Lyft Wants to Create a Fleet of Driverless Cars That Won’t Cut Jobs

Rideshare companies now have to navigate future uncertainties around mobility, the future of work and sustainability.
July 27, 2017, 8:30pm
Image courtesy of Lyft

Imagine a future where no one has a car, and getting your driver's license isn't a right of passage to adulthood. This isn't some kind of zombie-apocalypse scenario, it's likely the future of urban transportation thanks to ride-sharing apps that have dramatically changed the way people think about mobility. As technology continues to advance, things like automated cars and electric vehicles are becoming more of a reality.


At a press conference last week, Lyft executives announced the company has created a new self-driving car division and plans to open a few facility in Palo Alto, California to begin operation. Lyft joins its biggest competitor Uber in the race to develop an autonomous car for its ride hailing fleet. This comes as a follow up to their revelation earlier this year for the first open self-driving platform.

During the press conference, execs made it clear that Lyft wouldn't actually make the cars but it will share company data and technology with their partners in this new venture, Waymo and nuTonomy.

For now, the company says that its human drivers don't have to worry about whether or not they'll still be able to make a living. According to Chief Engineer Luc Vincent, the goal is to create a hybrid eco-system that includes both self-driving and human operated vehicles. While the technology for driverless cars is on the fast track, it's still not sophisticated enough to respond to adverse weather condition, spontaneous traffic conditions and other complications with being on the road.

According to Lyft's top brass, this innovation isn't about cutting costs of paying human drivers, it's essentially about creating a world more suited for human travel and one wherein car ownership is a thing of the past. Chief Strategy officer Raj Kapoor noted that the advent of SDV technology coupled with electric car innovations, offers the company an opportunity to pioneer a transportation boon that doesn't contribute to carbon emissions and climate change.

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That's not to say there aren't roadblocks. Some of the criticism that could be levied at the company is whether or not their hybrid system will flood the streets with more cars and add more congestion to traffic- packed roadways. More cars on the road make it difficult for bikers and public transit to get around. And there's a lot of unanswered questions about what will happen to the thousands of works who shuttle folks around for a living should Self-Driving Vehicles (SDVs) catch-on.

People might eventually subscribe to ride-hailing services for their transportation needs.

Local governments are generally taking a cautious approach as ride-hailing apps move towards SDVs. In December 2016, the state of California threatened Uber with legal action for using driverless cars in San Francisco on public roads with a permit. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Lyft doesn't have a permit to test SDVs in the state either. Lyft says it plans to rollout a pilot program in Boston with nuTonomy before the end of 2017.

As Lyft celebrates its five-year anniversary this month, it seems their ideology is veering towards car ownership going the way of online streaming replacing buying music. In their ideal world, people might eventually subscribe to ride-hailing services for their transportation needs.

As far as a changing job landscape, Lyft says it's going to need hundreds of engineers to make the SDVs a reality and ensure essential upkeep. But what this move towards automation means for the human drivers currently behind the wheel and the people in the passenger seat, remains to be seen.