A handout photo of one of Spin’s bikes.
(Spin)

 

Martin O’Malley  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Dockless bike-share startup Spin is bringing on some big names to help take it to the next level.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco-based company announced that former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (D), who has kept a low profile since ending his presidential bid last year, is joining two other high-profile experts on a new board of advisers that will help shape the company’s future and guide its leaders as they seek to enter new markets.

Gabe Klein, former transportation chief in D.C. and Chicago, and Molly Turner, a former Airbnb public policy director and urban innovation professor at the University of California at Berkeley, will join O’Malley as strategic advisers for Spin, the company said.

“We are really privileged to have these three people backing our company,” Spin Chief Executive Derrick Ko said. “We are humbled to be able to consult, seek advice, and learn (from them) what is the most effective way to engage the cities to really show that Spin is really a partner anywhere in the U.S.”

 

Gabe Klein in a file photo from his days as director of the District Department of Transportation. (Photo by Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

As advisers, O’Malley, Klein and Turner said their goal will be to help get the bike system into even more cities and places where access to this mode of transportation is limited or nonexistent.

“I see the dockless bikes expanding to every city,” O’Malley said in an interview. “This is good for cities, it is good for people, it is good for the environment… It makes transportation available to people that oftentimes find themselves a couple of miles removed from the transit stops that allow them to get to places of employment and be able to provide for their families.”

Spin began operations in Seattle in July, and since has taken its bright orange bicycles to 10 U.S. markets, including Washington, Dallas and San Francisco.  The private venture launched with $8 million raised through investors. Its main competitors are California-based LimeBike, and the Chinese bike companies ofo and Mobike, which also entered the U.S. market this fall.

Spin’s advisory board is expected to counsel company leaders on how to build strong relationships with government agencies and other regulators. Advisers also hope to help the company avoid the missteps other tech startups have made — chiefly, preventing the troubles like those Uber faced in its early years when the ride-hail giant entered markets unannounced, revolutionizing the way people got around but upsetting regulators and competitors along the way.  The key to success, the advisers said, is to make sure they partner with cities, not roll in uninvited.

“The approach that companies like Spin are taking is the right one. Instead of trying to work around the cities, they are engaging with the cities,” said Klein, who in 2010 helped launch the Washington region’s Capital Bikeshare program, the first in the nation. A transportation guru, Klein helped recruit O’Malley to join Spin’s board.

Dockless bike systems have entered the U.S. market by generally working with cities first and obtaining operating permits. Several are running pilot programs in major cities including Washington. But they too have faced resistance in some markets, including New York and San Francisco, where some officials have voiced concern about the potential of bikes ending up as clutter, in unwanted places.

Molly Turner  (Photo courtesy of Noah Christman). “There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of tech startups around the world building solutions to make cities better, but few of them are led by people who actually understand how cities work,” said Turner, who teaches urban innovation at the Berkeley Haas School of Business.

“My hope is that at the advisory board we can complement the Spin founders’ expertise in entrepreneurship and technology innovation,” Turner said, “to help make sure that this new urban innovation really fits into the complex urban mobility ecosystem seamlessly.”

O’Malley, who has been campaigning for democratic candidates across the country, said cities big and small can benefit from embracing the private bike services to expand transportation to poor and underserved communities at no cost to city budgets.

He said technologies that the dockless bikeshare companies like Spin have can be an asset to city transportation planners, because they collect data about where the bikes are being used that can help guide agencies to were bike infrastructure is needed and can help cities better manage the flow of pedestrians, bikes and cars.

O’Malley served two terms as governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015, and sought the democratic nomination for president in 2016. During his tenure as governor, the state saw a series of defining policy changes to allow gay marriage, increase the minimum wage and allow in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. In transportation, he championed the construction of the Purple Line, a project that came to pass under his Republican successor.

Now he says he wants to help Spin bring its rental bikes to every city in America, as a mode to connect communities to work centers.

“What I find exciting and cool really about Spin is that Spin isn’t asking mayors for a subsidy,” O’Malley said. “They just want to know what the rules of the road are, if you will, in any city so they can abide by those rules and provide a service that is oftentimes in short supply.”