City Hall Deliverista mobility hub: Man Man & Gustavo

We take a deep dive into the future of urban mobility, focusing on a groundbreaking initiative to support e-bike delivery workers and the public in New York City through a new Mobility Hub next to City Hall, with battery recharging, repair, and rest areas.

Disclosure: We own common stock in Oonee through Republic Investors because we believe in non-car mobility. The purchase was made two (2) years ago. When setting up this interview, we did not know that Oonee and Fantástica were run by the same principals.

Show notes & links

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Episode Overview

Top Themes

  1. Lack of Safe Charging Locations: Currently, delivery workers face challenges in finding safe locations to charge their e-bike batteries, often resorting to unsafe practices.
  2. Proposal for a Bike Hub: The proposed bike hub will provide secure, safe, and accessible charging stations for e-bike batteries, helping delivery workers and the public. The hub will include state-of-the-art facilities for quick bike tune-ups, battery charging, and assistance from staff. It will be a community resource open to everyone.
  3. Community Impact: The hub aims to serve not just delivery workers but the entire community, offering a space for bike parking, repairs, and charging.
  4. Urban Mobility and Infrastructure: The need for new infrastructure to support the growing use of micro-mobility devices like e-bikes in urban environments.
  5. Safety and Accessibility: Ensuring that new mobility solutions are safe, accessible, and meet the needs of diverse users, particularly vulnerable groups like delivery workers. Adapting existing technologies and creating new solutions to meet the specific needs of users, such as customized charging cabinets for different types of e-bike batteries.
  6. Public and Private Collaboration: The importance of collaboration between public entities (like the parks department and landmarks department) and private companies (like Oonee) to create effective urban solutions.
  7. Future of Urban Spaces: Reimagining and repurposing existing urban spaces (like old newspaper stands) to meet current and future mobility needs.

Guest Bio: J. Manuel Mansylla (manman)

J. Manuel Mansylla (manman) founded design studio  FANTÁSTICA in 2008 specializing in transformative projects to revitalize underutilized assets and unlock economic potential.

As an urban designer at the forefront of a trend to create effective public spaces through rapid, agile transformation, he rose to early success in his home country of Guatemala, where he was tapped to lead an innovative project to revitalize a neglected area of Guatemala City into a contemporary art and tech hub. Working together with both the public and private sector in the creation of the region’s first “special districts,” the project helped transform the area’s brand identity, land use, and public space strategy. Today, Cuatro Grados Norte, is one of the most vibrant destinations in the country, and has one of the highest concentrations of new buildings going up in all of Guatemala City.

“The idea of a mobility hub is still not clear in people’s mind, but if we think about the turn of the century when cars started popping up and there were no gas stations, we’re in the midst of a micro-mobility revolution, and yet there’s no service stations for all of these devices.”

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Episode Transcript

Gustavo Ajche: My name is Gustavo Ajche, I’m from Guatemala and I live in New York for over 20 years, and I’m working as a food delivery worker in the city. We don’t have, any place where we can get shelter. So with the charging station there, you’re going to be solving this problem because less risk for everybody. Because if it’s in the street, it’s not going to be in my apartment, it’s not going to be in somebody else’s house or building. So this is, uh, It’s going to be a big help for us.

Journey with Purpose: That was Gustavo. He’s a bike delivery messenger, a Deliverista here in New York city. They deliver all sorts of things to us as the last mile of a massive global economic chain. Everything from dinner to medicine to documents people like Gustavo brings it to us. And they don’t have a safe place to recharge or e-bike or to fix a flat.

Welcome to Journey [00:01:00] with purpose episode 23.

I’m your host, Randy Plemel.

My kids’ school is just down the street from city hall. And on that street, there is a old, somewhat crumbling newspaper stand.

When the first part of the COVID emergency hit and all the schools closed down. I stopped going past it. When the schools reopened, the newsstand did not. I became curious about the stand because I thought that it was the perfect spot to engage with new Yorkers. And I even found the company which owned the concession to the parks department and that it went out of business. The land is owned by the city and administered by the parks department. And it’s also part of the landmark district. I tried to acquire the concession from the parks department, to do a series of popups, but was both stalled and then rebuffed. And then finally the mayor’s office announced that in coordination with the city would build a bike hub with funding secured by Senator Schumer. So today we’re going to speak with one of the designers of this [00:02:00] future bike hub that just recently received clearance for the landmarks department to go ahead and start building.

