Focusing on equity as shared mobility evolves

Clarrissa Cabansagan Headshot

The shared mobility world is changing fast. Like an e-scooter zooming down a sidewalk, it’ll make your head spin. Two big changes have happened recently.

  • Dockless electric scooter share has appeared and taken off in cities across the country, often without much warning or planning.
  • Then just this month, Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) Uber and Lyft have made some big moves. Lyft is acquiring Motivate, the largest bike share operator in the US, and Uber made a big investment in Lime. Both companies plan to integrate bikes, scooters, and public transit into their apps, and have applied for scooter share permits in San Francisco.

Scooters are seemingly here to stay, and the race is on for Mobility as a Service (MaaS) — the integration of multiple transportation modes into a single service or app. Welcome to the future, but whose future will it be?

Done right, MaaS has the potential to disrupt inequity and help us move away from the one-car-per-adult paradigm that is the basis of our transportation problems. But we need to make sure it fills the gaps in the transportation network, not widen the chasm between rich and poor. It should be shared, electric, and accessible. It should integrate with and complement public transit, promote the most sustainable and affordable modes, improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians, and ensure universal access and choice.

Revolutionizing transportation carries a huge responsibility — people’s lives and the very nature of our cities are at stake. One way or another, the public sector should play a strong role in shaping MaaS. But it’s hard to imagine a transit agency or government entity creating a MaaS app to rival Uber or Lyft anytime soon. Since the private sector will have such a large role in the future of transportation, the public sector needs to set a high bar for how these companies deliver.

That’s exactly what we’ve been doing on bike share, and we’re going to keep partnering directly with new mobility companies and public agencies to ensure new mobility services advance equity, public safety, and climate protection.

Bike Share for All can be a model

In 2017, TransForm and our grassroots community partners led advocacy and outreach efforts that helped make Ford GoBike the most economically diverse bike share system in the country. Due in large part to a newly available “Bike Share for All” discount, low-income bike share ridership grew from only 3% of Bay Area Bike Share members to 20% of all Ford GoBike memberships as of June 2018.

With Lyft’s likely acquisition of Motivate, there will be an opportunity to strengthen and expand the Bike Share for All program. Lyft’s approach to bikes and scooters prioritizes equity, sustainability, safety, and transit integration. They also want community input to drive their $1 million pledge to “bring transportation equity to underserved neighborhoods.”

After a year of equity outreach on bike share, we’ve learned that deep discounts and cash payment options aren’t enough to ensure access. Specific outreach and user education are needed to ensure public safety and reduce information barriers. And through our work engaging community members on Oakland’s Bike Plan, residents have been clear in articulating what they want and don’t want from any bike share expansion into East Oakland, where stations currently do not exist past High Street.

Our work on bike share is informing our approach to — and underscoring the importance of — partnerships and pilot programs to ensure emerging mobility technologies advance transportation equity.

That goes for scooters, too

When dockless electric scooters arrived in San Francisco a few months ago with no warning and no rules, they caused problemsbut with coordination and a more considered approach, they have incredible potential.

The SFMTA removed scooters from streets in early June and established detailed permit requirements including requirements for safe use and storage, multilingual marketing, discounted rates for low-income users, and cash payment options. Twelve companies applied for permits to legally operate scooter share in the city.

Given the low learning curve to hop on a scooter, they have the potential to be even more popular and accessible than bike share. We’ve already heard that a single scooter gets about 5-7 times more use per day than a bike share bike.

TransForm joined Lyft’s San Francisco permit application to develop a robust and meaningful community engagement plan for their nascent scooter network.

Like with bike share, TransForm has several goals for improving e-scooter implementation with Lyft:

  • Ensure racial and economic equity is central to the deployment of any scooter share program, where ridership reflects the racial makeup of local communities.
  • Increase first and last mile connectivity in transit-poor communities.
  • Ensure scooters help improve residents’ access to public transit and work, school, health care, etc.
  • Reduce congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, and vehicle miles traveled within San Francisco.
  • Improve safety for both scooter riders and pedestrians.

We didn’t enter into this lightly, and wouldn’t partner with just any company. Lyft is thinking holistically about climate, mobility, and equity. It recently reshaped the Lyft app to push riders towards using public transit, and scooters will be a useful first/last mile solution. Both TransForm and Lyft agree that it would benefit our cities and climate to shift riders from Lyft cars over to zero-emissions modes like Lyft Bikes and Scooters.

We’re still waiting to hear which companies SFMTA will grant permits to. Whoever ends up operating scooter share in San Francisco, we’ll be watching their equity outreach efforts closely. And were hoping they include real, authentic ways to improve access for black and brown communities. We want to see scooter share outreach that is shaped and delivered by the people and communities that are too often an afterthought for new mobility companies. It should create living wage jobs, include meaningful consultation from the beginning, and be integrated as a key feature into operations and all marketing efforts.

All eyes are on the Bay Area

As cities race to keep up with TNCs’ move beyond cars and towards MaaS, they need to look at the bigger mobility picture and prioritize equity, along with public safety and priority for shared modes.

In Oakland, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan proposed a pilot program that includes having TNCs voluntarily provide free and discounted rides for a number of vulnerable populations and types of trips, as an alternative to her proposed TNC tax. Meanwhile, three Oakland City Councilmembers (including Kaplan) have also proposed scooter regulations.

San Francisco also just adopted guidelines for how to evaluate emerging mobility technologies, and granting scooter permits will be its first chance to apply that framework to a new program.

Cities around the country are looking to the Bay Area for best practices. Whether it’s in San Francisco or Oakland, we look forward to further developing meaningful equity programs alongside cities, MTC, Lyft, community-based partners, and other stakeholders who share our values.

We can’t afford to let the transportation of the future reinforce the mistakes of the past. With the equity gap so wide, new transportation investments must prioritize the needs of those who have been left out and overlooked. When black and brown communities have convenient, affordable, sustainable options to get where they need to go, everyone will benefit — people, communities, economies, and the environment.

Alongside our community-based partners, TransForm is ready to build on all we’ve learned and help make MaaS a force for a more equitable, sustainable transportation system.



About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit