Lyft’s Huge Bike Share Purchase Is About Ruling the Streets

It’s official: The 133-year-old bicycle is the most popular factor in tech. As we speak, Lyft introduced it has acquired North America’s largest bike-share operator, Encourage, for a reported $250 million. The transfer comes simply three months after arch-rival Uber took over Soar 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, because the combat strikes to the bike lane.

In a weblog submit, Lyft stated it might take over Encourage’s know-how and company features, together with, critically, its metropolis contracts. (Encourage’s bike upkeep and repair operations will stay a standalone enterprise.) Final 12 months, the bike-share operator was answerable for practically three-quarters of American bike-share journeys.

On its face, the acquisition of Encourage—which can be rebranded Lyft Bikes—makes a ton of sense. Journey-hail 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 a substitute of preventing these new modalities, the ride-hailing giants purchased them out.

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


Encourage has decade-long agreements with a few of America’s greatest cities, together with New York Metropolis, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, and California’s Bay Space. A few of these (together with New York, the Bay Space, and Boston) are unique, that means nobody else is allowed to function bike-share within the space.

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

However is that true? Uber additionally took an in depth have a look at Encourage earlier than Lyft reduce the examine, and a supply conversant in these negotiations says Uber anxious these contracts left room for cities to renegotiate and even cancel exclusivity if management of the corporate modified fingers.

(When requested about how the acquisition would possibly have an effect on New York’s contract with Encourage, which runs the favored Citi Bike program, a spokesperson for town’s DOT stated, “The City first needs to review as part of the approval process.” A spokesperson for the Bay Space’s transportation authority didn’t reply to particular questions on its contract with Encourage. 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 dropping that exclusivity ought to make Lyft slightly nervous. Effectively-funded dockless bike- and scooter-share corporations, like Chook, Lime, Ofo, and now Uber are wanting to get their wheels on metropolis sidewalks, and never having to take care of Encourage’s monopolies might make {that a} bunch simpler. Spokespeople for Lyft and Encourage didn’t reply to questions on metropolis contract exclusivity.

Actual Property

One factor Lyft undoubtedly will get from this deal: a complete lot of bike-share stations. The traditional knowledge round Silicon Valley is that dockless, not docked methods, are the longer term, so this may occasionally appear unhelpful. Certainly, working a docked system comes with elevated capital prices—you’ve obtained to put in and preserve all these stations, in spite of everything.

However these occupied corners—most of them in downtown areas, close to transit—could be tremendous useful for a ride-hail firm. More and more, Uber and Lyft have acknowledged that they want extra curb actual property. Dropping off and choosing up riders in bike lanes or in the midst of busy roads is harmful and disruptive, and each corporations have experimented with city-sanctioned pick-up and drop-off zones. These zones ought to scale back site visitors and tickets for drivers, and make it simpler for purchasers to seek out their rides.

So it’s not loopy to suppose Lyft might use this new actual property to construct what city transportation nerds have dreamed about for years: “mobility hubs,” the place riders change between a motorcycle and a automotive and the general public bus and the subway. Might a station be a spot to cost electrical bikes and scooters and perhaps even vehicles? Hold your eyes on the corners—and, in fact, the boundaries of Encourage’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 differing types of transportation modes dovetails properly with one other large Lyft and Uber ambition: turning 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.”

Stated a unique approach: Each Lyft and Uber would really like you to open their app each time it’s essential go away your house, even when you understand 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 cellular transit ticketing firm Masabi in April, which is able to permit some commuter rail riders to purchase their tickets from proper contained in the Uber app.

“We want to be the Amazon for transportation,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi stated in Could. Lyft desires in, too.

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