This is one of those statements you hate to write. At Transit we have spent the last seven years trying to get people out of their cars. We’ve made every mobility option combinable with public transit within our app — no matter the mode, no matter who runs it.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with operators big and small: Transit was an early champion of each new mode, and each single entrant. Rather than pick winners in each category, we helped grow the pie: helping popularize bikeshare and carshare and scooters and (yes) ridehail in all of our cities.
We’ve integrated different modes more closely with public transit: Transit was the first third-party app to let you plan AND pay for multimodal 🚖🚲🛴-to-🚊🚍 trips with multiple operators. As a neutral marketplace, we include every operator and transit agency we can.
Now for the bad news: Lyft is trying to shut it down.
In July 2018, Lyft bought a company called Motivate.
Motivate is a big kahuna — they run Citi Bike in New York, Divvy in Chicago, and a bunch of other systems.
Before “micromobility” was a hot space, Motivate was busy doing the unglamorous work, trying to bring bikeshare to North America’s biggest cities. They partnered with cities, fought for bike docks, ran around like madmen swapping out kiosk batteries, and integrated bikeshare into transit networks.
They pioneered an open standard called GBFS (General Bikeshare Feed Specification). It’s the “sister” feed of GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) — something your transit agency publishes online, so that you can plan transit trips in apps like Google Maps, Apple Maps, Transit, Uber, Lyft, etc.
More apps means more riders can easily find and take transit, whatever city they’re in.
GBFS helped popularized bikeshare: you could use many different apps to find bikes. Not just the local operator’s. So instead of downloading the Citi Bike app in NYC, the BIXI app in Montreal, the Biketown app in Portland, the Capital Bikeshare app in DC, the Bay Wheels app in SF (must we go on) — you could use any navigation app to find all the bikes, no matter where you were.
But Lyft Corporate HQ doesn’t have the same mantra that old Motivate did.
Whereas Motivate played nice with others, trying to bring car-free mobility to as many people as possible, Lyft’s mission of late seems less magnanimous. They cut off public access to their ridehail API. When Lyft launched e-bikes and scooters, they didn’t even bother adding it to GBFS. Now they’re shutting off a crucial Motivate legacy project, third-party payments, essentially forcing you to download and use the Lyft app (or a Lyft-owned subsidiary app) to access bikeshare in your city — starting in New York with Citi Bike, and others likely soon.
We think that’s backwards.
Instead of making bikeshare more interoperable, Lyft purchased Motivate to make bikeshare inoperable. Not only is Lyft reneging on old Motivate agreements… they’re reneging on old Motivate values. They’re making bikeshares harder to find, harder to purchase, and harder to connect with public transit.
They’re weaponizing bikeshare to force you to use their ridehail app.
An Open Way Forward
There’s a better alternative to Lyft’s walled garden: an open ecosystem where EVERY operator is visible, where it’s easy to compare costs and combine modes and pay for trips, and where every mobility app can show public transit and ALL the complimentary options. Not just proprietary ones.
Open data means you don’t have to juggle 10 different operator apps to find the fastest, cheapest trip. It means different companies, working together. Open data was universally acknowledged as the goal, among operators. But now some operators are trying to become mobility monopolies, and are no longer playing nice with others.
It’s only a matter of time before Lyft’s approach to open data —in which they take public transit data for their own app, but refuse to let public transit apps integrate their services — is taken to task. Both riders and cities want more operators taking the “two-way street”: with open real-time info for bikes and scooters, open mobility payments, and open ridehail data too.
More openness in urban mobility is a win-win-win.
- It gives you a better user experience, letting you mix and match operators and modes within one app.
- It fosters competition for better prices and better service (among operators) and for better apps (since anyone can integrate all the available mobility options in a city)
- It increases transparency: making operators accountable to the communities they serve.
Until Lyft stops trying to block our users’ access to bikeshare payments in New York — and until Lyft stops setting up walled gardens — we’ll do our part to hold the line for openness. ✊