Lyft Exec: “Majority” Of Company’s Rides Will Be In Self-Driving Cars Within 5 Years

Image courtesy of Ben Schumin

Uber might be the ride-sharing company with autonomous vehicles already out on the roads (at least in Pittsburgh), but it definitely won’t be alone forever. Lyft’s co-founder and president laid out his vision for the future this week, predicting that the “majority” of the company’s rides will be in self-driving vehicles within the next five years.

John Zimmer made that prediction in an essay called “The Third Transportation Revolution: Lyft’s Vision for the Next Ten Years and Beyond” published on Medium on Sunday.

“[T]he transition to an autonomous future will not occur primarily through individually owned cars,” Zimmer writes. “It will be both more practical and appealing to access autonomous vehicles when they are part of Lyft’s networked fleet,” a fleet that will “provide significantly more consistency and availability than a patchwork of privately owned cars.”

And about that whole “individual car ownership thing”? Yeah, that’s going to end in major U.S. cities once autonomous rides become a cheaper way to travel than owning a car, Zimmer writes. Plus, millennials just aren’t into buying cars.

“We see car ownership as a burden that is costing the average American $9,000 every year,” he says. “The car has actually become more like a $9,000 ball and chain that gets dragged through our daily life. Owning a car means monthly car payments, searching for parking, buying fuel, and dealing with repairs.”

Zimmer says Lyft is currently in the first of three phases, a position the company will maintain “until vehicles can be operated without any human intervention.”

In the second or “hybrid” phase, fully autonomous cars will start out giving rides at low speeds, around 25 miles per hour, in limited areas with certain restrictions — they won’t operate in bad weather, for example. The company could then upgrade the fleet to handle rides at 35 miles per hour, “and so on and so on, until every kind of trip can be completed by an autonomous car.”

“As technology improves, these cars will be able to drive themselves in more and more situations,” Zimmer said.

Those rides could go from being a simple way to get somewhere to being all-out entertainment destinations, as Zimmer outlines in an interview with The Verge.

“If you think of yourself as the consumer, I can offer you 10 different vehicle types on the Lyft platform,” he said. “They all have amazing Virgin America cabins-slash-beautiful hospitality experience inside. There’s the private version if you want to do work on your ride, there’s the sleeper car if you want to take a nap, there’s the entertainment car if your friends and family want to watch movies, there’s the bar car to have fun with other people on your ride home.”

You can either get all of that and “never have to deal with parking” etc., Zimmer says, “or you can own a private vehicle.”

All this, Zimmer says, will change the world: as personal vehicles start to come off the road, the need for parking in cities will decrease, freeing up space for other things, like nature.

“Eventually, we’ll be able to turn parking lots back into parks. We’ll be able to shrink streets, expand sidewalks, and make room for more pedestrians,” Zimmer predicts. “That means more local shops and small businesses, more shared spaces, and more vibrant communities. This translates to better cities — and better lives — for people all over the world.”