To remain competitive recruiters of emerging tech talent, Blade —— a Manhattan-based aviation start-up known as the “Uber for helicopters” —— is offering employees a new perk to help them navigate one of the nation’s most hectic commutes: shareable electric scooters.
The devices won’t be available to employees for another week or so, but Simon Mclaren, Blade’s director of communications, said recruits have already raved about the possibility of zipping to work on the popular devices that have swept the country this year in what has been dubbed “the micromobility revolution.” Mclaren cautioned, however, that Blade still considers their new e-scooter fleet an experimental pilot program and has no plans to offer scooters to outside customers.
“To be competitive for tech talent in New York City, helping people get to work is a huge asset,” Mclaren said. “Offering people the ability to get people from their homes to the office in half the time for free is a much better option than giving them free Kind Bars and ping-pong tables.”
Mclaren said the idea for providing employees with e-scooters came as a potential solution to a transportation conundrum that has worsened in recent months. With expensive Uber rides clogging New York City streets, slow buses and the heavily-used L train’s upcoming shutdown between Brooklyn and Manhattan, he said, many of Blade’s 30 or so New York employees were struggling to get to the company’s Chelsea headquarters on time and increasingly requesting to work from their homes outside Manhattan.
Though numerous technology companies offer remote work as a perk, Mclaren said Blade’s work culture benefits from physically working together. “We have to have collaboration and camaraderie,” he said. “We can have literally hundreds of missions in a single weekend, and slacking someone when you’re dealing with live logistical issues isn’t a substitute for face-to-face interactions.”
Several New York City lawmakers are pushing to make e-scooters legal for large dockless companies like Bird and Lime to operate, but the fleets remain illegal for now. Mclaren said Blade is keeping close tabs on city policy and will shut down their fleet if the city requires them to.
Founded in 2015, Blade customers can use the company’s app to book private flights or crowdsource flights on helicopters, seaplanes and jets. The company is known for its flights between Manhattan and the Hamptons, as well as its five-minute flight between Manhattan and John F. Kennedy Airport.
Unlike a Blade flight —— which can cost around $500 for a one-way ticket —— Blade’s scooters will be shareable and free to use and available only to company employees who use an app that was developed in house. Employees will be able to take the devices home overnight and return them to the office the next day to be recharged.
As electric scooters have spread across the country, they have encountered stiff resistance from critics who have highlighted safety issues and manufacturing problems. Emergency room physicians have blamed e-scooter use for a sudden wave of brutal injuries in recent months, including numerous severe head injuries. At least two riders’ deaths have been linked to electric scooters in Washington, D.C., and Dallas, and the thousands of the devices have been recalled over defective batteries that catch fire and baseboards that break apart while scooters are being ridden.
Mclaren said he expects about 70 percent of the company’s employees to use the scooters. To help Blade choose a safe scooter manufacturer, the company turned to their own “chief of safety,” a longtime helicopter pilot whose experience includes work with NYPD’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, according to the company.
The company has been testing multiple manufacturers and researching safe commuting routes for employees. Mclaren said Blade employees will be required to wear a helmet, and the company is also recommending that they strap on knee pads.
“In aviation, you have to have a culture of safety. We’re treating employees the same as passengers —— testing equipment and figuring out which equipment is right for the mission,” Mclaren said. “The only difference is one mission is on the ground and the other mission is in the sky."