Share on Social

Meet our episode 34 guest Emily Castor Warren

In her policy roles at Lyft and Lime, Emily Castor Warren had a front row seat for two of the fastest technological adoptions in history: ridehailing and micromobility. The biggest challenge? Ensuring city alignment with the goals of these transportation disruptors.

Enjoyed this episode? Check out this blog to learn more about what makes a transportation network successful. 

Episode Transcript

Cohen: Josh Cohen
Warren: Emily Castor Warren

Cohen: Ride hailing and scooters have transformed our urban landscapes and fast. Emily Castor Warren was at the forefront of both during her time at Lyft and Lime. On today’s episode, you’ll hear what she thinks policymakers still aren’t getting right about these tools. Let’s go.

F: Mobility is an essential component to the cities of our future. To build this future, we need to do more than invest in technology; we need to invest in the people who will make the hard decisions necessary to create vibrant, equitable, and sustainable cities. Welcome to The Movement where we talk to the brave leaders who are effecting change in an effort to build a coalition of leaders who will make tomorrow real. Here is your host, TransLoc’s National Director of Policy, Josh Cohen.

Cohen: My guest today is Emily Castor Warren, one of the early employees at both Lyft and Lime. She is now a venture partner with Fontinalis Partners. Fontinalis actually happened to be an investor in both TransLoc and Lyft, so we have that in common. So welcome to The Movement, Emily.

Warren: Thanks so much, Josh.

Cohen: I want to start with your background. You were one of the early employees at both Lyft and Lime, and really those have been two of the biggest disruptors to transportation in the last 100 years. And in those companies you served critical roles in community building and policy from the early days. And so I’m curious; because you were at each of those companies in such a kind of a formative stage as they were building out these new categories—right—like transportation network companies in Lyft’s case and micromobility in Lime’s case, can you share how you structured those roles? I mean, how did you think about your work? How did you measure your impact and so forth? I’d love to kind of get a sense in kind of how you worked in that way.

Warren: Sure. And, I mean, in some ways the question makes me smile because the experience of being in such high-growth, transportation startups often feels anything but structured.

Cohen: That’s true.

Warren: Yeah, and the role that one has changes so rapidly and so many times over the course of a company’s growth trajectory, and that was certainly my experience in particular at Lyft because I was there for so many different phases of the company’s growth. And I started as a community manager originally, which was pretty much a catchall term, the first month of Lyft’s operations in its first city in San Francisco in June of 2012.

And that meant basically doing whatever the heck needed to be done on the nontechnical side of building up the business whether it was establishing our initial customer support and trust and safety systems, doing email marketing, planning events for drivers and passengers, running the social media accounts, to figuring out what our approach would be to policy or to insurance and helping interview drivers, you know, doing everything that needed to be done. And over time, obviously, that narrowed in scope substantially and transformed as the needs of the company changed and grew so that I handed off many of those functions over time.

And I guess you could say my trajectory from those early days until when I eventually left in 2017 was one of coming closer and closer back to a role that was at the core of the reasons why I wanted to work at Lyft in the first place, which was in working on transportation policy as I did for the last couple years of my time there, really working on the impacts that Lyft could make in the world and being an ambassador to constituencies outside the company whether in academia, community organizations, advocacy groups, and government who were interested in and sometimes concerned about the nature of the business and what it would mean for indicators that were important for society in terms of greenhouse gas emissions or access to transportation, congestion, public transport, etcetera.

You know, those were the things, that ability to make an impact, that had really motivated me to join Lyft in the first place. And I was very fortunate to be able to shape my role to ultimately allow me to focus very directly on that, although I enjoyed all of the different steps along the way as well.

Cohen: Sure. And just for frame of reference, when you started back in 2012 there, how big was the organization? You were in your first city in San Francisco.

Warren: Mm-hmm.

Cohen: How many people were working at Lyft at that time?

Warren: Sure. So as you might know, Lyft started out as another company called Zimride. So there were about 27 people, I think, that were already working at Zimride; but when they created Lyft they didn’t just have all those 27 people start working on Lyft, so they hired me, and they hired one other person from outside the company. And then they took about four or five people who already worked Zimride who were product designers and engineers and then John and Logan, the founders. And that was the Lyft team, was this smaller subset of, like, seven people that I was a part of.

