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Lyft tweaks its app to boost bikes, scooters, and mass transit

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The company saw a nearly 50 percent increase in customers considering public transit

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Lyft, a company that makes almost all of its money through car trips, is redesigning its app in the hopes that people take fewer car trips. The new app, which is live today in every city where Lyft operates, will make it easier for customers to switch back and forth between different modes of travel like scooters, bike-share, public transit, and car rentals.

Right now, non-car options like bike-share and transit appear at the bottom of a list of “nearby” options on Lyft’s home screen, underneath saved destinations. With this redesign, they will appear as different “tabs” at the bottom of the screen. Tapping each tab brings up a different view of the map.

Lyft’s testing has shown that this new “tab” design “significantly increases usage of modes beyond rideshare.” The company saw a nearly 50 percent increase in usage sessions of the transit tab with this view compared to how transit is currently integrated into its app. And Lyft is hoping the accelerate a trend it noticed over the summer, where one in eight Lyft rides was a bike or scooter ride in the cities where those modes were available.

In the coming weeks, Lyft will offer a “Mode Selector” that allows customers to compare costs and travel time. If a bike is cheaper and faster than a car, that will appear at the top of the list. If transit is the fastest way to go, customers will be able to see that, too.

“At Lyft, we’re working toward a future where cities are centered around people, not cars,” John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft, said in a statement. “The changes we’re making today will unlock better transportation solutions — whether that’s a trip on public transit, a bike ride or a shared Lyft — for people in cities around the country.”

The new app comes a little over a year since Lyft’s last redesign in which the company said it wanted to put carpooling and mass transit “front and center.” About a month later, Lyft acquired bike-share operator Motivate, which includes major systems like Citi Bike in New York City, Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC, and Ford GoBike (now Bay Wheels) in San Francisco. That led to Lyft introducing its own electric scooters in several cities.

Last year, Lyft rolled out a “ditch you car” promotional challenge in dozens of cities. Participants were challenged to give up their personal vehicles for a whole month, and in exchange, they would receive around $550 in credit to use for Lyft trips, as well as other mobility services like bike-share, car-share, and public transit.

Both Lyft and its main rival Uber are locked in a heated battle to become one-stop shops for all urban transportation. And these days, their apps are almost indistinguishable from each other. Depending on the city, both offer cars, carpooling, bikes, scooters, and public transit directions. Uber has begun to offer the ability to purchase subway and bus tickets in a handful of cities. It stands to reason that Lyft will eventually do the same.

Both companies are also under increasing pressure to reduce the number of car trips in cities, after several studies showed that ride-hailing has led to increases in traffic congestion and carbon emissions.

One study commissioned by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority looked at 2017 traffic patterns in the county and concluded that Uber and Lyft generated about 6.5 percent of the total vehicle miles traveled on weekdays, and 10 percent on weekends.

Uber and Lyft have weathered criticism about pollution and traffic congestion for years. And the companies have tried to address it through a variety of means, including bike- and scooter-sharing services, integrating public transportation scheduling and ticketing into their apps, and incentive programs to get drivers to switch to electric cars. Uber and Lyft also supported New York City’s recent push for congestion pricing.