With the U.S. election just days away, Alex Roy checks in with a Chief Business Officer to talk about how community partnerships and employee buy-in prompted Spin to lend its ride-sharing scooters to help voters get to the polls.

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Episode Transcript

Alex Roy

Hey everyone. This is No Parking, the podcast that cuts through the hype around self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence with honest conversations about how technology will or won’t change our daily lives. I’m Alex Roy. 

Now for the majority of human history, 99% of people had no say in how they were governed. When my dad came to America, he joined the army, fought against the Nazis, and when he came back, he voted in every election — from the day he got citizenship until the day he died. 

But incredibly, it wasn’t until quite recently that every American had the right to vote. But the right to vote is not the same as being able to. Sometimes it’s hard just to get to a polling place. 

Anything that makes it easier for Americans to vote, I support. So today we’re joined by Ben Bear, Chief Business Officer at Spin — you know, the electric scooter people. He oversees policy, government and community partnerships. 

Ben, thanks again for joining us. Welcome to the No Parking podcast.

Ben Bear

Great to be here, Alex. And good to talk again.

Alex Roy

Alright. Ben, why does voting matter to you?

Ben Bear

Yeah, I mean personally, and I think we believe this as a company too, we don’t think transportation should be a barrier to getting to the polls. The reason voting matters to me is that it’s this one very simple but profound act that we can do as citizens. You know, a lot of folks all over the world have never had the experience of doing it in a fair election. And so we should at least do that. 

And it’s an opportunity to make a difference, I think. Regardless of what you think of the state of the world today, it’s very clear that elections have consequences and that our votes matter. And I can tell you, I’ve gotten about 100 text messages from people in Pennsylvania telling me to vote. So it’s clear a lot of other people are fired up about it as well. 

Alex Roy

If you missed our last episode, by the way, we had someone on who was a voting expert named Debra Cleaver, who explains where all those texts actually come from. 

But autonomous vehicles are still, for a lot of people, a ways away. Scooters are here today

Explain about how Spin came up with this idea to do something to help voting. What is the program? What’s it called? How did it come about?

Ben Bear

Yeah, so the program’s called Spin to Vote. It came about through a groundswell of interested employees who, you know, after the events of the summer and given how profoundly important this upcoming election is, wanted to figure out how we could do as much as possible. And so Spin users all across the country can enter the code SPINTOVOTE on November 3rd and get $10, which they can use to ride free to the polls. That’s one part of the campaign. 

In 13 of our markets — where we have active community partnerships and where we’re really able to take a relationship that we have with an organization called State Voices and get more targeted — we’re actually deploying in strategic locations to make it easier for folks to get to the polls, in addition to the discount code, which everyone will be eligible for. So trying to figure out how can we use this very extensible, very flexible form of transportation and very accessible form of transportation in the electric scooter to the maximum extent possible. 

Hopefully we’ll learn a lot from this cycle and help a lot of people get to the polls. But then, come next time, we’ll know even better how we can maximally leverage the accessible transportation that scooters provide. 

And I think the last thing that’s really important is we’re actually giving all of our employees the day off, if possible, to vote. And so that’ll be a good opportunity for everyone to get involved without stressing out about their next meeting.

Alex Roy

So explain to me how this program works. There’s a discount code. How would I even find out about it? Like I live in a city where Spin is deployed, how would I know? Did you do an advertising campaign? How are you letting people know?

Ben Bear

Yeah. So you’d get an email, push notification, a modal on the app all telling you about it, so that folks are aware of the campaign. In addition with State Voices, we’re doing outreach through their channels. And with some of our university partners as well, where we’re pushing this campaign out. 

And then another cool thing that our product team actually shipped is, you’ll be able to get routing to the polls as well, using a new destination feature that we’ve built into the app. So trying to cover all angles of this thing and see. And the nice thing is we’ll really be able to get to measure how many folks use it to actually get to polling locations as well.

Alex Roy

So you said 13 cities? Is that correct?

Ben Bear

That’s where we’re doing the more targeted approach with State Voices, in 13 markets.

Alex Roy

And which markets are those?

Ben Bear

Alexandria, Arlington, Atlanta, Cleveland, Louisville, Memphis. A couple of interesting examples of this, so specifically in Atlanta, we’re going to be deploying to MARTA train locations, which have been identified as important places to serve. And so we plan to deploy in a very responsive way based on what the final polling locations end up being so that we can maximally help people get to and from the polls.

Alex Roy

So this is not just random, like, “Here’s your discount code. Good luck. Figure it out.” You’re actively looking at people who have limited access to polling places?

Ben Bear

Exactly.

Alex Roy

And in real time? You’re going to monitor this in real time and you have a team of people that are adapting this as events unfold?

Ben Bear

Yeah. I mean, so at Spin, our whole history has been working in a really targeted, deeper way with a transportation planner mindset and the cities and communities that we serve. And we have the infrastructure, as a result from our government partnerships (and) community partnerships, to public affairs (and) to our marketing team that are really bought into this approach. And so it’s easy for us to spin something like this up. 

And we want to measure it. We want to share the data with our city partners. And, you know, I think there’s this perception that electric scooters are tech bros wearing AirPods and a Patagonia vest and vaping an e-cigarette. When in reality, we know that they are a form of transportation that is used by people of all different races, all different backgrounds, and we’re excited to see what they can do from a democracy perspective.

Alex Roy

I’m going to ask you — it’s probably a dumb question for someone — but I’ve never worked in logistics at a scooter company. If you have a bunch of people who ride the scooters to a polling location, they use up their $10, and they just leave the scooters there, are you gonna run out of scooters for people to use to get to the polling location? So are you going to pre-stage a truck to rebalance or move the inventory back to demand locations?

Ben Bear

Yeah. So one of the things about our model is that we use employees rather than contractors. And so it gives us a lot of flexibility throughout the day to be able to rebalance scooters from A to B. And we have a good sense of where the high demand areas are temporally. But, we are going to be responsive on the day in the different markets. And so, it’ll be interesting to see what those patterns look like.

Alex Roy

So if all goes according to plan, what is your hope for election day on November 3rd?

Ben Bear

My hope is that everyone who wants to participate is able to. We want to do our part to help.

Alex Roy

I couldn’t agree more. Ben Bear is the Chief Business Officer at Spin. They’re offering credits toward rides to the polls on Election Day. Ben, thank you so much for coming on.

Ben Bear

Thanks so much, Alex.

Alex Roy

Well, that’s it from us. If you enjoyed this episode and want to engage with us some more, follow us on Twitter @NoParkingPod. I’m everywhere, of course @AlexRoy144. Megan Harris is our producer. She’s awesome. 

And please share the No Parking podcast with a friend, like us, subscribe, give us a good review on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. No Parking is managed by the Civic Entertainment Group. 

Until next time, I’m Alex Roy. This is the No Parking podcast.