As ride-hailing apps begin to control scooters and bike shares, they’re making it harder for people to make the best decisions about how to move around their cities.
If you’re not a techie, you may not have come across the term “walled garden” before. But it’s a critical concept these days in technology business strategy–and it has the potential to fundamentally change the ways we travel throughout cities.
In essence, a walled garden is a closed technology platform that limits the information and options available to a user. If you have an Apple product, the concept will be familiar: In order to download a new app to your iPhone, you must go to Apple’s App Store. Apple “curates” the apps you can get in the App Store, bringing some to your immediate attention while forcing you to search for others. Apple also decides whether or not a new app will be made available to you and the 500 million other people who visit the App Store every week. That gives Apple a lot of power, which can cause consternation or controversy when an app is rejected.
You can find walled gardens in products ranging from e-readers (Amazon Kindle) to social media (Facebook) to various video game consoles. For the first time, the walled garden strategy is now being applied to urban transportation, with ride-hail giants Uber and Lyft racing to add new mobility modes to their apps. In 2018, Uber has announced partnerships or acquisitions related to car sharing (Getaround), e-bike sharing (Jump), e-scooter share (Lime), and public transportation (Masabi). For its part, Lyft acquired public bike share operator Motivate, launched its own e-scooter share service, and has started building new integrations with public transportation into its app. The stakes are high; both companies–as well as China’s Didi Chuxing–want to evolve into walled gardens by providing trip planning and ticketing for any urban trip a commuter might desire.