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‘Walled Gardens’ vs. Open Mobility: The Battle Begins

Why did Lyft block users of a third-party app from accessing New York’s Citi Bike? It’s the start of what could be a fundamental showdown over mobility choice.
Rows of Citi Bikes are lined up in New York City. The city's bikeshare system is now owned and operated by Lyft, and the company's efforts to restrict access to the bikes have come under fire.
Rows of Citi Bikes are lined up in New York City. The city's bikeshare system is now owned and operated by Lyft, and the company's efforts to restrict access to the bikes have come under fire.Kathy Willens/AP

If you’ve ever scowled in frustration as you toggle between apps searching for the nearest e-scooter or cheapest ride-hail trip, keep an eye on the skirmish currently brewing in New York City over access to the Citi Bike bikeshare system: It’s a fight that is poised to spill into other cities, with major implications for how Americans plan and book urban trips.

The conflict pits ride-hail behemoth Lyft against a startup called Transit, whose app allows users to plan and book trips across a variety of urban modes. Last year, Lyft acquired a company that owns and operates Citi Bike, and earlier this year Lyft began allowing users to unlock bikes from within the Lyft app itself. In response, in September Transit began allowing its users to rent Citi Bikes within the Transit app—only to see Lyft swiftly kill that functionality.