This is the first edition of movmi’s Partner Spotlight interview series. We truly believe that cultivating partnerships is the key to successful shared mobility. Today we have over 60 partners and this series will give you insights into the exceptional innovation happening across our network. This month, movmi’s Venkatesh Gopal chats with Eddie Inlow, the CEO of Shift Transit. Shift is an urban mobility operations company that manages more than 25,000 bikes, scooters, carsharing vehicles, and microtransit vans on a daily basis.
Watch the full interview below! Keep reading for a brief summary of our discussion with Eddie Inlow from Shift Transit. Check out more of our #PartnerSpotlight series here.
PARTNER SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH EDDIE INLOW, FOUNDER & CEO OF SHIFT TRANSIT
PARTNER SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: SHIFT TRANSIT
Founder & CEO – Shift Transit
As Founder and CEO of Shift Transit, Eddie has 18 years of experience in management, strategy, and operations, including many within the mobility industry. Eddie founded Shift Transit because of his passion for urban mobility and desire to help stand-up best-in-class mobility systems. This drive and ability to execute has led to Shift’s expansion into multiple North American markets in just five years, covering the bikeshare, scooter sharing, carsharing, and microtransit industries.
Prior to founding Shift Transit, Eddie served as Chief Operating Officer of Motivate, directly overseeing 13 bikeshare systems across the globe, including Citibike in New York, Hubway in Boston, and Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC. Eddie’s career in mobility began as the inaugural General Manager of the Chicago (Divvy) program, where he spearheaded the successful launch of the 3,000-bike system in 2013.
INTERVIEW WITH EDDIE INLOW
WHAT IS SHIFT TRANSIT’S MOTIVATION?
Shift Transit was founded in 2015 to create a partnership approach with cities, with the goal of operating complicated transportation systems successfully. For example, bike share has only been around for a decade in North America and it’s extremely complicated. With it, you have to deal with solar technology, cell technology, software, as well as the gritty operations management – making sure the bikes are ready to ride and safe on a daily basis, especially when you are doing 30,000 rides/day in Toronto.
WHAT WAS THE OVERALL IMPACT OF COVID-19 FOR SHIFT TRANSIT?
It was a challenge. Running a multi-city transportation organization with well-north of 100 employees and servicing tens of thousands of trips on a daily basis throughout a normal year is difficult enough and a global pandemic made it twice as challenging. The most important initial step we took was to coordinate with CDC guidance to ensure the health and safety of our team and our riders.
After the initial slump in March and April of 2020, people started to gravitate towards micromobility options as a safer way to get around. There were already multiple use cases for micromobility, but during this time it was heavily used for leisure activities. It was one of the only options available during this time that allowed people to get outside and be active. There were a lot of replacement recreational hours that needed to be filled and we made sure that our systems were available for consumers to get some joy in a difficult time
WHAT KINDS OF MOBILITY PATTERNS DID YOU SEE EMERGE DURING THIS PERIOD AND HOW DID YOU EMBRACE THEM?
As an analytical and data driven organization, the Shift Transit management team thrives on making decisions based on the most accurate information we can obtain. With COVID-19, the heartbeat of our systems changed practically overnight. We had to use a variety of insights based on data and frankly speculation as to how travel behaviour would change over the following weeks and months. It led to a lot of changes to our rebalancing and marketing strategies.
Our internal marketing team did a great job in understanding that even though it was going to be a tough year, it would be an opportunity to serve our customers even better, by continuing to suggest bikeshare was still a safe, clean, healthy and fun way to get around. We also showcased ‘free-ride’ days and ‘free-ride’ months, to encourage people to try before they buy in order to show how much fun micromobility can be as an alternative to traditional transportation modes. From this, we saw adoption spike and a tremendous uptick in utilization across almost all of the programs for the duration of 2020.
HOW DID YOU WORK WITH MULTIPLE CITIES WHILST SUPPORTING OPERATORS DURING 2020? HOW DID IT DIFFER FOR EACH?
Each of our clients and cities handled the changes differently. For example, they had unique ways of pricing different programs. Each had different tolerances for discount pricing, ‘free-ride’ days and months so it was important for us to understand the nuances for each city, to learn what was important for their specific user base and to not create a blanket marketing/communications solution for everyone. After a consensus was reached, the team relentlessly executed the individual solution for each city via their newsletter and marketing campaigns to each of our customers.
