Lyft’s Big Bike Share Buy Is About Ruling the Streets

Lyft’s Big Bike Share Buy Is About Ruling the Streets

It’s official: The 133-year-old bicycle is the hottest factor in tech. Today, Lyft introduced it has acquired North America’s largest bike-share operator, Motivate, for a reported $250 million. The transfer comes simply three months after archrival Uber took over Jump Bicycles, a smaller and flashier dockless electrical bike-share firm, for $200 million. And thus, the city transportation wars click on into the next gear, as the struggle strikes to the bike lane.

In a weblog submit, Lyft mentioned it could take over Motivate’s expertise and company features, together with, critically, its metropolis contracts. (Motivate’s bike upkeep and repair operations will stay a standalone enterprise.) Last yr, Motivate was answerable for almost three-quarters of US bike-share trips.

On its face, the acquisition of Motivate—which might be rebranded Lyft Bikes—makes a ton of sense. Ride-hailing corporations are nervous that automobiles like cycles and scooters will reduce into their enterprise by giving folks cheaper, traffic-free choices for making quick journeys via dense areas. So as an alternative of combating these new modalities, the ride-hailing giants purchased them out.

But Lyft’s newest buy isn’t nearly consuming one other slice of the transportation pie, as a result of Motivate brings greater than bikes. It brings contracts with cities, and the years-long relationships with metropolis officers that solid them. That could possibly be the kind of benefit Lyft must dominate transportation throughout the metropolis panorama, irrespective of your mode of alternative. If, that’s, it could possibly reply a couple of pesky questions.


Motivate has decade-long agreements with a few of America’s largest cities, together with Boston, Chicago, New York, the District of Columbia, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of these (together with New York, the Bay Area, and Boston) are unique, that means nobody else is allowed to function a bike-share in the space.

Yes, there have been exceptions. San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency managed to carve out an asterisk for a 250-bike pilot by the dockless ebike firm Jump (yep, the one acquired by Uber), however that small concession got here solely after aggressive arbitration with Motivate. Lyft says its acquisition received’t have an effect on Motivate’s present contracts.

But is that true? Uber additionally took a detailed have a look at Motivate earlier than Lyft reduce the verify, and a supply conversant in these negotiations says Uber nervous these contracts left room for cities to renegotiate and even cancel exclusivity if management of the firm modified arms.

(When requested about how the acquisition may have an effect on New York’s contract with Motivate, which runs the standard Citi Bike program, a spokesperson for the metropolis’s Department of Transportation mentioned “the City first needs to review as part of the approval process.” A spokesperson for the Bay Area’s transportation authority didn’t reply to particular questions on its contract with Motivate. A DC DOT spokesperson demurred: “It would be premature for the agency to comment on the agreement, but we look forward to the continued expansion of Capital Bikeshare.”)

The prospect of shedding that exclusivity ought to make Lyft slightly nervous. Well-funded dockless bike- and scooter-share corporations, like Bird, Lime, Ofo, and now Uber, are wanting to get their wheels on metropolis sidewalks, and never having to take care of Motivate’s monopolies might make bunch simpler. Spokespersons for Lyft and Motivate didn’t reply to questions on metropolis contract exclusivity.

Real Estate

One factor Lyft positively will get from this deal: an entire lot of bike-share stations. The standard knowledge round Silicon Valley is that dockless, not docked programs, are the future, so this will appear unhelpful. Indeed, working a docked system comes with elevated capital prices—you’ve received to put in and keep all these stations, in spite of everything.

But these occupied corners—most of them in downtown areas, close to transit—may be tremendous useful for a ride-hailing firm. Increasingly, Uber and Lyft have acknowledged that they want extra curb actual property. Dropping off and selecting up riders in bike lanes or in the center of busy roads is harmful and disruptive, and each corporations have experimented with city-sanctioned pickup and drop-off zones. These zones ought to scale back site visitors and tickets for drivers and make it simpler for patrons to search out their rides.

So it’s not loopy to assume Lyft might use this new actual property to construct what city transportation nerds have dreamed about for years: “mobility hubs,” the place riders swap between a motorcycle and a automotive and the public bus and the subway. Could a station be a spot to cost electrical bikes and scooters and possibly even automobiles? Keep your eyes on the corners—and, after all, the limits of Motivate’s contacts, which most likely restrict what Lyft can do with these areas.

The ‘Amazon for Transportation’

The thought of a bodily house the place customers can select between different types of transportation modes dovetails properly with one other massive Lyft and Uber ambition: changing into the go-to app for metropolis transportation. A “mobility marketplace” for all.

“Not all trips are going to be taken by Lyft,” says Susan Shaheen, an engineer who research mobility at UC Berkeley. “Acquiring bike-sharing stations and assets is a step toward this and perhaps competition with private auto reliance and use.”

Said a special approach: Both Lyft and Uber would love you to open their app each time it’s essential go away your property, even when you recognize you need to take a public bus or a scooter. In reality, each Lyft and Uber utilized for permits to function scooter-share companies in San Francisco. Uber additionally unveiled a partnership with the cell transit ticketing firm Masabi in April, which can enable some commuter rail riders to purchase their tickets from proper inside the Uber app.

“We want to be the Amazon for transportation,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi mentioned in May. Lyft needs in, too.

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