An app company is turning Citi Bike’s signature blue two-wheelers pink in protest of the bikeshare’s lack of data transparency, multimodal mobile app Transit unveiled Monday.
The company is using the in-app campaign to decry Lyft, the owner of Citi Bike, blocking riders from unlocking those bikes in Transit as a way to force riders into the Lyft network—giving travelers less choice to pick and choose their preferred commuting app, Transit officials charge. As of Monday, the app has converted Citi Bike into hot pink “Lyft Bikes,” and when users attempt to unlock a Citi Bike, an error message will appear informing would-be riders that Lyft has decided to discontinue the feature.
“Citi Bike is an important, shared transportation option that belongs to all New Yorkers. But as Citi Bike’s parent company, Lyft has done anything but share,” Stephen Miller, communications lead at Transit, told Curbed. “New Yorkers deserve the ability to choose how they access their transportation, and shouldn’t be forced into Lyft apps as part of the ridehail giant’s strategy to take over mobility.”
In April 2018, Transit struck an agreement with Motivate, the then-owner of Citi Bike, to sell single fares ($3 for a 30-minute ride) and to unlock the bikes using a five-digit code generated in Transit. That agreement made Transit the first app other than Citi Bike’s own proprietary one where cyclists could unlock bikes, and allowed Transit users to incorporate the bike share service when planning multimodal connections to public transportation.
Millions of New Yorkers use the app each month to navigate between the subway, buses, ferries, commuter rail, and other services, with real-time travel time predictions for one-stop-shop trip planning. Transit also integrates bike-share, car-sharing from car2go, and ride hailing options from Lyft, Uber, and Via so users can mix-and-match for the easiest trip.
A few months later, Lyft announced that it had acquired Motivate, which operated Citi Bike along with bike share systems in seven other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. The app agreement with Transit was transferred to Lyft when it acquired Motivate, but in May of this year, Lyft began selling Citi Bike rides in its own app.
Meanwhile, Transit launched its feature to sell Citi Bike single rides earlier this month, only to have Lyft sever the link soon after. It’s also signaled to Transit that it may do the same in other cities the app supports, such as Chicago, Washington, and Minneapolis, according to a source.
The move is a departure from Motivate’s history of open data sharing, but it’s not the first time Lyft has made such moves. Last year, Lyft launched its first scooter fleets in cities across the U.S., but they can only be accessed through the company’s own app. Some cities like Washington D.C. require Lyft and other scooter operators to provide a public, real-time feed that allows apps, like Transit, to use that data to help travelers find available scooters.
In April, the company also shutdown access to its ridehail API, which allows riders to get Lyft travel times and hail a Lyft ride in the app of their choice. Lyft allows apps to maintain access on a case-by-case basis, which at the moment includes Transit that continues to connect users to Lyft, Uber, and Via. This summer Lyft also announced that e-bike riders in the San Francisco Bay Area are only able to unlock e-bikes using the Lyft app, and in a recent blog post the company promoted its new app design as “one app to unlock your city.”
Lyft isn’t alone in its desire to keep its users within its own app: In a recent interview with The Verge, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that he wants that app—where users can now find real-time subway, bike-sharing, and scooter information, in addition to vehicles—to become “the Amazon for transportation.”
Lyft confirmed that it terminated the Citi Bike agreement with Transit, but refuted the company’s claims about its lack of data transparency and stressed that the company is committed to providing open data for bikes and scooters.
“At Lyft, we’re committed to increasing access to affordable, sustainable transportation by providing the best multimodal transportation experience within the Lyft app—and our new app design puts bikes, scooters, and public transit front-and-center,” said Lyft spokesperson Alex Rafter.