Lyft incorporates MBTA service into its app

New service gives users information on transit options

LYFT IS TAKING ANOTHER DETOUR from its bread-and-butter service of offering people rides in cars with a new option to link its customers to Boston’s existing transit network.

The Nearby Transit service that started rolling out to Boston-area customers Wednesday shows customers public transit schedules of the MBTA as well as the app’s existing car-hailing options.

“We’re connecting people to more transportation options within the app than ever, and we believe that by better integrating Lyft and public transit, we can make it easier and more efficient for people to get around the Boston area,” said Tyler George, Lyft’s regional general manager, in a statement.

The new service could blunt criticism that ride-hailing services worsen traffic congestion and cut into transit ridership. If it gains popularity, the new service could also be a selling point in Lyft’s battle with rival Uber for market share.

Nearby Transit could also overlap with the strategic goals of the MBTA, and T leadership is on-board with the concept.

“The MBTA fully supports initiatives, such as this one, that make it easier for people to use public transportation,” said T spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

Matt Cole, vice president of Cubic Corporation, which is working to overhaul the T’s fare-collection system, recently sketched out ambitions to bring disparate mobility modes under one umbrella, forge partnerships with would-be competitors, and find ways to move people the “last mile” from transit to their ultimate destination.

Lyft already owns the company that offers Blue Bikes – providing short-term bicycle rentals from stations around the Boston area – and it has launched an electric scooter service in some parts of the country.

As it stands, Nearby Transit does not compare fare prices between Lyft and the T, and it doesn’t yet incorporate Blue Bikes as an alternative option, although that remains a goal, according to a company official.

Boston is the sixth city where Lyft has launched the new feature, but it is still a fairly recent innovation. Nearby Transit was rolled out in Santa Monica, California, last September. Boston is the second city, behind Washington, D.C., on the East Coast.

According to the company, the move is part of Lyft’s goal to reduce single-passenger car occupancy. In Boston, the company says about half of its customers do not own or lease a personal motor vehicle, and 74 percent of Lyft riders in Boston use public transit at least once a week, according to the company.

Ride-hailing services have transformed the way people get around and offered new low-commitment employment options for scores of drivers. According to the Department of Public Utilities, there were about 64.8 million trips using so-called transportation network companies that began in Massachusetts in 2017.

While Lyft and Uber tout the freedom that their services offer to passengers and drivers alike, others have viewed the new mobility service with some alarm. According to a report last year by transportation consultant Bruce Schaller, ride-hailing services have added 5.7 billion miles of driving annually in the nation’s nine major metropolitan areas, including Boston, and 60 percent of users in large dense cities would have taken public transit, walked, or bicycled if ride-hailing was not an option.

Chris Dempsey, director of Transportation for Massachusetts, said he is pleased to see Lyft incorporate the prime people-mover in Boston.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

“While TNCs are growing in popularity, the MBTA is still moving many more people per day in Greater Boston,” Dempsey said in an email. “It’s great to have companies like Lyft better integrating transit into the options they offer their customers. We can’t solve our traffic crisis without finding ways to move more people in fewer cars.”

The Nearby Transit service will become available to customers on a rolling basis over an unspecified period of time, according to the company.