Today’s guest is Melinda Hanson, Head of Sustainability at Bird, a micromobility company based in Santa Monica, CA. Founded in September 2017, Bird operates shared electric scooters in over 100 cities in Europe, the Middle East, and North America, with 10 million rides in its first year of operation. Enjoy the show!
Today’s guest is Melinda Hanson, Head of Sustainability at Bird, a micromobility company based in Santa Monica, CA. Founded in September 2017, Bird operates shared electric scooters in over 100 cities in Europe, the Middle East, and North America, with 10 million rides in its first year of operation.
Melinda joined Bird from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, where she served as deputy director of NACTO's international programs. Before that, Melinda was a consultant for the Asian Development Bank, helping design and implement public transit projects in Pakistan and the Philippines. Earlier in her career, she was a founding staff member of the ClimateWorks Foundation where she managed the sustainable transport portfolio.
In today’s episode, we cover:
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You can find me on twitter at @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at email@example.com, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.
Enjoy the show!
Jason Jacobs: Hello, everyone. This is Jason Jacobs, and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change, and try to figure out how people like you and I can help. Today's guest is Melinda Hanson, the Head of Sustainability for Bird. Bird, is a reliable last mile electric scooter rental service. Their mission's to make cities more livable by reducing car usage, traffic and congestion. Melinda, joined Bird from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, where she served as Deputy Director of their international programs.
Before that, Melinda, was a consultant for the Asian Development Bank helping design and implement public transit projects in Pakistan and Philippines. Earlier in her career, she was a founding staff member of the ClimateWorks Foundation where she managed the Sustainable Transport Portfolio. We'll talk about a lot in this episode including how Bird thinks about impact and sustainability, where they are today, where they're trying to get to, the progress that they've made to date, what's coming next, as well as key learnings that could be beneficial to others trying to figure out how to have sustainability play a bigger role in their organizations.
Bird scooters are a hot topic because they've been popping up everywhere and their impact is a topic of debate. But I found Melinda to be quite thoughtful, quite passionate, and has a bunch of good ideas on how sustainability can play a big role, not only at Bird, but in every organization. Melinda Hanson, welcome to the show.
Melinda Hanson: Thank you for having me.
Jason Jacobs: Thank you for coming or I should say thank you for having me since I'm here at your office in New York.
Melinda Hanson: Yes, you are the beautiful Fulton Center WeWork.
Jason Jacobs: Yes. If you've been to one WeWork, you've been to them all, I guess.
Melinda Hanson: Yeah, but ours looks a little like a spaceship, which is fun.
Jason Jacobs: I was excited for this discussion. I mean, first of all I just see Birds everywhere so it's been this incredible growth story and it's also been interesting for me because my whole career has been in small high growth technology companies that are funded by venture capital. And when I headed down the climate change path the last 10 months, I was pretty discouraged actually by just looking at what the overlap is of where you can do meaningful climate stuff and fit nicely into the venture backed technology model that I know and love.
I've actually been spending about a lot of time kind of looking at everything else and I'm starting to come back around now as I find examples within my old world, if you will, that that feel like they could have meaningful climate impacts and fit nicely into that rapid growth startup mold. And I feel like a burden in many ways as the poster child of that. Talking to someone from Bird and someone that runs sustainability at Bird is a really interesting, timely, relevant discussion.
Melinda Hanson: For sure. I mean, I totally hear all that because I've been working my whole career essentially in trying to get people to take bicycles. And I think it was like a lot of us thinking that what we've seen in some European cities, people would just buy their own bicycle and not take cars as frequently and we would have this sort of peaceful Kumbaya sustainability moment in cities. And it turned out the bicycle was not the right mode and the scooter really is. Just seeing the fact that our founder Travis, was able to recognize that and the popularity that we've seen has been incredibly exciting.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, and maybe bicycle is Prius and scooter is Tesla, or bicycle is veggie burger and scooter is...
Melinda Hanson: Is the impossible burger.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah.
Melinda Hanson: Yeah, exactly. Something about it. And I think obviously I'm a cyclist myself, so a lot of room for all types of modes. But I think just like having another option available on the streets for people to take, especially when it's so convenient that they don't have to lock up, they can leave it where it's convenient for them is a huge motivator for getting people to choose sustainable modes.