And we would do the Lyft stand-up every morning, and we would give the Lyft report at the monthly Zimride all-hand, so it was kind of a little tiger team within the company for that initial period. And then ultimately of course it swallowed everything else that was going on, and they sold off Zimride’s assets to Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and everyone else came on board. But it was this really small crew, which was quite a special experience.

Cohen: It’s safe to assume that that experience changed your life. Right? I mean, you know, you’ve been very clear about how impactful that time at Lyft has been. How did you end up there? Like what was the connection point into Lyft?

Warren: Yeah, I’m often asked that. And it would be difficult to replicate, I think, but the real kernel of how I landed there was just tremendous passion for what they were doing. So I had worked in the public sector in the past. I had worked on Capitol Hill in Washington where part of my portfolio included transportation policy issues when I was working for a congresswoman from San Diego. So I had some exposure to the topic area but from the 40,000-foot level of federal transportation appropriations. And I had worked in public finance for a little while, and that’s what I was doing in San Francisco in the immediately preceding period. But I had started to become very passionate about this idea of peer-to-peer, quote-unquote “sharing economy marketplaces” that was really the hot thing at that moment in late 2011, early 2012.

Airbnb had just come on the scene, and there was a new peer-to-peer marketplace for every good or service you could imagine, whether it was renting out your lawnmower to other people in your city, or TaskRabbit, or Getaround, and RelayRides now called Turo, etcetera. And so I became fascinated with that category, and I created an event series about it called Collaborative Chats that was a monthly event series about the sharing economy. And I got all these different startups including like Airbnb and ultimately Zimride to let me host it at their offices. And we would have a packed house of people coming in and the founders were all really nice about agreeing to be on my panels, and John Zimmer was one of them.

And so he let me do it at Zimride and sat on the panel with me, and we got to know each other a little bit that way. And I had used Zimride personally and even kind of blogged about it, which I think had caught his attention, so when they announced that they were going to launch Lyft just a few months later I immediately emailed him and was like, “John, this is what I want to do. I’m fascinated with transpiration, particularly in this peer-to-peer marketplace space. What do you need me to do?” And they wanted some folks to come help them set it up, and the rest was history for me.

Cohen: Yeah. So, I mean, I think the lesson that I see there, one is hard work and hustle and two is kind of reaching out and saying, “Hey, I’m willing to help out,” and not expecting someone to be able to read your mind there but really just saying, “Hey, look at me.”

Warren: And I had no business working at a technology company. I had no experience that obviously qualified me to be doing that. I had experience in policy working on Capitol Hill, but that wasn’t even what they hired me to do. And at the time, you know, working in public finance, like, structuring municipal bonds, you know, it was completely unrelated.

And I actually quit that job not knowing what I was going to do next once I’d gotten so passionate about this new field, just going and immersing myself in it and decided, “Hey, I’m going to find a way to make this my job, and I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I’m going to put myself in the middle of this new community that’s forming around all of these companies and make myself ubiquitous.” And in just a very short period of time somehow that came to qualify me as an expert on the topic, which is, I think, a lesson in how little it takes to actually qualify as an expert at anything these days.

Cohen: Yeah.

Warren: But it certainly put me in the right place at the right time.

Cohen: And I’m sure you’ve seen, from your experiencing having to hire and manage staff since then, that that drive and that hustle and that willingness to do the work, that means a lot. Right? I mean, that sometimes means more than whatever they may have on their resume, so I—

Warren: Well, I think in particular at that stage of a company. Right?

Cohen: Sure.

Warren: When you just a few people that you’re bringing on board, you don’t want folks who have such a rigid idea in their minds of what their job is. I was willing at that phase to do anything because I was so excited about what they were doing; I didn’t have any pretensions about what I was too good to do, and so that included staffing the customer support line and having it forward to my cellphone until 4:00 in the morning and doing all of that unglamorous work, interviewing driver applicants in the office, etcetera.

