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E-scooter company Spin is offering users $100 promo codes in exchange for letters of support to Pittsburgh elected officials

After months of debate about the scooter pilot program, critics say the company's offer amounts to a bribe.

A pair of scooters from Spin. (Courtesy photo)
The debate over e-scooters in Pittsburgh has become even more contentious.

The City of Pittsburgh’s two-year permit allowing Spin to rent its scooters to residents through the Move PGH program is set to expire in July 2023. That means the city has a choice to make about whether the program should remain in place. The pros and cons of allowing the e-scooters to stick around have been hotly debated in Pittsburgh City Council chambers and online in recent months.

This week, users reported that Spin is offering a $100 promo code to frequent riders who draft letters in support of not only the pilot program, but proposed legislation — Senate Bill 692 — legalizing electronic scooters throughout the Commonwealth.

The email, which Spin user James Santelli shared with Technical.ly, was sent to “top riders” and includes ready-to-fill-out prompts that could be sent to city councilmembers. Spin requests that users forward them a copy of the letter or BCC the company as proof that the task has been completed.

“Your support is crucial in ensuring the continuation of the scooter program in Pittsburgh, and we sincerely thank you for your participation,” the email reads. “Should you have any questions or require further assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.”

Spin did not immediately respond to Technical.ly’s questions about what prompted this offer.

Councilmember concerns

In mid-April, City Councilmember Barb Warwick (D-District 5) held a legislative hearing so council members could hear from the individuals who know the e-scooters and their users best to help them make an informed decision about whether to extend Spin’s permit.

Reps from the company and the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) testified that they believe the e-scooters to be a safer and cost-effective alternative to cars. Yet during a public hearing following the legislative session, several residents, including accessibility advocates, said they feel the orange and black machines are a nuisance at best, and an ableist obstacle at worst.

In late May, Warwick wrote an op-ed expressing wariness of the pilot program after hearing such a contrasting testimony about how the e-scooters were impacting Pittsburghers’ everyday lives. While Warwick acknowledged that some people had had positive experiences with the Spin scooters, she said she was disheartened to hear that they restricted the movement of so many disabled residents.

“When public opinion is split, city leadership needs to look at the numbers. What does the data say about how shared e-scooters are benefitting Pittsburgh as a whole?” Warwick wrote.

Additionally, she was concerned that the data DOMI and Spin presented to Pittsburgh City Council were incomplete.

“Unfortunately, the only numbers we have are based on reporting from Spin,” Warwick wrote. “Rather than scientifically gathering data on ridership, Spin invited its users to take a survey. So, when 48% of riders ticked the box for commuting, we’re left with follow-up questions.”

Resident protest

Dan Yablonsky, communications director for advocacy org Pittsburghers for Public Transit, has a less than charitable interpretation of the company’s actions.

“I think we have to be clear about what it is and it’s $100 bribe for scooter users to join in this company’s lobbying efforts to get elected officials on board,” Yablonsky told Technical.ly on Friday. “And that this is the clearest evidence that we have seen to date that this entire scooter pilot the MovePGH program has been biased from the start.”

Although Pittsburghers for Public Transit has been one of the program’s most vocal critics, it’s seen detractors with a more personal reason to object to it. Among them has been Kate Chertik, whose brother Lawrence Chertik died on Feb. 20 after injuries sustained from hitting a pothole while riding a Spin scooter.

Two months later at the legislative hearing, DOMI Director Kim Lucas told City Council that the department had only heard of 37 reported injuries and zero fatalities out of almost 1 million total trips. Yet as PublicSource points out: “The problem is that the reporting system relies on users who have a problem, such as an accident that causes injury, tapping a button (an exclamation point in the corner of the screen) on the app. In Lawrence Chertik’s case, he died before reporting his injury or even reporting on the app that his ride had ended.”

Now, Kate Chertik has launched a petition calling for e-scooters to be banned within Pittsburgh city limits. Within the petition, she accuses Spin of a lack of transparency about how many e-scooter-related injuries have occurred and criticizes their most recent outreach, calling the $100 promo code offer an attempt to “buy” support.

“Spin, the scooter company, has withheld information from the city in regards to accidents, injuries, and deaths; they’ve only highlighted the positive aspects of their pilot program, which is their companies [sic] profit,” Chertik wrote.

_

This is a developing story.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: City of Pittsburgh

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