Jason Jacobs: And probably a lot of listeners know what Bird is, but for anyone that doesn't or for anyone that just hasn't heard someone from Bird describe what Bird is. Can we start there? What is Bird?
Melinda Hanson: Bird is a shared dockless electric scooter company. We stationed Birds all around cities working in partnership with city governments. You download an app, so similar to a Uber or Lyft. You can access a ride using an app on your telephone. You can locate where the Bird is, you unlock the bird scooter on your app and then you can take it to a destination of your choosing and leave it parked out of the public right of away on a street outside wherever you would like to head.
Jason Jacobs: And how did you find yourself working in a dockless scooter company? What led you down this path, what were you doing before? Maybe talk a bit about your history and motivations to be where you are now.
Melinda Hanson: I learned about climate change when I was in middle school, so quite a while ago. And it was something that really captured my imagination and my passion and really I decided at a pretty young age that I wanted to do something. I had an environmental studies teacher named Mr. Hartman, in a school outside of Portland, Oregon who taught us about it essentially and said to us over and over that our generation would be the last generation really to be able to do something about this. And he was right. I started my career, studied environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz.
Right after school went and worked for an environmental consulting firm, which led me to getting to work with some amazing people to fund and launch the ClimateWorks Foundation. The ClimateWorks Foundation, we were able to secure over a billion of funding from large philanthropic institutions. The goal was to take a really strategic approach to funding public policy organizations. We developed this business plan and this roadmap that looked at the highest emitting sectors, so transportation, utilities, buildings, and also looked at the highest emitting countries, and really focused hard on technical assistance and policy change in those places to get things like building codes passed. And in my portfolio it was always associated with urban form and sustainable transportation.
I spent a lot of my early years of my career working on bus projects in China and India and trying to get Bus Rapid Transit so that these cities would be set up in a way that people would have the option to take sustainable modes as opposed to the car dominated setup that we've seen in a lot of cities around the world. That of course lead to climate change and air pollution and way too much time spent in traffic congestion and all those problems.
I spent many years working in that area doing urban planning, working on bike projects, pedestrian types of projects, and just continued to feel frustrated by the pace of change. Like I was working on a project in Philippines and it was a really large scale bus project and it promised to help relieve all this bad traffic congestion. Manila has the worst traffic congestion in the world, and it didn't go anywhere. It doesn't really show much promise for going anywhere, and that happened all too frequently. Then I start hearing about Bird scooters and at first-
Jason Jacobs: Why didn't it go anywhere and why did that happen all too frequently?
Melinda Hanson: Ooh, if I only knew. No, I think that the challenge is, many cities have really set up this model where the car was assumed to be the only option and that's really a self-fulfilling prophecy, right? If you design city streets for cars then everybody wants to be in a car because other modes are unpleasant, they're inhospitable. For example, if you try and ride a bike in a city, even like New York these days, right? You feel you're really squeezed out, you don't actually have the space. Really just these design decisions that people have made have really embedded the car and there's a reluctance to change.
People assume that they know a lot about how to relieve traffic congestion and assume that the way to do that is to widen highways and to give more space to cars. But what we've seen all over the world, time and time again is that that never, ever works. We will never get out of the carbon emissions, air pollution, traffic congestion, time-wasting problem by building another lane. The only solutions that really work are transit and micro modes, but moving from that car-focused culture is a really, really big push.
Jason Jacobs: And in terms of the resistance, where does that typically come from in your experience? The resistance to change, is it from the drivers themselves, is it from the car manufacturers? Is it from somewhere else that I'm not even thinking about?
Melinda Hanson: Yeah, good question. It's actually funny because I think if you go to any city council meeting, the topic that people get most worked up about is parking. People feel that there's a God given right to them and their public parking spaces, right? And it's just something that's embedded in the car-oriented culture I think particularly as part of the American dream, which you can find a similar version across the world. It's like you grow up, you get a car, you have a car, you have your house. It's sort of these embedded rights that we're all moving toward and that it's your right to have a car and it's your right to be able to drive that car wherever you want. And it's your right essentially to park that car.