Cohen: One of the things that I’m fascinated about your background is because you were at this really formative time with Lyft and especially as Lyft was having to kind of, like, paint a picture for many elected officials and kind of frame this out for a lot of folks in communities. I think one of the things I’m kind of trying to tease out in my work, obviously, is how we bring about changing communities. Right? You know, if we’re going to get to where we need to go, which is this verdant and equitable and accessible future we all want, it’s going to take change. Right? And that’s certainly at the heart of a lot of the work you were doing.

And so one of the things I’m trying to tease out here is kind of the two compartments here. So I’m looking at one is like the environment necessary. Right? So you have to have this ecosystem, if you will, that allow for that change. And then you also have to have specific leaders who are willing to kind of put themselves out there and kind of say, “Hey, let’s try something,” and so forth. What kind of things do you see as important to bringing about that change?

Warren: It’s been fascinating for me certainly to be on both sides, you know, the inside role of being at these startups who are offering a tool for change and then also since leaving direct operational involvement in those startups to think about it from the outside perspective, more of the sort of public-interest perspective and government perspective. And I’m involved with a lot of transportation advocacy organizations, nonprofits and working with local government in where I live now in Boston, and I can see that side of it. And I think it really takes both.

I think it takes entrepreneurs, innovators who have an idea that is counterintuitive and has the potential to offer a value proposition that makes it appealing and easy for people to change their transportation behavior in a way that unsticks some kind of stagnant dynamic that has been with us for a long time that has been tying us to the negative kinds of outcomes that we have from our transportation systems today. And here, you know, just calling a spade a spade, obviously car ownership is a 40,000-pound gorilla that really has been hard for us to find an alternative to that has resonated with the mainstream population.

And so you have entrepreneurs that can bring to market appealing alternatives that actually aren’t just shaking their finger at people or using a stick approach to get someone to change their behavior but actually offer value to the rider or to the user and allow them to construct a transportation habit that serves their needs perhaps even better than the current dominant model of car ownership has done. You know, that’s something that is really only possible to get in a way that the private sector can provide because I think it’s hard for government to take risks on these kinds of counterintuitive ideas. Right?

So the government is more likely to produce incremental change to existing programs. And so having these creative entrepreneurs introduce those new tools is extremely important. That being said, I also think that there are not always the natural incentives in place for those companies to optimize only for the public interest over their corporate interest.

Cohen: Sure.

Warren: We have a structural almost legal situation in which these companies find themselves in terms of their responsibility to their shareholders and investors that ends up driving them to pursue their own interest. And so it’s very important for the emergence of these new models to be accompanies with a very strong hand from government but that is open to experimenting with these tools at a large scale on the timeline that would be useful for solving something climate change but in a manner that relentlessly focuses on optimizing for the public interest out of these systems.

Cohen: I think that’s a good way of putting it. And, again, I think finding that right level of government involvement, I think, is key. Right? And different places are doing this in different ways, but I think that really to me seems like it’s an area that I’ve been thinking a lot about because right now it’s too easy to choose to drive. Right?

Warren: Mm-hmm.

Cohen: Like, all the incentives are kind of pushed in that direction. You know, and obviously in very, very dense, urban environments sometimes that goes backwards, and, “Oh, yeah. It’s easier to take transit or take a scooter or whatever,” but in most places it’s just too easy, and all the incentives are pushing people in that way. And so I’m always kind of thinking about how can we force that a little bit more, because it’s not going to be Joe Q. Public who is going to say, “Yeah, I’m just going to carpool today.” Right?

Warren: Right.

Cohen: I mean, it’s a big ask. And certainly Joe Q. Public might, but maybe not Joe Q. Public at scale.

Warren: Right. Well, and I think maybe in addition to what I just said a moment ago is that government’s role here is not only in providing an appropriate regulatory framework for innovators that offer great new transportation solutions, but it’s also in creating a literal landscape, an infrastructure design that makes the options that they want to promote the ones that are the most appealing, safe, and convenient for people to use.

The reason that the person finds it so easy or cheap to drive is because of decisions that have been made by government about how they will shape the landscape, how they will design streets, how they will price the use of the public right-of-way for things like parking, how they will design a streetscape and what that will mean about the speeds that people travel and how safe that makes people feel when they’re using different modes of transportation. All of those government decisions that have accrued over decades dramatically shape the decisions that people make about which modes of transportation to choose.

