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Facing Startup Competition, U.S. Bike-Share Leader Shops Itself

Motivate, which runs some of the biggest U.S. bike-share programs, is searching for a buyer or new capital to fend off smaller rivals, according to several people familiar with the matter. It has discussed a deal with Lyft, although an agreement likely isn’t close. The discussions come several months after Motivate failed to close a deal to merge with electric bike operator Jump, which was later purchased by Uber, these people said.

The talks illustrate how a key piece of the urban transportation sector has been turned upside down in the past year by the explosion of shared electric bikes and scooters that can be parked without fixed stations. That has left an early industry leader like Motivate scrambling to navigate shifts in the business. The company has hired Steve Koch, who ran mergers and acquisitions at Credit Suisse Group and recently departed as deputy mayor of Chicago, to help orchestrate a fundraising or an acquisition, people familiar with the matter said. John Zimmer, Lyft’s president, spent the day at Motivate’s office recently and discussed potential ways the company could work together, one of the people said.

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Correction: Motivate's vice president of engineering recently left the company. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the company's chief technology officer had departed.

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While younger bike startups have shifted the industry, they might not be succeeding in getting people to ride.