But in reality, when you really think about it, we're allowing people to park their private property in public spaces. In a city, in any given city the majority of what you could qualify as a public space is actually streets. And those streets are given over to cars. And if you look at many cities around the world, particularly in developing countries, a very small portion of the population even has a car and so you're giving that space over to only the wealthiest of the people. And that really doesn't make sense, right? We would all complain if people started putting their refrigerators out on the sidewalks or something, or some of their other private property in our public spaces. But cars just really get a write off and I think it's just been a long history of obsession with car ownership and the rights associated with it.
Jason Jacobs: There is this great foundation in Boston, they keep a pretty low profile. Well, they're called the Barr Foundation, and they do a lot as it relates to... primarily regional but climate is one of their big issues and transportation in our cities. There was this Sustainable Cities Conference in Oslo, Norway. It was a few months ago and they sent a small contingent from Boston to go. I was one of the people that they invited to go on the trip. I had never been to Norway before and just walking around that city, especially being there for why we were there, I was already paying attention to it, but it's like even if I wasn't, it's just very striking. You barely see any cars anywhere. It's so pedestrian friendly, micro mobility, and I don't think that here in the United States, particularly in dense urban areas that people realize what's possible.
Melinda Hanson: I was there in Oslo in May of this year and it was really remarkable to see what they've accomplished in a pretty short amount of time. And the two fundamental policies that have ushered in that change is, one, that they're banning diesel and gasoline cars. I think by something like 2020 or 2025 you can no longer bring those cars into cities and so people have already decided to move toward electric vehicles of all different types.
The other really important part is that they've actually straight up banned cars if they have low emissions zones all throughout the city. That really ends up creating the space for transit to move more freely. It creates the space for people on bicycles or on scooters, or on two feet really to move freely and to have a pleasant journey not in a car. I think that's a really, really crucial thing and of course, you see transitions like that happening really all across Europe. I think Seville, Spain is another excellent example.
Jason Jacobs: I love Seville.
Melinda Hanson: I love Seville. It's an amazing example too, right? Because it was a city that went from a car-oriented city and they were facing all of the associated problems that we have with car-oriented cities, the traffic congestion, the safety issues. And then they had a politician come in and really decide to embrace cycling and they committed to building 80 kilometers of cycle lanes over the course of two years and just saw their bicycle ridership skyrocket. And that really is the key here. We have a lot of examples of that, that if you build these connected protected lanes, if you allocate the streets space, two modes other than cars, if you build it people will come.
Jason Jacobs: I want to go back. You were feeling frustrated because you are working on these cycling or pedestrian projects that were these grand plans that weren't seeing the light of day. And then what?
Melinda Hanson: Then I started seeing the Bird scooters pop up. And I think at first I thought this is just a fad, this may not last. But then started hearing more about the uptake and started talking to people who actually took them and took one myself. And it was surprising to me also that really this is onto something. For some reason the e-scooter really captures people in a way that the bicycle did not. I think there's a lot of reasons for it. I think it's a easier mode to access. People are used to standing, it's just a small little step up onto one little platform.
You can move without physically exerting yourself too much. It just feels comfortable and it's fun, and it's convenient and it's incredibly popular. And I think that that growth really, that we started seeing and the positive stories and the smiling faces on scooters that we saw was really a driving factor for me to move over. And of course, once I saw that Bird was taking sustainability seriously by advertising for a position of Head of Sustainability, I reached out to them and here I am today.
Jason Jacobs: I know you weren't necessarily around from day zero to be part of these discussions, but was sustainability something that was baked into the original story or is that something that the company discovered partway through the journey that, oh actually we have an opportunity to have impact? What happened between day zero and posting a job description for a Head of Sustainability at Bird?
Melinda Hanson: Our founder Travis VanderZanden, has a very interesting background. His mother was a bus driver and so I think he's sort of been in the transportation space or around the transportation space since a very young age. He came from Uber and Lyft and I think after working there for a while and seeing the successes and the limitations, really started to look at what the sort of limitations were and look at some of the data and notice that there's actually somewhere around 50% of trips in the US that are pretty short trips. People are driving really short distances and standing around and waiting for a car to take you then a mile doesn't really make a lot of sense. And just noticing that obviously there's possibly a much better option available and thinking about what that might be, and a witnessing that bikes weren't quite it. And then finding, he has actually a pretty excellent story about his daughters, right?
