RFP and choose one company and then provide subsidy. Instead, we created this open permit, this regulatory framework by which companies could choose the to operate within and they’d have to basically meet the requirements of this permit, whether it be operations or data sharing, or you know, a myriad of things that we deem necessary to be a responsible operator in our city, but then they have access to the public right of way, and their employees can deploy bikes and their customers can pick up bikes, and as long as they’re parking them in a compliant manner. And that’s a big crux of this, of this business model is the education and compliance around parking. Now, it seems quite easy to kind of summarize in that way, but at the time, this dockless multiple vendors in one city, no subsidy from from the city from the city government or some foundation that was supporting it locally, no stations, all these things were new. And so it was very disruptive. I was I was getting, you know, calls from other cities that were trying to, you know, expand their station based systems and saying, what are you doing? You’re gonna, you’re gonna really, you know, you’re gonna hurt the station based industry. This, you know, these players don’t have the city’s best interest in mind. This is an Uber tactic that’s taken take over the market. And what I was trying to accomplish was, well, frankly, get Seattle a bike share system during the best riding months of the of the year, which is, you know, the summer. We have a, I think everyone knows a pretty rainy, winter and fall. But also, there was this policy interest in in doing this, which was that, when Uber and Lyft expanded around the US, they did so in a way that I mean, they pretty much just showed up without notice to city governments. And they also were able to really effectively preempt the local governments by going to the state level and saying, hey, here’s the rules and regs that should kind of, you know, govern our space. Let’s just decide on these at a state level, and take away any local control from from the system. And that resulted in a lot of cities, basically seeing their transit ridership, get cannibalized by this new and disruptive industry. And, you know, the modern transportation planner would agree that there is definitely a value to add with TNCs, you know, Uber and Lyft. But you know, the peak hour trip with one customer coming in and out of downtown, that’s probably not the best use of space to have an Uber or Lyft serve that trip. It’s much more efficient for that trip to be on transit, if the person can take it. So right there, we find some friction and like, the cities weren’t allowed to create rules and control the environment and how it related to their transit system. They were basically, you know, they were preempted at the state level. That also meant that the TNCs, couldn’t share, didn’t didn’t have to share the data. So governments, whether state level, say local or national, had no idea the scale of this impact. So one of the things that we were doing wasn’t just bringing bike share to Seattle. What we were doing was also testing a new regulatory framework, a new relationship with the private sector in which multiple vendors can operate. They do have to meet certain operations requirements to be a responsible operator and to retain their permit. But we also get an insight into the data and we can have control but also let the private sector operate and you know, hopefully, find a profitable business. So a bit of a kind of exploration in what could have been a more robust relationship with TNCs, and, and maybe a blueprint for how future mobility disruptions come into cities and what cities will expect from them to be an operator in their, in their market.

Javon Davis

Yeah, no, I was working in Kansas City. And, you know, from 2016 until 2019. And I, you know, I remember the whole like, it was a summer I believe in like, everyone, all these companies were dropping off scooters and cities around the country, and like, people were freaking out, and cities were like, we’re gonna confiscate them, we’re gonna throw them in the river. We’re going to do this and that. So it was pretty chaotic, but also fun, because all of us were low key, like riding the scooters around the city, even though we knew that our bosses were pretty ticked off that they just kind of popped up. So do you feel like we are in a better place now where everyone knows, okay, communicate with the city government. They will definitely find some common ground. Do you feel like we’re in a better place now?

Kyle Rowe

Yes, I genuinely do. It’s funny because we were in a better place when dockless bikes were expanding, because because of the potential conflict with station base, station based Bike Share contracts, in most cities in the US, there was hyper awareness for the entry of the bike, the dockless Bike Share system into the cities. Because you know, like Indigo has exclusivity for their market. So the City of Philadelphia wouldn’t want to put a competitor up against the system that they are subsidizing, because then that would hurt the revenue of that system, which throws off the city’s financial plans for Indigo. Right. So that was there’s a natural hyper awareness, I would say, and control over dockless bikes. And then when scooters entered the scene, which is pretty much the same exact model, just with a slightly different form factor, the vehicle kind of fall in a different vehicle class meant it didn’t, it wasn’t a bike. So the exclusivity that a system like Indigo would have on their market wouldn’t actually apply because it’s a scooter, it’s not a bike. And Philadelphia is actually kind of a different picture, because scooters don’t currently fit in the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code. And that’s a that’s a bigger issue. But for other markets, you know, like DC or Baltimore, they, they wouldn’t be competing necessarily with the municipal bikeshare system. And what was fairly under control in terms of expansion and work with local governments then got out of control, because a few companies one new one, transition into model from bikes to scooters, just expanded, you know, across the whole country and did a lot of road launching very much Uber playbook, showed up, dropped bikes, dropped scooters one day and then called the city next day and said, hey, we’re here. And, you know, it’s fascinating that we actually saw basically like a, you know, reversion in the, in the, the collaboration with governments, with local government on deploying dockless vehicles, just because it changed from bikes to scooters. And the competition in the industry got a little bit more hot at the local level and in the US. That was unfortunate. But, I mean, this is part of Spins mission, this is part of what Spin gets for putting me in charge of government relations. We stuck to our guns, we maintained that our partnership promised basically, we’re always going to work with governments, make sure we have permission prior to launching was going to be a core value. That’s why Spin wasn’t in some cities in the first few months, or maybe even in the first year, because we said we’re not going to launch until we have explicit permission to do so. And once some of our competitors launched and, you know, claim that there was no authority for them to not launch or to control that, you know, they basically were asking for forgiveness and and that put them in a bit of a different relationship with the local government. So that I think that era has has mostly coming on where we’re beyond that, and pretty much every city nowadays has had some sort of control over the local dockless vehicle operations, whether it be bikes and or scooters, but there it was a bit of a rocky road to get here.

Javon Davis

Ya no, it’s kind of fun looking back on that time now that, you know, I think we’re through it. Well, you know, I litigate the city, lots of scooters, bikes as well. I used to enjoy going to Austin to scooter around the city, bike around the city, and then I moved to Philadelphia in 2019. And I was like, Oh my god, I there’s no scooters, there’s only one option of Indigo bikes. So clearly there are some barriers there. Can you talk about kind of some of the things you hear often from people who are reluctant to allow dockless micro mobility vehicles around the country?

Kyle Rowe

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think there’s a lot of the reluctance I feel like stems from the kind of shock and awe that was experienced when they were showing up without, without any sort of advance notice. I, I think there is still some reluctance that stems from the the technology itself and the way it operates. But we’re seeing like, you know, Montreal is an example of a city that actually welcomed dockless scooters into their market. But then after the first pilot chose to ban shared dockless scooters, because the compliance from the operators that they worked with, and it wasn’t Spin, but it was other companies, other companies was was so poor, that they said, You know what, we’re not doing, we’re not doing dockless, scooters. And they banned them, which is currently the status of you know, scooters in Montreal. So unfortunately, had you been able to go to Canada, you wouldn’t have been able to take a scooter. But hopefully, we can fix that before the border opens again. So part of it comes from that initial expansion strategy, and what, you know, really, I think, ticked some cities off, but also just scared some cities to say, you know, what, you know, we’re not, we’re not going to deal with this right now. But then, for certain jurisdictions, or stakeholders, or individuals who just really aren’t comfortable with dockless, in the way it operates, you know, I think we have to look at the way we operate cars. And I don’t think we require that cars attached themselves to any sort of rack or station. Cars in cities are pretty much dockless. What how do we how do we maintain control, and ensure that they operate in a way that is safe, and they are parked in a way that’s proper and doesn’t impede other users? Well, it’s through education, through infrastructure. And we have parking signs, we have parking lanes that often have, you know, either paint or signage to tell the user where they should be, we have meters to charge the user for high demand parking, we have plenty of space for them to drive and to operate for the user. So it’s the same principles. We’re just gonna, we’re working with a vehicle that is trying to operate in a space that hasn’t really been built out for its infrastructure, whether that be the the lane for movement, or the parking of the vehicle. You know, the best bike networks in the US are still probably, you know, 50% built out, the absolute best networks. So it’s, it’s, it’s always gonna cause some friction, when we’re trying to bring in a service and pretty high volumes for a, for a mode that isn’t fully been built out, or doesn’t have the public knowledge on how it should operate. So that’s, that’s got to be a shared responsibility of both the public and private sector, to educate users. Obviously, folks can mix with vehicles in the near term when we don’t have a complete light network. But in the end, we’re going to really want to separate those users and make them feel safe. And then on the parking environment, you know, we we’ve always looked at the sidewalk as having kind of your furniture zone where you put tree tree pits and you know, benches and stuff, you have your your you know, pedestrian pathway where people move, then you have your kind of like ingress egress of businesses. And if you go over to European countries where the number of bikes on the street is a lot higher, that furniture zone is used primarily for bike parking, especially cities like Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. And so that’s just a little bit of a different use of the existing asset, and maybe different signage, maybe different materials, maybe you don’t want to have completely planted furniture zones, you want to have hardscape there so that vehicles can be parked. So yeah, I think it’s, it’s a it’s a different way of looking at our existing assets. And it’s an understanding that there is going to be a bit of a learning period when people normalize with that, with that mode and with that parking environment.

