- Lyft has hired bicycle and transit activist Caroline Samponaro as its new head of policy for bikes, scooters, and transportation.
- She’ll work alongside former US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx to help convince riders to ditch cars.
- In an interview with Business Insider, she explained why the switch from non-profit activism to a multi-billion dollar made sense right now.
On the surface, Caroline Samponaro’s resume looks a bit at odds with a potentially $US20 billion company whose business thus far has largely relied on getting people into cars.
The better part of Samponaro’s adult life has been spent at Transportation Alternatives, one of the most powerful bike and pedestrian-safety lobbies in New York City, where she has – in her own words – fought to entirely remove cars from streets.
Now she’s joining Lyft, the ride-hailing firm with an Uber competitor, on the heels of a major acquisition that has made it the largest bike-share operator in the country. She’ll steer bike, scooter, and pedestrian policy as the company races towards an initial public offering and invest heavily in expanding its footprint beyond automobiles.
“When John Zimmer, the founder of Lyft, reached out to me about this job, I didn’t know what to expect to be honest – I had never met him,” Samponaro said in an interview. “But when I was sitting with him and hearing about his vision, I was struck by how much overlap there was in the work I’ve been doing and the vision he has for the role Lyft can play and being part of the same.”
With its acquisition of Motivate, which closed last month, Lyft now operates some of the nation’s most popular bike-share programs, including those in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., and San Francisco. It’s also launched scooters in six markets with plans to reach 10 by the end of the year.
Lyft has also pledged to invest $US100 million more into its bike and scooter program, bringing its total to 40,000 bikes over the next five years. (It’s currently at roughly 30,000, according to a spokesperson). And perhaps most importantly, it has begun to integrate the alternative modes into its main car app.
Not only will you soon be able to book a bike in the same screen as a shared or private car ride, Samponaro – along with her boss, former Department of Transportation chief Anthony Foxx – are ensuring there’s a thoughtful crossover between the modes in a way that keeps everyone safe.
“We partnered with advocates and the city to get ahead of protected bike lanes within our app, ” explained Samponaro, “by geo-fencing the bike route so that we create a dedicated drop-off and pickup location for drivers so they aren’t double parking in the bike lane.”
Other technologies coming soon include more pedal-assist bikes, like the ones which rolled out in New York recently that can make hills and long distances a breeze. The company’s also taken a unique approach to scooters – one that doesn’t involve vehicles parked anywhere (and often, everywhere).
“Bringing the benefits of docked bike share to the scooter landscape is a top priority for us,” Samponaro said, adding that Lyft will “have exciting stuff to share in the coming months on that.”
Until then, Lyft will likely continue to see lots of competition as scooter startups like Lime and Bird continue their rapid expansion across the United States and abroad. Uber, meanwhile, is also rumoured to be in the market to buy a scooter company to add to its arsenal alongside Jump Bikes, which it bought in April.
But as both Lyft and Uber race towards listing their stock on public markets as soon as next year, Samponaro’s focus isn’t on the business – it’s still on safety, just like her activism work has been for more than a decade.
“There are eight parking spots for every car in the US,” she said. “If you think about the fact that we’re using public space for a very small minority of people that have the ability to buy and own a car, we have to flip that around, we have to take the space back and make sure we’re using it for more equitable transportation.”
After all, “bikes are transportation too,” she added.
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