His daughters had scooters and loved scooters and were taking their little kick scooters all around. And then he bought them bicycles for Christmas. And they liked their bicycles, they were learning to ride their bicycles but pretty quickly they started asking to ride their scooters again. Just really noticing the combination of the fact that there's a lot of short trips, the fact that the scooter seems to be a pretty interesting mode and going from there. And then I think really recognizing again from the traffic congestion, the emissions problems, some of the concerns associated with the inefficiencies of a car-based trip for short trips was certainly a motivator.
Jason Jacobs: And there's been plenty of scooter companies that have come before. What do you think is different about Bird or timing, or why has Bird gotten so much scale so quickly relative to, well, not as any company but also specifically relative to all the scooter companies that had come before?
Melinda Hanson: We were actually the first ones to offer the electric kick scooter in a shared environment. And I think since then we obviously have, I think, 10, depending on the day there's a lot of different competition in the space. And I think what really sets us apart is the R and D that we've invested into our vehicles. We just came out with the Bird Two, which is a beautiful scooter. It's like we've heard people call it the Apple of scooters and that's obviously an amazing compliment and an amazing testament to the fact that these are beautiful vehicles. It's something that you actually like. From a design perspective, it's appealing.
And I think that that's a really big piece of course to start, is just the quality of the vehicle. The other piece in there is really mastering the connecting of the customers with the origins and the destinations. In order for this to work really well and for people to take a lot of rides, they have to be able to open their phone and find a scooter in the location that they want to take it and I think our operations team deserves a ton of credit really for that in making that possible.
Jason Jacobs: You mentioned that one of the inputs that went into your decision is you are seeing these scooters pop up everywhere and another one was coming to realize that Bird were serious about sustainability. Was it the uncovered that may you come to that belief?
Melinda Hanson: I think coming to talk with people and realizing that I think, while the sustainability piece was maybe not the founding principle, it was sort of the convenience and how do we help people get around in a more efficient way. It was clear how excited everybody that I spoke to, once they got it going and once they saw and once they understood a little bit more about the fact that this is an electric vehicle, it's incredibly efficient. We're moving people so much more efficient than a car. It really captures everybody's imagination in Bird, and there's a passion and a drive across the whole company and so many people say that the reason that they come to work is because they feel that they're helping to make a difference in the climate crisis.
Jason Jacobs: What was your charter coming in as the Head of Sustainability? Was there any organization that existed or were you essentially starting it from zero?
Melinda Hanson: Startup life, 100%. I began right before Bird's one year anniversary and were coming up on a second year. And I think that I was hired because of my background in just understanding climate policy more generally and the tools that it took and the approach that it would require to actually decarbonize cities, and then also my experience with urban planning and urban space. They really left it to me in a lot of ways to define what sustainability really was and the way that my job has really shaped up. Of course, there's an element of a startup culture where you just pitch in wherever help is needed. But fundamentally, the service that we're providing is sustainable. We're providing an option to car-based transport that's actually appealing to people. Just in us operating by ourselves in what we do, we're already providing a sustainable service.
The more exciting part, and I think the part that really demonstrates how serious Bird is as compared to potentially other operators in the space is that we're really, really focused on the longevity of the vehicles. Of course, there's been a lot of focus lately on how long these things last and what the sustainability is from a life cycle perspective. That will no longer be a question I think with the design investments that we've made and the sustainability of the vehicles and the long lasting of them in a year or two, I would say.
Jason Jacobs: Am I hearing that the charter then is to look at that life cycle, and then on a continuous improvement basis look at how to make that life cycle more and more friendly for the environment over time by further reducing emissions and the carbon footprint that goes into all aspects of bird's business?