Ok, ManMan, can you please introduce yourself and tell us where we’re speaking to you from.

ManMan: My name is Manuel Mancilla. I go by ManMan. I am the principal of Fantástica, which is a street furniture design company, as well as the co founder of Oonee, which is a micro mobility starter operating the first in the nation, secure bike parking network. And I’m speaking to you all from my home in Harlem.

Describe the mobility hub

Journey with Purpose: I’m going to close my eyes. Can you describe what the mobility hub, might look like if it gets built?

ManMan: A pavilion or a kiosk, that opens itself up in the morning and it’s there for, the community and what you can find there, this state of the art. Structure is you can find a place where you can get a quick tune up. If you need a tune up for your bike or if you have a flat tire, it’ll be repair there.

If you need to charge your batteries, [00:03:00] that you can go there, and put your battery in there. You’re welcome to hang out or to go about your day and come back. And pick up your battery or, if there will be a staff person there that will greet you if you have any questions or concerns about, charging or bikes running on the sidewalk or, whatever it is that, you are looking for information.

Also, if you’re a delivery worker you can get answers or information from that. Staff person as well, right? So the idea is that, there will be a combination of the kiosk plus, a staff person or 2 that are there to serve the community on a day to day basis. This is something that is going to elevate, one of our most stressful parts of the day where do I charge my battery? I need to take my kids to school, but I’ve got a flat tire, how do I deal with that?

Example user experience

ManMan: And so the UX looks like this. [00:04:00] Randy, is biking by in the morning, when you’re starting your shift, you drop off an empty battery. Most delivery workers own two batteries or more. So you’ll be dropping off your empty battery and you continue on your day to do your deliveries. In four to six hours, Randy will get a notification saying, Randy, your battery is fully charged. You’ll swing by, and swap them you’ll pick up a full battery and you leave, your empty battery. And so it’s not like the delivery workers are going to be waiting for their batteries to charge. They don’t have that luxury, like they must go on about their day. So there’s not going to be flux of delivery workers moving or gravitating towards this.

Journey with Purpose: So I think right off the bat, some of the I think well founded questions is the part about e-bikes. There’s been a spate of fires, and I’m really interested in some of the work that Oonee has been doing around safe battery recharging. Can you talk about [00:05:00] that?

ManMan: Yeah. this is something that we’ve been doing hand and glove with Los Deliveristas Unidos right? And I think, the 1st thing that we did. It’s really understand the landscape, right? Because there has been an exuberant amount of accidents around these batteries. And so I first went into it, from a design standpoint, I went into it. Understanding the landscape of both, what is happening on the street and what solutions are out there that can solve these challenges and problems. And I very quickly realized, through a two year process that there are solutions out there.

From the Oonee side. We are an operator and we work with OEMs all around the world. So whenever we find a design challenge, which is based on our users needs, we go into a process of understanding the user and then we match the user with a solution that we find.

Whenever we don’t find a solution, we either customize one to our user’s [00:06:00] needs or we build one from scratch. I am not of the mind of doing the latter, on the front end. But only after we’ve exhausted the possibility of there being a solution, but it’s specifically, perfect and the perfect fit for the users,

And so what we learned is that a lot of these technologies out there are usually paired with a battery. So it’s either a battery plus, cabinet, quote, unquote combo, right? And so it’s basically either a fleet of batteries. That are serving e mobility vehicles, or it’s a vehicle, an e mobility vehicle that is tied to a charging technology. Now, that in itself pretty much seamless, perfect, and it’s very safe because you control both ends. You control the supply chain of batteries and you control the charging technology. So, It’s fairly easy to keep the whole system running, perfectly.

Now, the current landscape, is very different, [00:07:00] Because there are at the very least, and we did this with the help of the Los Deliveristas Unidos, there is at least four different types of batteries out there, two fly wings and two arrows, right? And so in understanding those four batteries, their technical specs, their dimensions and everything we then pivoted to a solution, which was a customization of a cabinet, that is manufactured by a factory in China.

