Lyft's Bid to Rule the Streets Now Includes Public Transit

Lyft wants to be the app you open whenever you’re going anywhere. That means helping customers move all the ways they want to move.
Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In today’s transportationlandscape, opening the Lyft app on your phone is a sign of intent. It means that wherever you’re going, you’ve decided you won’t be biking, or walking, or taking the bus. Maybe you’ll share the ride with a stranger, but you’re definitely making the trip in a car.

Lyft cofounder and president John Zimmer is trying to rejigger that timeline. He wants the tap of the pink icon to come at the moment you’ve decided where you’re going—and before you know how you’ll get there. Because whatever mode of transportation is right for you and your trip, he wants Lyft to be your navigator. That’s why, starting next week, some Lyft users in Santa Monica will see a new option.

“It’ll say ‘Nearby Transit,’” says Zimmer. So if you’re at the pier and looking to get across town, the app will show you nearby drivers and prices, as usual, But in the bottom of the screen, it will also offer information about public transit. In Santa Monica, that means the Big Blue Bus, LA Metro’s Expo Line, and MetroLink service. You can see where each line goes, and when the next bus or train is coming.

Starting this week in Santa Monica, the Lyft app will give some users access to information about public transit, including nearby lines.

Lyft

That’s about it for the moment, but Lyft expects to expand its public transit-related offerings, first by displaying this new “card” to all its Santa Monica users, then expanding the setup to other cities. It’s considering new capabilities, too, like having the app offer transit directions (Hop on the Expo Line toward 7th St /Metro Center, get off at 26th St/Bergamot, walk five blocks south). It hasn’t seriously looked at integrating fare payments into its app, but it’s an easy move to imagine.

Zimmer has long said his mission is to slash the rate at which humanity travels about in single-occupant vehicles, in the interest of easing congestion and reducing planet- and lung-choking emissions. Still, helping customers avoid your service can seem a strange move until you consider it in the context of Lyft’s greater mission: becoming the ultimate transportation middleman. The company is now testing out a subscription model, in an effort to become more than one of myriad transportation options. Customers who commit to Lyft for, say, a month, are less likely to use Uber or their own car during that span. And they’re more likely to make that kind of commitment if Lyft can help them make all sorts of trips, not just the occasional ride home from the bar.

Lyft, you see, isn’t just about cars anymore. This summer, it acquired Motivate, the country’s largest bike-share operator, so now Lyft controls the fleets that accounted for three-quarters of bike-share rides in the US in 2017. Last week, the company launched a fleet of shared electric scooters in Denver. It just got official permission to deploy them in Santa Monica, and plans to do so next week.

Uber, one of Lyft’s primary competitors, has also expanded into the broader mobility space, snapping up dockless bike-sharing company Jump and striking a deal with mobile ticketing company Masabi in a move that will eventually let customers use its app to pay for public transit in cities around the world. “If you really want to provide something that can replace the car in people’s lives, you want to have more than ride-sharing,” Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s transportation policy chief, told WIRED in April.

Ultimately, Zimmer wants more customers to use Lyft more regularly—to be willing to subscribe, figuratively if not literally. That means helping them move all the ways they want to move, by car, bike, scooter, and now, public transit. Consider how this can simplify a user’s life. Today, you might open five apps run by five companies to weight all your options, from biking to bussing to bumming a ride. Bit by bit, Lyft is positioning itself to be the place you look for all that information—and the occasional ride.

And if it still sounds crazy, imagine the Santa Monica resident who has made this leap, and checks her bus status every morning through the Lyft app, instead of Google Maps or anything else. Maybe today she’s in a hurry, and her bus is late. Now, she doesn’t even to change apps—or go to the competition—to find her way.

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