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Introducing Transit Accounts: a universal solution to bikeshare and public transit payments — with more modes coming, in more and more cities 🛴🚖
September 9, 2019
Here’s the pitch that most new mobility companies seem to be making:
“Hey! Please download our app. With it, you can use 17% of the scooters in your city.”
Other, bigger conglomerates add delicious icing to that cake:
“Not only can you use 17% of scooters with our app — but you can unlock 50% of the bikeshares in your city, hail 26% of the available cabs, and there’s an option to find the bus schedule if you look really hard!”
This is absurd. Thankfully, most people agree. It’s why cities are pushing mobility operators to work together, even ones that don’t want to. One perk of mobility operators working together? Transit Accounts: a new way to plan & pay for every mode, whatever the operator, whatever the city.
No more downloading ten different apps, or entering your payment info ten different times. Today we’re announcing some new systems, like RTD (Denver), Citi Bike (NYC), Capital Bikeshare (DC), Big Blue Bus (Santa Monica), and Cincinnati Metro — big ones, joining a large list of operators you can already pay for, using Transit. But more than adding them piecemeal, the old way — where you had to create a new account to use each system — we’re rolling them all into one simple account that works everywhere, for everything.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And getting mobility operators across a half-dozen modes in hundreds of different cities to all integrate payments within Transit? It’s not gonna be a leisurely walk through the Sistine Chapel 😉. But we’re at a point where we support payments for at least one operator in our biggest North American cities, with more joining each month. It was time to roll all those disparate accounts, sign-up forms, credit card flows, etc. into one account.
The reason you can plan transit trips in multiple cities within the same app (be it Google Maps, Apple Maps, Transit, etc.) is because of something called GTFS. It’s an open data standard that transit agencies use to share where their buses and trains are.
Transit agencies let anyone — even Uber and Lyft — integrate transit into their app with GTFS.
And every agency in North America, more or less, uses GTFS. But agencies don’t stop there. Beyond sharing transit schedules and real-time vehicle positions, many agencies are pushing for even more openness, by letting you buy tickets in third-party apps. When an agency launches their ticketing API for partner apps? We can add their tickets for purchase with your Transit Account.
Folks like RTD in Denver are leading the way in opening up payments. They realized (1) riders might not want to use two separate apps to plan and pay for trips; and (2) many people don’t even have the official RTD ticketing app on their phone.
So RTD worked with their ticketing provider, Masabi, to build an API that could plug payment support into any major mobility app.
It means that transit-oriented apps (like ours) and even ridehail-oriented ones (like Uber) can make transit more accessible to their users.
As transit agencies lead the charge for open mobility ecosystems, city council is right behind them. Cities like LA and DC and Chicago and Denver all want private mobility operators to be as open and collaborative as transit agencies are.
But while big mobility companies take advantage of public streets and public transit APIs, they don’t always give back in equal measure.
Other operators were better at this: Motivate, a big private bikeshare company, led the charge for open data standards in bikeshare (GBFS). Motivate was also among the first to open up bikeshare payments — facilitating millions of third-party-powered, car-free trips.
However, Motivate got bought by Lyft, and now the open ecosystem they were building is becoming a walled garden. Progress on third-party partnerships is coming to a standstill; interest in open data has palpably cooled. E-scooters and e-bikes, for instance, aren’t being added to public GBFS feeds — they’re now Lyft app exclusives 🚲™.
The seamless, people-oriented, open vision Motivate used to pitch is taking the (albeit, befitting! 🚖) back seat. At Transit, we have the benefit of having been grandfathered in by the “old” Motivate, hence why we can now sell passes for Citi Bike and Capital Bikeshare, etc. But we’d like to see API access extended to more modes, systems, and third-parties.
Like Lyft, many mobility operators don’t share APIs. But it’s not because users don’t want them — even average users are clamouring for open data!
In a city without open APIs? The average rider:
By obfuscating their data and spiking the ball on third-party payments, sure, mobility companies might fend off competitors. But it just makes it all the more compelling for city commuters to take a car. No one wants to stitch together a janky bundle of apps.
Luckily, cities don’t care about which mobility companies are competing with whom — which one has 17% of the scooters and which one has 15% of the scooters but also 22% of the taxis.
What they care about is:
An open, integrated mobility ecosystem is the best way to encourage it, hence why Chicago, LA, DC, Denver, Portland, and other cities are expecting more openness from the mobility operators who use their streets and sidewalks.
Every new mobility company says that they “want to work with cities.” Committing to an open mobility ecosystem is the most obvious, easiest way to do that. Thankfully TONS of cities, transit agencies, and operators are fighting the good fight. Companies like Masabi and Token Transit are making it super easy for transit agencies to expand payments to other apps; bikeshare companies like P3GM, PBSC, NextBike, Shift Transit (and perhaps, the Motivate of yore) are bucking the trend, supporting open data and third-party payments; apps like Spin and Zipcar and Waze Carpool are uniting forces with cities like Pittsburgh in order to reduce their dependence on cars.
With Transit, we let you combine any operator, and any mode, to find the single, fastest trip plan. Now with Transit Accounts, we’re doubling down. We’re working with everyone who wants to build an open, car-free future in EVERY city.
More agencies? More operators? More simplicity?
Here’s how we make ridehail actually serve cities.Here’s how we’re bringing multimodal to the masses.Here’s why we’re fighting for open APIs.
What happens when you combine MnDOT + Transit + GTFS-flex
We’ve come a long way in half a decade
Thanks to our 100+ transit agency partners.
And, of course, you 👋🎈