Melinda Hanson: Exactly, yeah. From a sustainability perspective we really think about it. We have our tailpipe emissions. In a city, typically when they're talking about sustainability they're talking about reducing tailpipe emissions. And if you look at a Bird versus a traditional vehicle, we are 98% a more efficient than a car on a tailpipe basis. When you look at the life cycle, this is a more comprehensive view of sustainability. This is not typically something that a city would concern themselves with from a sustainability perspective, but it is something that's important.
It was sort of the downfall of biofuels, for example. 10 years ago in the transportation space there was a lot of promise shown for biofuels being a low carbon solution for powering our cars. But the problem was when you looked at the life cycle basis, you looked at all of the resources in growing and moving of the plants or whatever substance that was used to create the fuel. It turned out that when you looked at that altogether it wasn't quite as sustainable. I think people are really holding us to a similar kind of a standard and making sure that we're building a vehicle... cities are holding us to a higher standard and making sure that we're building a vehicle that is strong and that does stand up on a lifecycle basis against cars. And we're really making so many improvements as we understand what works in cities, what kind of things tend to wear out quicker in the vehicles and just constantly innovating and constantly improving to ensure that it's a super high quality ride and also a really durable vehicle.
Jason Jacobs: Sure. It varies city to city but, but what if there is a typical, what do the cities care about when they make decisions about whether to allow Bird and other micromobility options to be deployed there?
Melinda Hanson: It's such a new space and I think people are still trying to figure out how to regulate. And particularly because unlike some of the Ubers and the Lyfts of the world, we have these small vehicles that are left in public right of way. There's still a lot of conversation happening about what that actually should look like and how to best manage it, and how to make sure that companies are providing a service that is helpful to a city. I think all cities have really identified that they needed a last mile connection, right? If you look at any city's sustainability plan this is a priority for most cities.
We're really offering that, so a lot of cities really see that promise and see the value add of the scooters for a problem that they sort of initially identified. A lot of what cities are setting up for us from a regulatory and operating perspective is to make sure that we're being good partners, to make sure you know that we're stationing our vehicles in equity zones. To make sure that we're working with the local transit agencies to put our scooters near transit stops so that people can take a train or take a bus somewhere and then take the scooter to their final destination.
I think from that perspective it's really an operational sophistication. Because it turns out that managing these vehicles sometimes there's up to like 10,000 vehicles in some cities, right? Managing that is an amazing logistical effort. I think competitors when they first saw these scooters on the street thought that it was something quite simple, but the sophistication of operations that actually it requires to be a really good partner and to make sure that the vehicles are not blocking the public right of away, to make sure that they're in places that are helpful to cities is a really big piece, so that operational piece.
The other piece of course is that a lot of cities have identified sustainability goals. Depending on where you go, some of them have mode shift goals. For example, they want 10% of all trips in their city to be taken by a bicycle or an e-scooter by a certain year. They're looking also for partners that can help them fulfill these other sustainability-oriented goals, which again I think requires a level of sophistication with the operator and something that Bird is highly focused on.
Jason Jacobs: In terms of establishing a sustainability group and moving towards net zero emissions, it's the right thing to do. There's a noble mission there and that part is, I mean, of course a good thing. But if you put that aside, what's the number one reason in terms of the business case for a for profit company like Bird with big financial expectations to establish this group so early in the journey?
Melinda Hanson: You mean how to set it up to be... oh, you mean the sustainability?
Jason Jacobs: Right, yeah. All this stuff you mentioned about the life cycle and making improvements. Is it just because it's the right thing to do or is it good business? And if it's good business, why is it good business?
Melinda Hanson: Got you, yeah. I actually have to say in learning more from people who have a similar position to me in other companies, the really nice thing about my job is that the majority of sustainability initiatives also make business sense, right? For us to make sure that we're running a profitable company, we have to have scooters that last a long time and that people enjoy riding. That's a really, really huge piece of it. And there's a lot of different examples of that, right? I think at first people think, "Oh, sustainability is something that's going to cost me a lot of money and create all these inconveniences." But actually, in a lot of ways there's many examples of efficiencies that it creates which often in our business at least turns into cost savings.
Jason Jacobs: And when you came in, I guess, as an outsider view you need to understand where you are from the last cycle standpoint. You need to identify things for improvement and then need to actually make those improvements. Where were you on that spectrum when you came in and where are you today?
