A Chat with Ride Report's CEO William Henderson: Helping Cities Support New Forms of Transportation

May 29, 2019

There’s no question that new mobility options are here to stay and are going to transform our cities over time. When we met the team at Ride Report, it was clear that its unique position sitting between cities and micromobility operators (i.e. the companies providing shared bikes, e-scooters, and small electric vehicles) represented both a compelling investment opportunity and an important position in shaping the future of cities. It seems like our country is obsessed with scooters, and there is a new media storm about them every day. Meanwhile, Ride Report has been quietly working behind the scenes to make these micromobility programs run smoothly everywhere from Austin, TX to Madrid, Spain.

It’s been amazing to watch - we couldn’t have imagined that a software system to help transit regulators and city planners would be an exciting Homebrew investment (just announced!). As summer approaches and more people take advantage of new transit options in their city, we thought now would be a great time to share more about Ride Report by sitting down with CEO and Co-Founder, William Henderson.

To get started, one of the things we were intrigued by was your background. Could you explain what led you to create Ride Report?

To be honest, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d end up doing something like this. Before starting Ride Report, I led consumer payments at Square and worked on products at Apple, so my expertise was in using technology for financial systems and privacy protection. I was pretty far removed from mobility and govtech in that work, but in 2003 I started using my bike to get around Portland and came to see efficient transportation options like bikes as key to creating healthier, more sustainable cities.

As I grew from a person biking to a bike advocate, I started to understand the work that needs to be done to address our transportation infrastructure, how we pay for it and the policies we use to govern it. And underlying all of that is a need for cities to use data more quickly and effectively.

So I was already working in this space when scooters launched and I could see that cities had an urgent need to see and control what was happening with this new mode of transportation. We had already built a system to efficiently gather, anonymize and protect micromobility data, so we were in a really natural position to help cities with this problem.

As scooters expanded to more cities, both cities and operators started to realize that sharing the data in real time enables a far better outcome for everyone - it lets cities scale up micromobility faster, more gracefully and in better partnership with operators. Our cities have much better relationships with most of the scooter sharing services than they did with ride-hailing companies, and I think having a good way to share data has been at the center of that.

We remember when scooters first showed up on the streets of San Francisco - people were calling it scooter-mageddon. It feels like the world has been transfixed by scooters and new mobility devices in the past year. How did we get here?

Let me provide some context. In the early days of the automobile, people hated having them in their cities. Newspapers from the 20’s and 30’s are full of enraged accounts – people are parking their personal cars in the street for free! People are driving too fast and children are dying! Several cities came extremely close to mandating a speed-limiting device in every car. Automobile companies had to spend an enormous amount of time and money lobbying at every level of governments to create the city design we have today. We shouldn’t be surprised that the same thing is happening with scooters.

And to understand the city perspective, you have to look at what happened with taxis and ride hailing. Taxis were initially unregulated, but cities were able to successfully impose driver requirements, accessibility standards, rates, etc. When ride-hailing launched and resisted cooperation, that represented a huge loss of control for cities. So that’s why cities immediately asserted their control when some scooter operators tried to copy the ride-hailing playbook.

And yet, despite this history, there is something very compelling about scooters. Both city planners and technologists understand that cars can’t take us much further, that we desperately need a new solution. This has been the case for a while, but now there is a product that can solve these problems that seems to have a much wider appeal than pedaling a bike for a lot of people.

It certainly seems like people love riding them.

Yeah! It’s amazing how much demand there is for these new forms of mobility. We are nowhere near the scale this innovation is capable of. That said, cities are right to take a cautious approach. There are limits to our current micromobility infrastructure, like protected bike lanes. As more people keep asking for these new vehicles, cities will need to adapt today’s street design to support the transportation networks of the future.

What’s your hope for what you’ll be able to achieve?

I think my goals are the same as most people in this space. Both cities and operators want micromobility to work, to scale quickly, to fulfill its potential to disrupt the current system – but in a way that makes cities greener, more accessible and more equitable. But the devil is in the details. That’s where Ride Report comes in - we’re helping cities and micromobility operators be more effective partners in this shared mission. Rather than see it as just another thing to manage, we’re helping cities harness the potential of micromobility.