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Migo wants to be “the Netflix of transit,” but Lyft hopes to be riders’ main binge

Originally published in The Denver Post by Joe Rubino on October 24, 2018

With new ridesharing, e-scooter and other non-personal-car transit options being announced on a seemingly weekly basis in Denver, it can be hard for even the most enthusiastic users to keep track.

At least that’s what the folks at Migo are banking on. Migo is a mobile app (available nationwide on iPhone but still in beta for Android) that works as a supplement to ridesharing services such as Lyft, Uber, e-scooters, car shares like Car2go and even public trains and buses. Open the app, punch in a starting point and destination and receive estimates for ride costs and how long it will take to hail a car, hop on a bus or walk to a scooter or bike. Some services, like Lyft, can be booked directly through Migo without opening another app.

CEO Jeff Warren said he views Migo as “the Netflix of personal transit.”

“It’s really a discovery platform for all the new ways to get from A to B,” Warren said, adding his company wants to turn users on to “new stuff you might not know about, whether it’s fun, cheap or just the fastest way.”

The company launched its app in January 2018, but has started to focus in marketing attention on certain places such as the Denver-Boulder area. Migo launched nationally in January but has started to focus its advertising on specific markets recently, including the Denver-Boulder area. Company spokeswoman Kathy Van Buskirk, who lives in Boulder, said Migo is used by a variety of people but the local market has the right mix: a steady in-migration of new people who might not be familiar with transportation options, particularity those in the 18 to 35 age demographic, a concentration of tech workers and, thanks to the summer rise of e-scooters, a varied transit landscape.

“The age and the urbanization,” she said, ” … it’s a really good fit for us.”

Just as Migo ramps up its local efforts to help people discover and try different transit options, Lyft has debuted a new subscription model designed to eliminate indecision and, potentially, the need for a personal car altogether.

The Lyft All-Access Plan was announced nationwide Oct. 16. For $299 up front every 30 days, users are allotted 30 rides of up to $15 apiece. If a ride costs more than $15, users pay the difference. Additional rides taken beyond the first 30 come with a 5 percent discount. Cancel anytime.

“When you spend less time driving (and parking), you have more freedom — and more savings,” Lyft’s new release about the service reads. “Americans who use the All-Access Plan for all of their personal car needs can save up to 59 percent per month compared to owning a car,” the release continues, citing AAA data about the costs of auto ownership.

The basic math is Lyft offers $450 in rides for $299, but some critics have already criticized the model. Adam Clark Estes, a senior editor for science and tech website Gizmodo, wrote an opinion piece last week with a headline calling the offer a “legendary ripoff.” Clark Estes notes that if a user’s average ride cost less than $10 in a given month, the service costs more than it’s worth, and that’s if a subscriber uses all 30 rides. Fail to use even a handful of those 30 trips and the value falls quickly.

Subscribers are not insulated from higher ride costs assessed during high-traffic “prime time” hours and tips are not included. Some typical Denver trips will exceed the range of Lyft’s $15 maximum ride cost and the require the rider to pay more money on the spot. Trips from downtown Denver to the airport cost more than $30 on Lyft. Getting to Red Rocks costs more than $20 from many points in town.

Denver resident Mata Mohamed said he sees plenty to like in the All-Access offer, though it doesn’t make sense for him right now.

“For one, it’s affordable. It’s really convenient. It’s just appealing in general to frequent users,” he said.

The 24-year-old works at the Catalyst HTI building in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood and lives about 10 minutes away by car. He drives his own used car (purchase price $6,000) to work and uses Lyft or Uber a few times a week, typically when going out for the evening. With his low monthly car costs — about $240 when gas and insurances is added up — he said Lyft All-Access is unlikely to save him money but there are plenty of other people he could see benefiting.

“I think for people who are on a payment plan for a 2018 Camry, the Lyft plan is probably more appealing,” he said.

In its marketing materials Lyft calls All-Access “the first step toward delivering on our goal of making car ownership optional.”

Migo’s Warren doesn’t know how soon the country could hit that threshold but he noted even some auto industry studies he’s seen show that car ownership may be peaking in the U.S.

The Migo app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times in the U.S. to date and the company is tracking how transit options are used in 120 different markets. Warren said even in the colder months micro-transit options like Bird and Lime scooters remain popular, just for shorter rides.

“There is a big kind of ‘who knows’ to this, but it all follows a trend of car ownership being less and less attractive as more of these mobility options become available,” he said.

AAA Colorado found that more than 1.81 million cars and 2.95 million trucks were registered in the state in 2015. That includes private, business-owned and government-owned vehicles. In 2016, more than 1.79 million cars and 3.07 million trucks were registered in the state, a combined increase of around 100,000 vehicles. The state’s population grew by roughly 110,000 during the same period, U.S. Census Bureau data shows.

It didn’t cover Lyft’s subscription model, but AAA Colorado put out a news release Tuesday highlighting research that found the average person living in Denver would pay nearly three times more — $20,434 versus $7,321 — to use ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber instead of driving their own new car to cover the same number of miles over the course of a year.

“For those who travel a very limited number of miles each year, or have mobility challenges that can prevent them from driving a personal vehicle, ride-hailing is a viable and important option for daily transportation,” AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley said in the release. “But, for everyone else, the car is still king.”

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