Melinda Hanson: I think the longevity and the long life of the vehicle has always been the focus even outside of sustainability just because of the consistency with the need to be a profitable company, and we've made amazing progress really on that front. And we've been undergoing a life cycle assessment at the request of our city partners and that's been actually a really amazing exercise just to get to work with the different teams across Bird, right? We do everything, we do the design of the vehicles, we do the operations, we do the maintenance. Getting the opportunity to talk with all those teams from a sustainability basis and set benchmarks has been an exercise that we're doing right now and hoping to release some findings from that in the coming months.
But I think it's incredibly exciting when you actually look at the progress that we've already made in reducing emissions from a lifecycle basis already in less than two years of operations. When you look at the emissions reductions from a lifecycle basis that are sort of in the can that are coming forward with our next models and service improvements, and then look even further into the future. I mean, we really intend to be the most sustainable transport option no matter which way you slice it.
Jason Jacobs: The measurement piece, then you feel you're at a point now where you understand the life cycle with a reasonable degree of accuracy?
Melinda Hanson: Yes, exactly. We're finalizing that exercise right now and using that information really to set some targets and to figure out what is the low hanging fruit that we haven't already grabbed, and what kinds of things can we do right away and what kinds of things will we need to look to do in the future. Really going through a kind of combination of a life cycle assessment, but also a sustainability strategy.
Jason Jacobs: And that one of the biggest areas you've found is on the longevity of the scooters themselves. Are there other big areas that you've identified that you haven't tackled yet that you're excited about for the future?
Melinda Hanson: Yes, I think it's such an amazing, innovative space. One of the biggest ones, right? Is how do we get the scooters charged? Right now we have a combination of different models, some of which includes freelance workers who pick up the scooters once the battery is drained past a certain amount and then charge them in their own home. Looking at really what that model ends up being, there are some additional efficiencies that we're looking at achieving in that regard just to make sure that incentivizing lower emission vehicles to help us with the charging.
There's other types of things that are being explored. I think one of the most fundamental questions there, and one of the biggest questions, one of the biggest possible solutions for solving that issue in reducing emissions from the charging itself will really be the battery life. Again, coming back to the innovation, we've seen so much improvement in lithium-ion batteries over the past few years and our battery team is really amazing.
They're actually one of my favorite teams to talk with because they're really thinking ahead about how do you design a battery that first of all holds a charge for a really long time? Just reducing the amount of time or the number of times that you have to pick up the vehicles and actually charge the battery. But then after a battery has gone through a life of one scooter, how can we design it in a way that we can improve it and refurbish it and give it a second life. Some of those kinds of things also are really exciting to think about from a sustainability perspective.
Jason Jacobs: Have you thought at all about kind of a sustainability North Star? In your wildest dreams, if Bird were successful beyond imagination, what kind of impact would you be having and I'm not talking about the financial kind?
Melinda Hanson: Yeah, I mean, the reason that I came over was because I saw that finally there was something that was getting Americans to choose something other than a car. When you think about what really matters from a sustainability perspective, what really matters is getting people to drive less. And however we can do that is going to make a huge impact for climate and for so many other reasons. My North Star, my biggest thing would be if we were able to get even 25% or maybe 50% of all of those car journeys that I mentioned that are under three miles to be taken on Bird, that would make a huge, huge dent. And hopefully we'll get to a future in which that's possible and that's what we see on our streets.
Jason Jacobs: And in some ways there's some parallels between just the overall climate challenge and the Bird challenge. And what I mean by that is that I know that Bird and micromobility in general gets what some critics say is, they talk about how the roads were built for cars and so it's not safe to have micromobility because there's no room for them on the sidewalks and there's no room for them in the streets. And where are they going to go? And they're just going to wreak havoc wherever they are and people are going to leave them wherever they go and things like that. And then I bet what you had said back and what I've actually read you've said back in the past is that, "Well, it's not the scooter that's dangerous, it's the car. And it's the fact that the infrastructure isn't built the right way."