And so if government doesn’t step in with a fairly rapid response on the infrastructure, street-design side as well, pure regulation will probably be insufficient to allow something like for example micromobility to gain traction at a large scale. But that’s asking a lot of government. Like, government is not used to building new kinds of infrastructure quickly. Right? Like, that’s almost an oxymoron.

Cohen: That said, I mean, I still am pretty surprised at how quickly some of the governments have adapted to whether it’s TNC loading zones, whether it’s parking spaces for micromobility like scooters, so forth. I mean, there has been some adaptation of that. I would say it’s very lumpy. Right? You know, and I’m sure you saw this in your policy work, that there are some places where they’re all in, and they get it, and they’re trying to try stuff even if it doesn’t go anywhere; and other places have no interest whatsoever. You know, to me that’s part of the challenge because we want all of this stuff to work in the major cities, but I’m also interested in how do we help this work in Dubuque, Iowa.

Warren: Well, and the solutions are going to look a little different in different kinds of places—right—where you have development decisions that have been made for such a long time that you have housing stock and job opportunities that are positioned in certain locations, and you’re not going to be able to change that overnight. That is something that’s going to be with us for a long time.

So if you’re in an area that has a lower-density development pattern, you’re going to need to look more towards transportation solutions that serve those longer distances. And maybe micromobility isn’t going to be the silver bullet for those places, but bikes and scooters will make a huge difference in our congested, urban areas or for suburban commuters that have a last-mile challenge to get to a commuter rail line or something of that nature. It’s really a multipronged solution, I think.

Cohen: Yeah, definitely. So certainly you’ve just identified one of the barriers that is getting in the way of us achieving this future that we all want to live in, obviously the land-use patterns. What were some of the other barriers that really kind of stuck with you from your time that, like, really got in your craw, I guess, that you were banging your head against or really kind of trying to get creative around how to solve?

Warren: Certainly when I was on the private sector side of the table, one of the things that I found the most frustrating was that there was a tendency to approach each new mode of transportation that was being introduced, whether it be ride hailing or scooters, and evaluate it based on what kinds of mode shift it created when you introduced it into the transportation system. So, you know, what are people shifting from when they use this new mode? And then kind of use that to extrapolate and try to figure out what the impact is on congestion and car ownership.

And I think that’s a good impulse. You know, there’s an appropriate sort of academic rigor that people are trying to adhere to when they do something like that, but what they would often miss is the fact that no one of these new transportation options on its own is going to be the single thing that determines whether someone sells their car.

Cohen: Yeah.

Warren: Right? Like, I don’t own a car where I live now in Somerville, Massachusetts, and I did own one when I lived in California. When my husband and I moved here about a year and a half ago, we were able to make the decision not to have one because we could look at the landscape here and we could say, “All right. The MBTA has public transit service that comes pretty close. There are Bluebikes in the bikeshare system here. We have bikes that we can use, and we have Getaround where we can rent a car for weekend trips or other things that we might need idiosyncratically. And there is Lyft as sort of a Hail Mary to get us places when we need to go and can’t get there another way.”

And so it’s the combination of all of these things that actually contributes to that decision to move from being a car owner to being a not-car owner. And I think that academics and city transportation officials have been very poor at actually quantifying the contribution of these new modes of transportation to that ultimate decision. They will do a surface level analysis that leads them to the conclusion that Lyft alone has not catalyzed all of these decisions, but then they don’t credit Lyft with its share of that holistic decision that someone has made to adopt a different transportation lifestyle.

And it takes a lot of difficult research and data collection and survey research, longitudinal research over time to look at folk’s behavior and understand why it’s happened, but I think that is actually the mechanism through which these services have a positive impact. If you focus in on a micro level at, you know, “Oh, someone just took a Lyft instead of public transit. Therefore this must be a bad thing,” but you don’t understand that the universe of people who use public transit is now bigger because Lyft was present in that community and shifted a whole bunch of people as a catalyst away from owning cars into being multimodal transportation consumers, you’re completely missing the over all effect that it can have in kind of adding up to a lifestyle that doesn’t require a car.