There was an important customization aspect, which was instead of having a charger building to the charging device, we would get rid of the charger, so we would only provide our users with an output. So if you think about it, we came up with a glorified power strip. We took a cabinet, took out the chargers, put outlets on there and layered every single fire prevention and mitigation feature that they could offer us. And this includes, sensors and, things that monitor the battery while it’s charging, [00:08:00] as well as suppressants that would make sure that there’s no off gassing or, propagation from one cubby to the other. If a battery ignites.

The top layer of safety would come from verification through the app. Because this would be running on the Oonee app. You would need to verify, Randy would have to send us pictures of his battery, would send us, any sort of technical information about, where you got it, what the battery is. Through that verification process, we would then deem your battery safe to charge or not.

If it’s safe to charge, then, you would be able to access that when you power cabinets and you would create your own personal session. Every time you need a charge, and it’s pretty, pretty much like the, right? You have or a city bike session where you initiated your session and only you can access the cubby. It’ll send you a notification. Once the battery is charged. et cetera, et cetera.

If your battery is not safe we would pair you [00:09:00] with Los Deliveristas Unidos. And I know Los Deliveristas Unidos is already working on a bunch of initiatives, that will pair Randy with a new battery.

So that’s like high level, how, Ooneepower was conceived and how we develop the first couple of prototypes that we’ve created. We have not gone through fire testing. We have had, plenty of conversations with FDNY as far as what they would like to see in order to get them comfortable with, providing us with a go ahead to do some sort of pilot or incorporate these into the new stance.

And, or the Los Deliveristas Unidos hub in Williamsburg, which is under construction but we’re going through that process as we speak.

Journey with Purpose: I love that after you did your research on the current state of batteries and how many different types of batteries there were. The workaround to create a safe recharging system was to basically create a very, [00:10:00] very safe power strip. So I really loved that. My understanding is the proposed installation you have a provide 48 charging cabinets for both deliveristas and for the general public, can you speak a little bit about this p

ManMan: The 48 comes out of six cabinets, which is what we can physically fit inside of the footprint of mobility hub that we are proposing for this site. So 6 cabinets, 8 batteries per cabinet. That’s 48 batteries that could be charged simultaneously.

There is, the aspect of that is pending FDNY’s approval. FDNY might come back to us and say, you can only do 4. Or you need to modify, the design of the technology. That’s a very important part that we’re figuring out, but let’s say if FDNY, gives us the go ahead, there will be six cabinets there.

Four of them will be inside of. The hub, meaning they will be only available during operating hours, two of [00:11:00] them are designed to be facing outward, meaning that they could be accessed in non operating hours through the Oonee app. So even if the hub is closed. Shut down for the day, you can still access those 2 cabinets, meaning you could pick up a battery or drop off a battery and that all happens, through the app.

Journey with Purpose: I often joke that the two best EVs. In New York is the subway and somebody’s cargo bike. So is the idea that the two facing outwards, that becomes like a community focus, not just for the Deliveristas, but potentially anyone who. Comes up, needs a charge at any time of the day.

Manman: but that’s true for the entire facility Randy. The entire facility there is for is there for all of us at all times. that’s the premise here.

Mobility Hub

Los Deliveristas UnidosThe idea of a mobility hub is still not clear in people’s mind, but if we think about, the turn of the century, right when cars start popping up and then there’s no gas [00:12:00] station, there’s no service station, so we are in the midst of a micro mobility revolution, And yet there’s no gas stations, right? There’s no service stations for all of these devices, And so the mobility hub is not an exclusive amenity to delivery workers. No, the mobility hub is a transportation amenity, a public transportation amenity that should be, scaled and widespread across the city.

It should be in every neighborhood. It should be in every other corner. And so the idea that you can come here and park your bike, or scooter that you can charge it. You can repair it. Everyone should have access to this type of amenity.

And and this is also not an exclusive need to New York City, people are coming to us from all over the country saying, who’s got the design of the mobility hub and we need a bunch of them and we need them now because keep in mind that, there’s a much broader [00:13:00] question here,

Which ties to, how we keep, Cars, off the street, how we get people, moving around in these sort of like devices, shorter trips, keeping them, local, all of the great benefits that come from micro mobility, but we can’t be, stopping the revolution by saying, Oh, no, let’s not put that there because, it’s fine, to not have places to, it’s no, it’s we can have both.

We need to figure out how we can get a network of these, types of facilities, and we need to do it quickly.