But there's a bit of this kind of chicken and egg, right? Is that if you just jam the scooters in but you don't make the other systemic changes then it is in fact dangerous. But the best way to make those systemic changes is I would imagine to get the scooters in and show the people want them, right? How do you navigate that in a way that minimizes injury and accidents, and clutter and it's like that messy middle, right? And what's the thought there in terms of how to navigate that without breaking too much glass?
Melinda Hanson: That's a great question. That's one that I think about every day. And one of the things that's so exciting about Bird is that for many people, it's their first time on two wheels, right? There's been a very active and somewhat successful bicycle community that's been pushing for reallocation of our street space for quite a while. Because the fact of the matter, we have plenty of streets, right? We have plenty of streets. Streets are, that's not what we have a shortage of. What we have a shortage of is space for a mode that's other than a car. And what we've seen, what we touched on a little bit earlier, is that if you allocate the space, if you provide connected and protected infrastructure, people will ride.
Now, the problem is, and why it hasn't happened is the political willingness of taking away any space from cars is obviously a big push. And in the past, the way that politicians and department of transportations have had to actually make that case is by having interns stand on the side of the road and actually with a little clicker count the number of bicycles that go by, which is a completely inefficient and crazy way of figuring out what bicycle demand is, right? But now that we have these scooters, we're not only getting so many people who never took a bike, who never would have considered taking a bike onto two wheels, but we're also able to show cities where people are riding and where this demand is. They can actually prioritize where to spend their infrastructure dollars and justify it at those city council meetings. That can be so contentious by showing like, "Hey look, we have the data. People want to ride here, we need to make it safe."
And the other piece is if you look at best practice, you look at cities that have been bold about reclaiming space. What you find is when you give everybody their dedicated space, you give the cars some space, you give the commercial vehicles space to load and unload. You give the pedestrian space, you give the bicycle space, that makes all the traffic runs so much smoother. The efficiency in terms of number of people per hour that you can get through I think is three times the size of just a road built for cars. And then of course, the safety benefits are also huge. You see a huge improvement in safety, not just of the most vulnerable street users but also of car passengers.
Jason Jacobs: Let's say I bought into the dream of micromobility at scale for these short trips with infrastructure that is friendly to micromobility. If you could only change one thing to help accelerate that transition, what would it be? It could be a policy thing, it could be an innovation thing, could be a funding thing, could be a consumer... I don't want to put words in your mouth. It could be anything.
Melinda Hanson: The one thing fundamentally right away would be that every department of transportation in every city was able to do a bike lane, or we've been calling the more increasingly Green Lane Master Plan. Looking at the city and putting in the type of infrastructure that will support scooter riding but will of course support anyone else who wants to take a bicycle or another two or three wheel mode. But the key is, and the secret is, and the most important thing for getting to the type of mode shift that we need to see to have an impact from a climate perspective is to have a massive connected and protected network of bicycle lanes. The first piece, to answer your question more directly would be first to get every city to actually do that. And second, to ease the political process so that not every quarter mile of bicycle lane had to be litigated by city councils. It should just be something that cities have the authority to take back the space and to actually implement. And if we did that I am 100% sure that we would see such an increase in ridership.
Jason Jacobs: And to make that second change, is there some specific policy that would need to be enacted or repealed? Or technically, is there some lever to be pulled that could do that efficiently?
Melinda Hanson: Yes, people have increasingly been talking about Quick Build. And I think all in the spirit of good community engagement and community planning, we have engaged communities in building bicycle lanes historically. But the thing that I always think about is that you wouldn't ask the community about safety features on a car, for example, because that's not their expertise. And a bike lane or a green lane is a safety feature in a city. I think just figuring out how to remove it from that quagmire that it often gets set in, and perhaps that is a Quick Build kind of a policy because really this is fundamentally a safety issue, an equity issue and a sustainability issue.
Jason Jacobs: And then I guess taking a step back, and we've talked a bit about how micromobility fits into the climate fight. How transportation is a big source of emissions in these small trips and it's much less energy intense to have micromobility. And 40% of, I think I read a Star and interview that you gave, that it was 40% of trips under three miles are done in a car. What else besides micromobility are big levers in the climate fight? If you weren't working in micromobility and you were interested in having the biggest impact on decarbonizing on a global content that you could, what would you be doing?