Feel free to ask me questions that interrogate the benefits of any of these modes that I’ve been involved with in the past, because I have my criticisms of them as well, and I’m happy to speak candidly about them, but I think that we are throwing out the most promising solutions that are available to us when we evaluate them on such a narrow set of criteria and kind of don’t see the bigger picture of how they can contribute to creating the holistic change that we seek.

Cohen: Yeah, I think that’s fair. And I think also when you also have to consider the role of the government frameworks in all of that as well—right—there’s going to be certain places that make sense for TNCs, maybe a block over from Market Street in San Francisco to keep that free for bus lanes. You know, maybe that’s something they decide at some point; I don’t know. But, you know, stuff like that where there are some government frameworks that allow for that, and then there’s also the piece that you mentioned as well, which is just the longer timeline and how you evaluate those.

Warren: Right.

Cohen: So I think you’re 100% right about—I use a plywood analogy, which is just like each sheet is very thin, and it’s perpendicularly laid on top of each other, and that makes it pretty strong for how thin it is. Right? So you’ve got the heavy rail; you got the light rail; you got the TNCs; you got the scooters. You know, you put all those on top of each other, you then have a pretty robust place to kind of walk there, if you will, so.

Warren: Right. I mean, if you analyze each of them separately and find that one of them independently is lacking as a full alternative to car ownership and then you say, “Okay. Well, none of these are useful,” you’ve missed the fact that they in combination can have a very powerful, catalytic effect.

Cohen: Yeah.

Warren: And I think the way as a regulator to manage the externalities of these different options and help manage whether they’re used in the circumstances where it would be beneficial to the city to have them used rather than other modes, is to have policies like pricing across the board that actually rationalize the incentives that people face.

Cohen: Sure.

Warren: Unfortunately—you know, and this is definitely a frustration that I encountered certainly working at Lyft, is that companies like Lyft and Uber are really easy targets for cities to make a public show of acting like they’re doing something on congestion without actually tackling the politically difficult task of pricing the use of the right-of-way for cars rationally across all modes of light-duty vehicle use, primarily including personal car ownership and SOVs.

Cohen: Sure.

Warren: And they consistently refuse to do that while piling new fees on top of people who may choose to use shared mobility services, which to me is really counterproductive to creating the outcomes that many cities say that they want to create. And I understand why it happens. I understand that most people currently do own cars and that people don’t like new taxes and fees, and there is a political risk to supporting those kinds of policies. But it is not going to produce the outcomes that cities say that they want when they do things like create fees on Lyft and Uber that are supposedly going to address congestion. It will be insufficient to the task if it doesn’t include personally owned cars.

Cohen: Yeah. Well, as you were saying that, I mean, what was going through my mind was that, you know, like, you choosing not to have a car in Somerville there, I’m not sure that that’s what many elected officials actually have as a goal. Right? I mean, I think in their mind it’s a little bit more short-term focus, which is how do we get people around, many of which already have cars. So therefore they’re thinking in that vein as compared to how do we want our community to look like in the next five, 10, 15, 20 years, and, if so, what choices do we need to incentivize in order to make that happen.

Warren: Right.

Cohen: And then you get the bus lane pilots like—

Warren: But they will say—absolutely in a place like the City of Somerville, the city leadership will say, “We want more people to take public transit and bike and walk, and we want less congestion and less greenhouse gas emissions.” The science is very clear that reducing car ownership is the most likely thing to contribute to all of those outcomes. Right? And so if you can introduce options like the shared mobility services that allow people to switch from a category of owning a car and kind of not using transit, not walking, biking, and producing more greenhouse gas emissions into a category in which they’ve completely, like, shifted in a more positive direction on all those metrics, you know, that is really moving the city’s policy goals forward. And I’m not certain that they have made that attribution properly to understand the benefits they’re getting from something like Lyft or Uber.

Cohen: Right. Yeah. Let’s maybe kind of use that as a jumping-off point. I mean, you’ve been in the industry now for a number of years. Who have been some of the best leaders that have really resonated with you as far as their commitment to this long-term, focused investment in helping us get to where we want to go?

Warren: Yeah, it’s been a pleasure to work across so many different sectors of outside stakeholders during my tenure at both Lyft and Lime. And so I have some favorites from each of those different sectors of folks that I’ve worked with. So, for example, in academia I really admire Dan Sperling who runs the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis and was really a pioneer in the field of sustainable transportation.