HOW DOES SHIFT TRANSIT WEAVE E-SCOOTER SHARING INTO THE ENTIRE GAMUT OF OPERATIONS?
When introducing bike share systems into cities, we do everything from ‘soup to nuts’ including, marketing, customer service, operations, rebalancing, bike repair, maintenance etc. In the scooter space, we offer the same services to run the entirety of these programs but also offer unique packages depending on the client’s needs, which include limited operations to supplement the clients current operational footprint. For example, we partnered with Spin in the city of Chicago for their phase two scooter-share pilot last year and delivered a flawless execution for their equity program rebalancing. Spin just recently announced how successful this was in a series of blog and social media posts and we were thrilled to be the engine behind that.
WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES OVER THE LAST YEAR AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
During March and April of 2020, nobody was sure of what adoption was going to look like and how many riders we were going to see over the course of the year. Luckily, we are an action-orientated organization and didn’t wait to create positive outcomes. The Shift Transit General Managers and operations team did a phenomenal job in keeping the staff and customers safe using the correct COVID protocols.
An opportunity that arose during this time was to look at how micromobility will move forward from here after seeing how successful docked bike share and scooter systems were in 2020. The question is now how can we blend all of these together to create the perfect micromobility fleet of services for consumers in all cities? We are excited to continue working towards this goal and to continue providing our users with quick, healthy, safe and reliable ways to get around.
WHAT’S IN STORE FOR MICROMOBILITY MOVING FORWARD ACROSS NORTH AMERICA? WHAT ARE THE LASTING IMPACTS COMING OUT OF THE PANDEMIC?
We are thankfully starting to see some normalcy return on a general scale. In terms of the micromobility ecosystem, we see e-bikes playing a pivotal role in the future. We have dock-based, pedal assisted pilots in three of our existing programs and utilization rates for these bikes are at least 4X compared to traditional pedal bikes. Consumers love them because they expand transportation range within cities. As cities grow and expand their network of docked stations, it will be easier for people to travel longer distances. There is also an additional use case, as people start to return to in-person meetings – working up less of a sweat on the commute will definitely be one advantage of using pedal-assisted e-bikes for a lot of professionals. All the data is pointing towards this, not only in the shared space, but in the personal use/purchase space as well.
HOW DO YOU HELP OPERATORS WITH THE FINANCIAL SIDE OF THEIR OPERATIONS?
In terms of the bike share industry in North America, generally the equipment is purchased using grants and federal funding and then it is up to us and our client partners (nonprofits and government entities) to make the ecosystem work financially. If you take out the capital expense of the equipment (which almost everyone in transportation does, otherwise you wouldn’t have any sustainable systems) there will always be a small gap to fill in terms of farebox recovery, when you compare it to expenses to operate the program. Usually this gap is filled by ad or title sponsorship of the program and government subsidies on the operations side.
We take pride in ensuring that the financial ecosystem is as sustainable as possible for all of our clients. However, it’s a bit of a different story with the scooter companies, as most of the big players are private entities so it makes it harder to partner with public entities and receive public funding. When working with our scooter partners, it’s important for us to make sure they are operating as lean as possible to deliver a great service that is financially sustainable.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR SHIFT TRANSIT?
Number one is continuing to work with and deliver for our existing customers throughout 2021. All of our bike share clients have extended their contracts by as much as five years, so our aim is to keep delivering results for our existing partners.
We are also launching two new programs this summer, which we couldn’t be more excited about but can’t release any information just yet – we should have some announcements in the coming weeks, included on our blog.
Medium to long-term, e-bikes are the future. The e-bikes in our systems continue to show tremendous utilization and our partners are committed to using e-bikes as an additional (if not in a dominant) mode in their bike share fleets moving forward.
Shift Transit is a leading mobility operations company, managing 25,000+ mobility assets on a day-to-day basis, including scooters, bikes, carsharing vehicles, and shared vans. Shift manages all facets of mobility programs, including: launch planning, asset deployment, fleet management, marketing & sales, customer service and government relations.