Javon Davis

Yeah, I think I think give me a lot of great points. It’s always helpful to remind people that cars are not, you know, naturally existing phenomena. Like we created cars, and we can, there are other ways to get around to and we can accommodate them, and it’s actually healthier for people and the environment for us to do so. So I think it’s like, I think he made a lot of great points.

Kyle Rowe

Yeah. I mean, one like, really easy solution that a lot of cities are implementing is to take away, you know, one maybe two car spaces on high demand blocks, and put in just open bike and scooter parking, maybe put a couple racks in there for the private user, private bike, or scooter owner who wants to put attach their vehicle to a rack, but then leave a lot of open space. You can find yourself put in, you know, as a city planner, you can make use of what was one, maybe two car spaces, you know, 10-20 bikes or scooters could fit there. So in terms of bringing people to businesses or to whatever destination they’re going, I mean, that’s, that’s pretty efficient use of space.

Javon Davis

Yeah, absolutely. Something we hear about a lot when we talk about micro mobility is the first and last mile. Can you tell us more about what that means for people that don’t understand that concept? Or what how micro mobility really kind of fills in the gap for some people?

Kyle Rowe

Yeah, definitely. So the the first and last mile is the kind of the the issue that continues to persist in transportation planning year over year as a particular challenge in getting the the transit user, basically the the commuter who is is getting the primary leg of their trip done by transit, getting them to and from their transit stop. And this is seen as a big as one of the biggest barriers to getting people to use transit in that, if their trip from their home to the bus stop or light rail station is too long, they will be disincentivized and, and maybe choose a different mode, maybe they’ll drive their own car, or hop into an Uber, which, you know, like we’ve discussed is just less efficient, bus less efficient for the city, and potentially their own, their own pocket and their own time. So the challenge here is, is how we can, you know, basically get the most people to have a feasible trip to connect to the, the transit on both ends of their trip. And typically what you do if you’re, you know, a transit planner is you look at the walk shed of of a light rail station or a bus stop and say, okay, well, within a five minute walk, how many people can get to the train? Okay, well, how would the 10 minute walk and with those different, you know, time increments, you can expect a different percentage of the population to be willing to basically make that trip to connect to transit. Now, one way to quickly expand that walk shed to a much bigger population by, you know, basically capturing a much bigger geography is to add in other modes like bikes and scooters. And you know, what you can accomplish in five minutes by foot is a lot further with a bike or a scooter. So the idea here is that, you know, we can still focus our transit in investments on the heavy haul, you know, high demand corridors and move the most people and just get more people to those those lines in those stations by adding in options like bikes and scooters. And that’s that’s generally the idea of the last mile and what we’re all trying to solve both on the public and private side of the business.

Javon Davis

Can you tell us more about you know, Spin’s streets program and how they are looking to partner with cities to achieve goals that are you know, help make scooting and biking more conducive in cities around the country?

Kyle Rowe

Yeah, for sure. This is like one of the one of the coolest projects and teams we have at Spin. So, Spin Streets is an initiative within the company that is that is basically direct acknowledgement of the fact that our customers feel most comfortable when they have a bike lane. And that our goal of working with cities to provide these non non SOV options, SOV is single occupancy vehicle, is to create a more vibrant, more friendly, more enjoyable, urban experience. And with that comes the, you know, transformation of public space just like we talked about with the pandemic challenging cities to basically open up streets for, for people to walk and for retail to kind of leak into the street, the same idea, same concept that we just want to use that space better give it back to people not for the storage of, you know, of cars only. And we we think we’re contributing by offering our service and giving people the option to make their last mile trip with a scooter. But we also want to just, you know, kind of go directly to the solution in addition to you know, encouraging people to get out of cars, we want to work with cities on that infrastructure change, go right to the source, basically and the the team that Spin that works on this, they’re basically always surveying our markets and looking for where there are opportunities already kind of teed up based off of local advocates or opportunities for projects that are pending, or, you know, particularly opportunities to try something new, do something different with our space, and then work with collaborative with a city to review it and say, Hey, is that something that we should make permanent? So a great example is in Salt Lake City. There was a street that was going to be repaved. And so, you know, in a few months, basically, they were going to totally repave the street, and anything that would be done would be you know, could be put back to its original state should the city decide. So we worked with Team Better Block, which is a design firm that focuses on the block level redesign of public space. And, and some local advocates and the local DOT, and designed a change to the intersection that basically was what we call a protected intersection. And it reduced the travel, the crossing distances for people on bikes and scooters and people walking to a much tighter distance basically like reducing the exposure to crossing a street as well as adding a lot of art to the street, a lot of color, basically making the space more fun, almost like turning what is just another intersection into a place that people want to visit and dwell and spend time. And so on our on our website, you can find this it’s really really amazing work and low cost, you know, just basically paint, maybe some some flexible posts that help delineate space. And, and we totally remade an intersection. Another way we do is in getting designers and you know people in our industry to think creatively and giving them the space to do so. So we’ve hoped that we hosted a couple  design challenges, like one was the Better Barrier Design Challenge where they’ve challenged designers to rethink how we separate bike lanes from travel lanes from vehicle lanes, basically. And you know, with so many quick build projects happening around the US, where cities are, aren’t doing the capital, you know, rebuild of the street to include to include a bike lane instead, they’re just basically shuffling their their lanes, the channelization around too quickly, and more cost effective build a bike lane. That has resulted in a really extrapolation of the use of the bollard, which is this flexible, white plastic post that is used in you know, basically traffic engineering to separate lanes. And it’s not very aesthetic, it’s they’re cheap, they get knocked over and they look pretty, pretty, pretty ugly after a few, you know, months in the in on the street. So what this this design project was, was we said, hey, why don’t we challenge folks to think about ways to still in a cost effective manner reuse materials, and and provide a barrier, basically physical protection for people on bikes and scooters, that just looks better, it’s more, it’s more enjoyable, it’s softer on the eyes, if you will. And the winning design, I thought was brilliant. And it basically takes old car tires, makes them into planters and separates the bike lane by just using that as the space in the buffer. Because every every protected bike lane will have like three to four feet between the bike lane and the car lane. So that’s just another way in which it’s not just going into a city and you know, repainting an intersection, but it’s also getting the you know, the all the creativity in our industry to kind of tackle a new problem, and then find a way to maybe implement it in one of the markets that we are in.

Javon Davis

Great. Yeah, it sound like a really interesting idea and lots of good stuff to work with. And like he said, You can find all that stuff out on Spin’s website and connect with them to learn more about that. I was wondering if you can you tell us more about how COVID-19, how the pandemic has really impacted Spin’s usage and kind of micro mobility overall and how you see the future of it’s changing based on where we are now.