Melinda Hanson: That's a hard question. I think batteries. I think batteries are the most important thing about whether or not we're actually going to be able to successfully decarbonize the transportation sector, but also store renewable energy to ensure that we can provide consistent and reliable sustainable energy sources. And again, there's been so much amazing progress in the battery space over the past few years. It's a really exciting space and I think it'll be really crucial to us getting ourselves out of this climate crisis.
Jason Jacobs: Improvement that is not there today that you think is necessary in the battery space that would unlock micromobility adoption at scale.
Melinda Hanson: I think it's really a matter of making sure that these batteries are able to hold the charge. The longer that they can actually hold onto the charge, the better. In the case of micromobility, the less frequent we have to charge them. In the case of renewable energy, it's like when people talk about, "Oh, if the sun's not shining, how are you going to access your solar power?" That's really a battery, it's an energy storage question. Of course, the longevity of the batteries and then also just the recyclability. Making sure that there's maximum extraction of all of those materials and that after a battery has one useful life, hopefully up to two or three useful lives, then it goes to recycling facility in which it achieves maximum extraction for all the rare earth materials and minerals, cobalt, lithium, all that. And that those can re-enter the supply chain. Because really cleaning up that supply chain is also a crucial part of sustainability.
Jason Jacobs: And, I mean, normally, when I to ask this next question, I ask in the context of overall decarbonization. And that's, if you had $100 billion and you could allocate it towards anything to maximize its impact on the climate fight, where would it go and how would you allocate it? I could either ask you that or I could ask you if you had a $100 billion and you could allocate it towards anything to maximize the acceleration of micromobility adoption. You could answer either one of those or both of those, it's up to you.
Melinda Hanson: If I ruled the world? Yeah, I think the promise that Bird has shown the combination of an excellent sustainable idea with the drive of a startup and the capital support of venture capitalists has been incredibly inspiring to see, right? This is not a world that I come from, but just the level of innovation and the pace of scaling up has been motivating. I think that there's a lot more vehicle types that we could introduce with that amount of money. A scooter is an excellent vehicle for relatively short trips for one person not carrying too much, but what about a mother with children? What about somebody who doesn't feel as comfortable standing up and would prefer to sit down? I think that there's a whole wide world of all types of new micromobility options in vehicles and this is really just the first step.
Jason Jacobs: My last question is just, I'm envious of you in that you come from such a mission-driven place and you've found a really impactful lane within which to spend your days with these big lofty goals. And I think a lot of our listeners, and me included to be honest, are kind of searching for our lane in the climate fight. Talk to them and talk to us for a moment, what advice do you have for people that are trying to figure that out for themselves?
Melinda Hanson: First listen to this podcast. Now, I have to say it's incredibly exciting and gratifying to see the amount of people who have become more aware of the urgent issue of climate change and the massive need to take action. And I think if it is a topic that captures your imagination and motivates you, welcome and please, there are so many different areas where you can really advance that. Of course, in the technology space, transportation I think is a particularly exciting one. Looking at opportunities in the sustainable transportation and electrification space is a really promising one. Sustainable energy stuff, but also of course plenty of policy work to do. I think if it is something that interests you, no matter what your background and skillset is, at this point there has to be an organization that could use you. Just continuing to educate yourself and finding that one specific thing that really moves you and just jumping right in.
Jason Jacobs: Oh great. And is there anything that I didn't ask you or any additional parting words for listeners?
Melinda Hanson: One parting word is, I think when it comes to scooters in particular, just to go there. If you're not quite sure, I recommend that you just give one a try. Because the difference that we see between people who have tried a scooter and who haven't, you kind of can't help but love it once you give it a try. Definitely give it a try and tweet at us the feeling of joy and the smile on your face once you do.
Jason Jacobs: Great. Well, Melinda, it's been such a pleasure and I wish you every success with Bird and in general, thank you for coming on the show.
Melinda Hanson: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a blast.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. Note that is .co, not .com. Someday, we'll get the .com but right now, .co. You can also find me on Twitter at @jjacobs22, where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.