And I think he has persistently seen and worked hard to kind of bring academics and government along in seeing how shared mobility can play a role in achieving the dramatic changes that we need in our transportation system to fight climate change, while sort of having a very high standard of transparency and public-interest focus to which he wants to hold those companies that are going to deliver on that promise. So that’s an ethic that I would aspire to replicate.

And in the realm of government I really admire Seleta Reynolds, the head of LADOT. In particular over the last two years I’ve worked closely with her and her team and when I was at Lime on the issue of data transparency. And I think that is a key for how we can both allow these kinds of innovative transportation options to be scaled rapidly while making sure the public interest is guarded, is if you demand through your regulatory framework a sophisticated level of transparency to government about what exactly is happening on these platforms so that we can make sure that the benefit to the public is measurable and that any risks or negative impacts can be identified and therefore be managed.

And I think she, unlike many cities, is willing to take risky positions in supporting the expansion of new options but also will fight every day of the week for city sovereignty and for that public-interest focus in a way that is a very powerful combination and with a level of sophistication about technology that I think is uncommon in people who have worked their careers in government as well.

Cohen: Hmm. Sure.

Warren: I mean, most people in government quite understandably do not have an extremely sophisticated technical understanding of how transportation software platforms work. And Seleta has taken the time to educate herself and really surround herself with people in the city, you know, bringing people on to her team in the City of Los Angeles who have that understanding and can therefore develop tools like the open source data standard, the mobility data specification that actually are designed to interface in a sophisticated way with tech platforms using their own language and tools. And that really kind of levels the power-playing field between a city and a sophisticated technology company, which I thought was quite a genius move. So she’s someone else I really admire.

Cohen: You know, and it just seems like that’s—to think in that way and to do that kind of investment in that kind of thinking and in that kind of perspective is—because I’m sure she’s go 100 fires she’s got to fight every day. Right?

Warren: Yeah, and streets to pave and—

Cohen: Right. Right. Exactly. And so to be able to—

Warren: —[INDISCERNIBLE][30:25] to worry about.

Cohen: Right. Right. To be able to invest the time to really think about and to really prioritize more than anything else that type of work. And obviously there’s been a lot of discussion about that mobility data specification and some of the privacy and so forth. So that’s not really going to be a topic for today, but, I mean, I think even wading herself into that at all, I think, is something that many government folks might never have even been willing to do. Right?

Warren: Oh, yeah. I mean, love it or hate it, you have to hand it to her for having the creativity and the hustle to put together something real and tangible that the industry could react to and then refine from there. Right?

Cohen: Sure. Totally.

Warren: And to open it up to a multi-stakeholder process of negotiation where it will now sit at the Open Mobility Foundation. So I think that that was a very courageous move and has been very productive, even if it ends up evolving over time. I remember just getting yelled at by a lot of cities for years who were saying, “We want your data.” You know? And my job at Lyft was to say, “No, you can’t have it.” And it didn’t really move anywhere from there for several years. And then Seleta has now moved the conversation to a new place by coming to it with something, with a proposed solution—right—an elegant, proposed solution. And I think that by offering something you’re able to unstick that stagnant dynamic and get some new constructive activity, and that was admirable.

Cohen: Yes, it’s almost like agile software development. Right? Stick a version out there, and then let it iterate and let it iterate and—

Warren: Yeah, I think that’s very intentional on her part to kind of mirror some of the iterative process that she knows tech companies use.

Cohen: Yeah, I’m sure there’s like a Dale Carnegie, the How to Win Friends and Influence People, it’s like this whole mirroring thing. Right? It’s like—so if she is using this agile-software-development kind of way of thinking about that, it’s like all the tech folks are like, “Oh, I know what you’re doing there. I see. Oh, that makes sense to me.”

Warren: Right. Like, if you put it on GitHub like she did, all of a sudden all the developers show up, and they started contributing to it, even though if you had just sent an email to the policy people and asked for a meeting to talk about data sharing, you know, you’d have gotten a big fat scowl from a lot of those folks.

