Lyft is adding New York subway info to the app, even as it fights with the City
Lyft Inc. wants its riders in America’s largest city to know that they might not need to take a Lyft. They can just ride the subway.
Over the next few months, Lyft said users of its app will be able to access real-time public transportation information in New York City. The move marks another twist in the ride-hailing industry’s fraught relationship with New York, which is both home to the world’s most heavily used public transportation network and the site of a history of legal tussles between the companies and city officials.
The app update shows users the locations of nearby subway and bus stations, as well as docks for Citi Bike, the New York bike-share program operated by Lyft. The features are part of a bid to keep users engaged on the platform, rather than navigating away to a different app for subway or bike information. It’s a calculated bet that more info won’t tempt too many people to take the train instead of calling a Lyft.
Lyft has begun rolling out the update and will continue to do so gradually. All New York users will receive the new features by the end of September, the company said. “Lyft’s mission is to provide the world’s best transportation, and that definitely includes public transit,” said Lilly Shoup, the senior director of transportation policy. In cities like New York, public transit can be faster and more convenient than driving, she said.
While Lyft will provide riders with up-to-date subway arrival times, the company doesn’t have a formal partnership with the city of New York. Riders will still need to swipe their MetroCard to access the subway.
The new offerings may serve to endear Lyft to New York’s lawmakers, who have recently passed new rules targeting the ride-hailing industry. City officials have been vocal critics of the company and its competitors, saying they have driven down driver wages and worsened traffic. Lyft sued New York this year in a bid to prevent the implantation of a new driver minimum wage law, but a judge dismissed the suit in May.
The addition of subways and buses is a step for Lyft toward its ultimate goal of being an all-encompassing transportation service. Both the company and its larger rival, Uber Technologies Inc., have told investors they want users to remain on their apps no matter the mode of transit. As they geared up for their initial public offerings this year, both companies touted their respective integrations with other subway systems and public transit services.
Uber said recently that it had sold more than 1,200 bus and train tickets in Denver as part of a partnership with public transit there. Lyft already has public transportation data in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, the company said.
The two companies have also moved aggressively into bike-sharing. Lyft’s acquisition last year of Motivate, the operator Citi Bike, gave it a massive fleet of bicycles in New York, with plans to expand to 40,000 in 2023. Meanwhile, Uber has a fleet of 400 electric Jump bikes in the Bronx and Staten Island.
Lyft said integrating more services into its app is a natural step, particularly because many journeys involve more than one mode of transit. “One of our busiest Citi Bike stations is the one outside Grand Central,” Shoup said. “We can really expand the effectiveness and the reach of transit.”
Uber is still by far the largest player in the business of getting people around in cars in New York. But both companies have hit roadblocks as the city has cracked down on ride-hailing. Uber and Lyft have each sued city agencies over different rules and started to experiment with creative tactics to address new restrictions. An Uber lawsuit attempting to derail a cap on drivers is ongoing; Lyft lost its suit contesting driver pay rules, though it could appeal.
Lyft has begun preventing drivers in New York from accepting rides if they’re in low-demand parts of the city. That’s in response to a rule expected to go into effect next year that would require companies to pay drivers based on how many trips the average driver receives per hour. The rule is expected to advantage Uber, which has more riders and drivers.
Meanwhile, Uber is laying out a plan in response to rules that would charge ride-hailing drivers extra if they’re hanging around in the core of Manhattan without a passenger. Uber has made inquiries about purchasing a parking lot to hold about 250 cars just outside the heart of Manhattan. Cars would sit parked and then drive into the city’s core only after a passenger requests them. Crain’s New York Business first reported on the possible parking lot.
Uber said it’s worried that drivers would otherwise crowd streets around the perimeter of the proposed regulated zone. “If the city passes the proposed ‘cruising cap,’ we want to be prepared to help mitigate the inevitable congestion that will be caused by app drivers waiting to access the central business district,” Alix Anfang, an Uber spokeswoman, wrote in an email. One time-honored congestion solution, of course, is taking a train.