Journey with Purpose: So this is a pilot or a prototype there’s this location, but what is maybe Ooneeque about this site or this installation versus something that might be, consistent across all potential mobility hubs in the city.

Manman: I’m going to turn the question on his head a little bit, because I think, from a site specific standpoint, I think that it’s important to understand that, wherever you find an [00:14:00] opportunity to do things quickly, you should take it. And I’m speaking from experience here, going back to, how long it can take, for Con Edison. We love Con Edison, but they’re pretty busy. And so if it took us 2 years to get a new electrical connection at Holland Tunnel, that’s not nothing. and so if there’s an opportunity to do things quicker, then I think. It behooves us to take advantage of those. Because concession agreements are also, very difficult to create, from scratch. And so I think that the strategy of finding places where you have an existing electrical connection and an existing concession and or an existing concession agreement is great. Because it really, helps streamline the process, a process that is otherwise, very lengthy.

Now from a design standpoint, the mobility hub system is designed to adapt itself to the site constraints, meaning you can create a larger one or a smaller [00:15:00] one, based on site conditions. And very much like a Oonee pod, you have plenty of customization options that would help, the hub blend in or, enhance or celebrate the context in which it lives.

Also worth mentioning, because when we first started Oonee, we understood the problem very well. And I think, also had a very unique approach which was, what about the rest of the community? What about the folks don’t own a bike, or that won’t benefit from the secure bike parking aspects? And we said, okay, these facilities need to provide something for everyone. And they need to provide things that will make people feel great about, our city.

And those are, Placemaking elements, that’s why whenever you come across an Oonee pod, there’s always going to be artwork on there. There’s always to be greenery on there. The [00:16:00] design is beautiful. I never cease to amaze that, if I’m visiting one of our facilities, I’m there for 5, 10 minutes. I always see. I kid you not. I always see 2 to 3 people that are walking by without a bike that take out their phone and take a picture of it. Just because it looks beautiful. And that to me, speaks to the nature of the design. If it’s the perfect complement for an existing public space or is an anchor to create a new public space. No one in their right mind would ever think about, hanging out in the middle of the Holland Tunnel. Go look at that plaza now. It’s so cool and beautiful. I’m sure down the line, there will be like tables and chairs and, you’re going to park your bike and you’re going to hang out and have a nice coffee.

And so philosophy is very much the same here, wherever, in a wide sidewalk or in a plaza, you put one of these facilities in and the idea is, that it should enhance, celebrate and compliment the space, [00:17:00] not the other way around.

Manman: it sounds like there’s two questions there, right? There’s the question about appropriateness, [00:18:00] which there’s a fair bit amount of customization that can be accomplished through color, finish, materiality there’s a pretty substantial amount of permutation options there. There are a handful of finishes, colors, textures, materials that you can choose so that, the hub can either, hide in plain sight, like a chameleon or, celebrate, the context in which it sits.

I also don’t see a situation where hundreds of delivery workers are going to be, naturally flooding, to the mobility hub, because in reality, if it’s charging, that they’re looking for the Oonee app will take care of that, because through the Oonee app, you’re going to be able to figure out whether there’s space in the charging cubbies or not. And through the notifications, we will let, you know, when your battery Is ready.

My name is Manuel Mancilla. I go by Man Man. I am the [00:19:00] principal of Fantastica, which is a street furniture design company, as well as the co founder of Oonee, which is a micro mobility starter operating the first in the nation, secure bike parking network. And I’m speaking to you all from my home in Harlem.


Journey with Purpose: All right. I want to think Gustavo and ManMan, for their time, I’m going to think Los Deliveristas Unidos for making people available to interview. This is very important thing. We spend a ton of money and time and infrastructure on really expensive infrastructure for private vehicles, cars. We know from research that e-bikes Extend people’s travel reach. They tend to use it more. They are safer then cars. And we know that

charging issues are here to stay. I think what’s interesting listening to both the community board and the landmarks conversations about this is [00:20:00] that many people seem to want this, but they’re finding lots of reasons not to support this, especially at the community board level.

So I’m really glad that landmark saw through this and saw that this, Decaying newspaper stand could go away and in place of it, a brand new piece of infrastructure and street furniture.

So that’s it. This is episode 23. Please go to for more episodes, please Heartlight share and comment about this episode And we’ll see you on the internet. Good day.

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