Cohen: That’s exactly right. So in some ways I think that’s a different—the strategy, I think, worked out there. So let’s maybe wrap up with this, which is, you know, your role in an industry has shifted a little now in your work with Fontinalis, so you used to be on the front lines, and now you’re looking at it a little bit more from a remove. What are you thinking about? What are you seeing?

Warren: Yeah, I’ve really appreciated the last several months. I do have this part-time affiliation with Fontinalis. I also have been spending a lot of my time in the advocacy community in the Boston area and working with local nonprofits. I serve on the board of the LivableStreets Alliance, which is a nonprofit group here, and I’m involved with my local bicycle advocacy groups. And that is something that has given me an opportunity to kind of sit on the other side of the table and to gain a little bit more empathy for some of their frustrations with the technology companies.

That being said, obviously as you can tell from my prior comments today, I still think there is tremendous value in these shared mobility platforms that I’ve helped create. And so I think what that experience recently has done has allowed me to arrive at a middle ground of understanding the need for regulation to work hand in hand with technology. As I said, I really think is necessary to move us forward to that future that we want to create. And I’ve had the ability also to sit back and kind of get my head out of being in the weeds on ride hailing or being in the weeds on the scooter business a little bit and also just think about some of the other challenges that are holding us back.

So, you know, when I go to the meetings of my local bike advocacy group and we’re looking at whether we can get bike lanes on a major road in this town, the biggest problem that we have is not any technology company. It’s the people who own cars who live on that street who feel like their neighborhood is changing due to gentrification and who see bike lanes as a symbol of that and will show up at the meetings and fight against those bike lanes and don’t have an understanding of its impacts on safety or other aspects of their community.

And so I think there’s some more fundamental, civic, community-building work that we need to do across American cities in order to really bring everyone along with us in a way that’s going to allow us to create mass support for the kinds of infrastructure change and behavior change that we seek. It’s not just in the hands of these institutional actors like regulators or technology companies but very much also in sort of how we build public sentiment in support of a different kind of transportation lifestyle and a different way of building and using our city streets. And that can be very difficult to do street by street.

Cohen: Totally. And I think that has definitely been a theme I’ve seen in my work over the course of the last year or so, is just the importance of that advocacy to help the public sector kind of have somebody in their corner. Right? Because the folks who are going to argue against any change, whether that’s housing, whether that’s bike lanes, whether that’s bus lanes, whatever, they’re always going to be there. And they’re always going to be loud because they’re feeling that pressure more than anything.

And the thing that Christof Spieler shared when I interviewed him a little while ago is when he was on the Houston Metro board, that it’s important to have even if it’s just one positive person in the audience; it allows you as the board member or elected official or whatever the case may be to be able to say, “There’s at least somebody in the corner there.” Right?

Warren: Yeah.

Cohen: And it’s when those advocates don’t show up at all that it’s really easy for the naysayers to overcome, so.

Warren: Mm-hmm. Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s very often the case these days that in our big cities the city staff and leaders actually do want to do exactly what the bike advocates want to do, and they just need the political cover. You know, they need a sign of citizen support to make it safe for them to be able to make those choices about infrastructure. So in the case of bicycles and micromobility, I think that’s absolutely the case. I think it gets a little bit more complicated and there’s a slightly more adversarial relationship when it comes to cities and the ride-hailing platforms. But in either case having citizens show up to ask for the kind of transportation system that they want makes a huge difference to those elected officials.

Cohen: It sure does. It sure does. All right. Well, let’s wrap up with this. If folks are interested in saying hello or learning more about some of the work you’re doing, what would be the best place to find you?

Warren: Ooh. Well, you can send me a DM on Twitter. My DMs are open. I may or may not respond quickly because I’m trying to cut back my dose of social media in my life. But that’s certainly a pretty good way to get through, or LinkedIn is always there as well. I’m very findable on the interwebs.

Cohen: All right. So Emily Castor Warren, you can find her on Twitter or LinkedIn. Thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate you sharing a little bit more about your experience from the beginning of both Lyft and Lime and how you’ve taken that experience and taken that all the way through to helping in your local community there and in the Boston area. So thank you so much, Emily.

Warren: Thanks, Josh. It was great talking to you. Take care.

F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.


Enjoyed this episode? Check out this blog post to learn more about how the network effect makes a transportation network successful.