Kyle Rowe

Yeah, man, important question. The when the pandemic hit, it was, it was, you know, quickly became a huge problem for transportation planners around the world. Because, you know, the backbone of our transportation system, which is transit, you know, the bus and train is not exactly the safest option for folks to use, given the inherent social distancing challenge it presents. And especially, you know, early on when there wasn’t as much awareness for the potential for contact tracing, and you know, we’re a bit more aware of what the risks are. But at the time, it felt like everything was a risk. And so modes that allowed people to stay distant from others, were were really important. And not everyone owns a car, not everyone can or chooses to own a car. And some cities really don’t allow for folks to store cars for every single resident. So quickly, Spin found itself in a interesting place where, you know, most cities in the US I’m actually almost every single city in the US, when they were asked to basically deem what services and what businesses in their, in their city were essential, the resounding echo was that micro mobility was essential, and that it needed to stay. And it was important to compliment transit near term. So that was a really interesting policy. statement from across the US that in fact, you know, this business that’s fairly new, that maybe is perceived to be a thing for tourists in certain towns or, you know, is maybe perceived to have used primarily by certain demographics, is stated to be an essential business for the cities during a pandemic. Spin was able to stay live throughout the entire pandemic. We had to reduce operations a bit, but we were, we were operational throughout the pandemic. And we basically immediately focused on those essential employees. So we worked with directly with cities to do a couple things. Compliment where transit networks carried most individuals, and would not be available, many transit systems actually shut down completely. Others, were just basically telling customers, you should only get on here if you are absolutely essential, like a grocery store clerk or hospital worker. So we  redesigned our deployment plan to basically focus our service in areas where folks would need that option, and it may not be available anymore. We also we so we, so we commented transit, but then we also deployed more heavily at hospitals and grocery stores and places where pharmacies, places where people were going to be traveling in the most, you know, high in shelter in place time, that like late March, early April time period. So, so we stayed operational, we redesigned our service. And then we started to kind of observe the impacts. And, you know, trip volumes plummeted for a little while, because no one was moving around, except essential, essential workers. But then, when some movement and mobility started to recover, we saw that people were more and more taking trips, not in the downtown, in the neighborhoods, which makes sense, because folks were working from home. Trips, volumes were still still decreased from the normal rates. But we actually saw trip volume or trip distances, sorry, go up a lot. People were taking much longer trips, I mean, the average duration of trip in a single month increased to nearly 22 minutes in May, up from 15 minutes during the same period of the previous year. So May 2020, versus May 2019. We also saw that folks because they couldn’t travel for their, you know, scheduled summer vacation, kind of became tourists in their own city. And we saw, you know, on Labor Day, this year, the average trip was 15% longer than Labor Day last year. So, so definitely some different trends and different behavior from individuals during during the pandemic versus previous times. But overall, what we found is that we are a part of the transportation network. We are a key piece of it. And that really, really helped us kind of instill ourselves as part of that, that that core system of every city.

Javon Davis

Yeah, that’s really great. Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about when I want to get back on the subway here in Philly, and again, again, I think I will be much more comfortable hopping on a scooter and doing a trip downtown or Center City as they call it here. Before I would do that again. Yeah.

Kyle Rowe

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I know. It’s it’s kind of a bummer because I I loved getting on the bus and taking the train. It’s you know, it’s so much freedom to get around. It’s nice to live in a city where you can access so many neighborhoods and, and see friends and family by not having to take a car and just hop on a bus. But um, you know, in the near term, I think we’re just going to need to understand, you know, people are gonna need to challenge themselves to change their their behavior a bit on how they get around. And, and hopefully we don’t revert back to the personally on vehicle as the sole mode because we know that creates other challenges, right. So hopefully just by folks maybe seeing a scooter around, they’ll give it a shot.

Javon Davis

Yeah. So you won’t want to sort of finally here when I think about the future of micro mobility, are they going to look, we have bikes scooters, there’ll be other options will be like dockless segways. What does the future look like as far as new ways to get around in this sense?

