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Lyft sees a future with more bikes and scooters, and fewer cars

A “once-in-a-generation opportunity ... to make our cities designed for people not cars.”

A new route to riding bikes and scooters?
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Lyft made a big move yesterday to not only live up to its founders’ lofty ideals, but to stake a claim as a more multimodal, sustainable transportation company that supports transit equity and safer streets.

In a Medium post, cofounders John Zimmer and Logan Green outlined Lyft’s new approach to integrating bikes and scooters into its suite of services, filling in details after announcing plans to purchase Motivate, the nation’s largest bikeshare operator, for $250 million earlier this month.

Lyft’s announcement offers the latest escalation in the battle of urban mobility, as companies jockey to become an “Amazon of transportation” that can offer a variety of transit modes, and investors continue to sink millions into new car-free mobility options, such as dockless electric scooters. The overall goal, according to the founders, is to “decouple people’s right to mobility from car ownership.”

As part of its effort to reduce individual car ownership while raising the percentage of shared rides taken on the platform, Lyft plans to make scooters and bikes more accessible and complementary parts of its users’ daily transportation plans.

To accomplish this, Lyft is making changes in the app and on the ground. Soon, updates to the app will allow users to access real-time transit information, find Lyft Scooters and Bikes, and plan multimodal trips. Ideally, this would mean helping users figure out the best way to ride a bike to the nearest light-rail station, or take a scooter five blocks to meet up with another user for a shared ride pickup.

Lyft, which claims to control a third of the U.S. ridehailing market, has set some significant benchmarks to measure its multimodal push. The company wants to take 1 million cars off the road by 2019, and increase the percentage of shared rides taken by users to 50 percent. Currently, Lyft claims about 250,000 users have gotten rid of their cars and studies have estimated about a third of all Lyft rides are shared rides.

In order to encourage more car-free trips, Lyft also plans to invest in safer streets and transportation equity. The ridehailing firm will invest $1 million in programs to bring transport access to underserved communities, and will champion the Vision Zero street safety campaign, partnering with groups such as Together For Safer Roads.

Lyft has positioned this strategic shift as part of its civic responsibility, a “once-in-a-generation opportunity for the private and public sectors to work together to make our cities designed for people not cars.”

As noted by The Verge, Lyft has provided a glimpse of how this may work. As part of its submission to operate scooters in San Francisco, the company said it plans to offers “up to 100 percent discounts” on rides that start or end near transit stops.

While Lyft’s commitment to a safer, more sustainable transportation ecosystem is commendable. what hasn’t been fully outlined is the business model behind this shift away from single-passenger rides towards a multimodal future. Lyft, like Uber, has continued to cut prices in a fight for marketshare, while bikeshare operators have struggled to turn a profit, absent corporate sponsorships. Some have theorized that dockless electric scooters have better per-unit operating costs, which explains these company’s high valuations and continued venture capitalist interest.