E-Scooters: the audit
A company that manages data from electric scooters and other shareable forms of transportation has introduced auditing and certification which is being used by the City of Portland.
Ride Report now offers a rating service to cities telling them which scooter companies are behaving themselves. Portland Bureau of Transportation workers already see a dashboard on their screen showing, for example, how many scooters are being dropped off on the east side in the morning, which is part of the plan to make scooter use equitable. Also visible are stats about how many are illegally parked, abandoned, spent, or otherwise not in compliance with city rules.
"For our city partners, trust starts with access to high-quality data that keeps them in control of their streets," said William Henderson, CEO and co-founder of Ride Report.
Cities can look at the data before they select a scooter company, as the audits take the guesswork out of choosing a reliable data provider.
Operators that agree to these commitments and achieve high performance on Ride Report's regular audits are also eligible to become Ride Report Certified operators.
Ride Report Certified operators commit to maintain high-quality, open access to the data cities require, collaborate to improve open standards for evaluating vehicle caps, equity requirements, and other key performance metrics and use these same performance metrics for their city operations.
Sticky bird lime
Henderson says the idea came when they noticed that two scooter companies, Lime and Bird, were consistently in compliance and providing complete, reliable data to the cities who licensed them.
Ride Report decided to create a certificate to make it easier for cities thinking about going with scooters to see what they were getting. (Ride Report is independent of scooter makers, rideshare companies and automakers.)
Ride Report operates in over 100 cities around the globe. Portland's pilot program in summer 2018 is considered one of the better rollouts. So, Ride Report shared the auditing software with Portland early on in 2018.
Most shareable e-scooters are similar models. They are made in China and operate on a white-label basis, meaning scooter share companies brand them with their own paint, stickers and hardware.
The operators also have their own software tools for managing the data wirelessly coming back to them from the scooters, so as to see how to change pricing, charging, maintenance and distribution.
They send that data to the cities. Cities take it on promise that they will get the data promised, but often, they do not.
"Cities can do an audit before a launch, and if the operator gets a low score they can block the launch," Henderson told the Business Tribune. They can also impound scooters of a certain brand if the operator is not playing by the rules. In general, rideshare companies have ridden roughshod over cities, launching before being invited. Cites have no chance of impounding thousands of private vehicles, but scooters are much easier.
"Uber and Lyft, they had the mentality of doing an end run around cities and they largely got away with that. This (scooter) market has emerged in a different way, it's been accountable from day one," he said.
Sometimes the data is bad because operators change their methods. Ride Report acts as the middleman between the tech companies deploying scooters and the cities trying to get their share of revenue and keep the streets safe for everyone.
Mobility Data Specification is a standard that defines what high quality data looks like. It was developed in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, and Portland has joined the foundation.
He says Ride Report is building the auditing tool for the industry standard that Los Angeles and other cities developed, and ratifying the standard.
Ride Report's audits score each operator's data feed to ensure it provides complete data that meets MDS requirements, protects user privacy, and accurately matches what is happening on the ground.
Henderson, who previously worked in payments at Square and Apple, compares the standard to any other, such as the PCI, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, which credit and debit cards conform to.
Wheel revolutions, braking force, GPS location...The data goes straight from the scooter to the servers of the operator, such as Lime, Skip, Bolt, Scout, Bird or Razor. From there the complete raw data is sent to Ride Report for analysis: are the scooters working, are they in the right place, etc.?
Ride Report then strips out the personal data. There is plenty of it, since every smart phone knows who you are, where you shop, where you've been and more. Henderson says Ride Report then destroys the personal data. Not delete it, in a way that can be recovered, but destroys it for all time (in their copy). Then it makes a report to send to city hall of whatever town they're serving.
"We've been conscientious about the need for privacy. Just because you can be tracked everywhere doesn't mean the operators have to turn all that data over to the city."
He explains that if it got into the hands of law enforcement — as a cache of New York City taxi ride data did, embarrassing elected officials by revealing where they went at night — "that could undermine the trust citizens have in the city. The attacks that someone can do on a large data set are malicious."
One set of non-sensitive data can be combined with another to produce intrusive results.
"The cities hire us to be that responsible. It's not helpful to turn over a report that is noisy and hard to read."
Watching the watchers watching
"It's in our license to destroy the personal data. We're always going to protect people's identities, and not build a side business selling data. That's been a real concern since Cambridge Analytica."
City workers can see the data on a live dashboard on their computer, and as a pdf to take to meetings. The deadline might be a big number between one and 100 telling how compliant a scooter company is that day.
He says often tech companies work "very quickly and don't always think about equity and safety in the same way as a city would."
"The cities and tech companies want the same things but they speak different languages. They have different processes and move at different speeds. We're in the middle. We're like a cultural ambassador."
They do have things in common, though.
"It's remarkable how much alignment there is. Cities are trying to fight climate change and congestion, all of a sudden energy and money and innovation are coming out of the tech companies. There's potential for a great collaboration."