Kyle Rowe

Yeah, I’m sure there’s gonna be, there’s definitely gonna be continual innovation on the form factor. Spin is obviously invested in in finding out what additional vehicle types will attract new customers or serve different trip types, you know, we, you got to think about not just the preference of the customer, and you know how far they’re going, but also maybe what they’re going to carry, like a scooter may not be the best option for someone coming back from the grocery store, but maybe any cargo bike is. But does the customer want pedals, they need pedals, maybe a seated scooter is a solution there. So I think every shape and size of vehicles between you know, like a moped and a standing scooter will be explored in the next couple years. And Spin will definitely be part of that adventure and experience. I can’t, it’s hard to predict exactly what will come next, you know, what’s going to be the next innovation that kind of disrupts the space. Right now, it seems like there’s a, there’s still a lot of opportunity to grow the standards, bike and scooter operation. But I do appreciate whenever I see a new company kind of challenging the industry to think about different vehicle type, even if that means that we have to go and change policy. Again, I think the scooter industry is a great example of how we were able to update and improve vehicle codes across the US at the state level to allow for this service to operate in almost every single state. Pretty much Pennsylvania and Hawaii are the only states left that their vehicle code is still restrictive for the standing scooter. And when the vehicle first hit the market, I had to go back to my numbers, but we mapped this out. And there was probably over a dozen and maybe upwards of 20 states that had vehicle codes that were restrictive. And so that’s that’s that’s incredible change at a very fast rate for for government, you know, Vehicle Code policy. So my hope is that folks don’t stop innovating on the vehicle form factor and that, you know, for ones that really seemed to meet the goals of city governments and are safe to operate, that we then go forward and make those changes when necessary and and keep our policies nimble.

Javon Davis

Yeah, this just made me laugh when you said there’s only Pennsylvania Hawaii like two very, very different states.

Kyle Rowe

Yeah. [Laughter]

Javon Davis

Maybe maybe one day.

Kyle Rowe

Yeah one day. Yeah. I think we’ll see changes in Pennsylvania fairly soon. And in Hawaii as well. I think Pennsylvania might be a little bit quicker. But yeah, we have a pretty awesome project teed up in Pittsburgh, that, you know, when, when we’re able to operate, we’re going to have a what’s called the Pittsburgh Mobility Collective. It’s a consortium of private mobility providers that are going to offer a holistic service to the to the community, in collaboration with the city, including a network of mobility hubs. It’s really awesome. It’s called, we call the program Move 412. And you can check that out online as well. And I’m sure Philadelphia will be interested in maybe piloting Stanton scooters at some point when the state allows.

Javon Davis

Yeah, hopefully. All right, this is going to be our last question. What What song do you think, you know, really ties up the episode today?

Kyle Rowe

Oh, that’s a that’s a good question. Whoo what song? Umm man. There is a, there is a bluegrass band called Yonder Mountain String Band. They’re from Colorado. And they have a song called Traffic Jam, which is exactly what song is titled. It’s about it’s about a person sitting on a hillside, theoretically, in Colorado, watching the traffic jam and just observing the behaviors of the people in their cars and in the frustration that they have, and how much they’re, you know, cursing at the traffic and, and wasting their time sitting in traffic and just thinking about, you know, the ways that they could maybe enjoy this time a little bit more, or maybe just pull over and, and not be so frustrated and I feel like that song probably that’s it comes to mind for me because a lot of a lot of what I enjoy about my work and Spin in our business overall is isn’t so much the transportation planning, technical elements of like, more efficient transportation system and you know, safer bike lanes and, and higher modes split and all that. It’s also just like, genuinely how much more fun it is to hop on a scooter, or hop on a bike and smell the smells of the city. And you know, and say hi to someone as you’re passing by and just maybe put a smile on your face during your commute instead of being frustrated in traffic. And so I encourage folks to listen to that that song and maybe it’ll resonate.

Javon Davis

That sounds like a really great song and I think it does fit in perfectly. Kyle, thank you so much for coming on and chatting with me today.

Kyle Rowe

Yeah, thanks. Appreciate, appreciate the opportunity.

Javon Davis

That ends our episode for today. GovLove is hosted by a rotating cast of ELGL members and produced by Ben Kittelson. For our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/govlove, or on Twitter at @govlovepodcast. We’re on all your favorite subscription service, podcast subscription services. Please subscribe to GovLove through your favorite service and leave us some reviews and people know that GovLove is a podcast on local government topics. If you leave us a five star review, we’ll send you some sweet ELGL swag. If you have a story for us, we want to hear it. Send us a message on Twitter. Thanks for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government.

 


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