Spin: Goodbye to e-bikes

Spin, the company that caused a sensation with its orange bikes, is officially abandoning the bike-share industry, focusing instead on e-scooters. 

Although there have been various reports of Spin "shifting its focus to e-scooters", it had not been clear whether the company would entirely abandon bike-sharing. Until, perhaps, today: a fresh report from Adam Vaccaro of the Boston Globe confirms that the San Francisco based bike and scooter operator will not be continuing its partnership with the Bostonian suburbs after 2019. As Euwyn Poon, President and co-founder of Spin, told the Boston Globe, the company plans to honour the one-year agreement with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council by deploying its orange e-bikes in Arlington, Medford, Winthrop, and a dozen other suburbs this summer. It is implied that no further partnership will occur, come the end of the one-year agreement.

Late last year, the Planning Council solicited proposals for a bike share system that would come at no cost to the City - nine applicants submitted proposals, with Spin and LimeBike eventually winning the contract. Interestingly, the final award of the contract was made last April; Spin only entered the scooter-sharing business two months before then (February, 2018). Eric Bourassa, the Transportation Director of MAPC pointed out the abruptness of Spin's decision in his communication with the Boston Globe. Spin's President acknowledged the facts but defended the company's decision by explaining that "the industry is moving very quickly". Euwyn Poon also expressed Spin's desire to deploy their e-scooters in the area, an offer that Eric Bourassa turned down, saying that the time is not yet ripe for scooters in Massachusetts. 

The decision of Spin raises a few critical questions for the present and future of mobility. 

Firstly, it will be interesting to see how the bikeshare landscape changes in Massachusetts, now that Spin is effectively dropping out. Will MAPC seek a partnership with a new vendor, starting after Spin fulfils its contractual obligation? Will MAPC release Spin early and commission another vendor alongside LimeBike for a year (it is not known whether Spin would want that but it would seem weird to invest in supporting a means that they are abandoning)? Or will MAPC proceed with the Spin/LimeBike plan for a year, and then extend LimeBikes contract? 

Secondly, and more generally, Spin's abrupt change of plans highlights a potential "ethical" problem in the mobility space. As cheap transportation services (ride/bike/scooter-sharing) are embraced by the public, public transit usually suffers a decrease in popularity, which can be associated with a decrease in the quality of public transit. Since most bike-sharing and scooter-sharing happens through a private initiative, one could ask: What are the repercussions associated with a major stakeholder pulling out of the industry? A similar example, although encouraged by different factors, would be Uber recently pulling out of Athens, Greece, due to new legislation imposed by Tsipras' government.

Photo Credit: SounderBruce

Andrew Kyprianides