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Lyft CTO: Future of transportation is the end of private car ownership

The advent of driverless vehicles — accompanied by the end of private car ownership by 2025 — represents the future of transportation, according to ridesharing pioneer Lyft. Pie-in -the-sky predictions? The ridesharing movement has already made its mark as an industry disruptor, eating into the taxi industry and supplementing public transportation. As driverless vehicles from the likes of Lyft and Uber and others make their ways onto our roadways, industry experts have no doubt this technology advance will have a tremendous impact on the automotive business.

But how exactly Lyft will make the transition to this new future — and do it without cannibalizing its current business — was debated at a recent event at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., featuring Lyft CTO Chris Lambert.

Speaking to an audience of students, Lambert detailed the current state of transportation in America, giving his take on the bold prediction made last month by Lyft Co-Founder, John Zimmer, on Sept. 18. On the future of transportation: Namely, that within five years the majority of Lyft rides will be by autonomous vehicles and by 2025 private ownership will all but end in major U.S. cities.

Lambert referred to this future as the “the third transportation revolution,” or, “the point where transportation as a service becomes more enjoyable and affordable.”

Students took a more granular view of this future. They peppered Lambert with multiple versions of the same question: How will Lyft differentiate itself from competitors once human drivers are no longer necessary?

One of Lyft’s core values since its inception has been its self-proclaimed unique driver-rider experience. Riders are encouraged to sit up-front and strike up a conversation with their driver, as if chatting with a friend. If cars become driverless, what will differentiate Lyft from any other driverless vehicle out there?

“The differentiation lies within the experience. The opportunity moves away from just getting from A to B to getting from A to B in the most productive and enjoyable way available,” Lambert said. In the future, riders could have the possibility of selecting different vehicles for different experiences: dining cars, social cars or gaming cars, he said.

Three phases to the future of transportation

In any case, drivers will still play a large role in Lyft’s business model for the next decade, Lambert said. Phase one, with human drivers, is currently underway. Five years from now is phase two, a “hybrid” system with autonomous vehicles manned by human drivers that can aid the cars if certain routes are unable to be performed by the car alone. In 10 years, we can expect “fully autonomous” Lyft vehicles, Lambert said, but even then human drivers won’t be entirely out of the picture.

“Depending on where you’re going or coming from, that route may be eligible to be dispatched with an autonomous vehicle or it might need a human driver.” Some routes may still be too challenging or even impossible for fully autonomous vehicles to drive on.

Driverless cars and the environment

Transportation is currently the second-highest household expense in America, according to Lambert, and the average vehicle remains parked 96% of the time. Lambert said autonomous vehicles will be hailed from a central fleet and alleviate parking space congestion along streets. Lambert said the 700 million parking spots in America are enough to pave Connecticut, accounting for a tremendous amount of, “unused space” that could be replaced with parks and additional housing.

Lyft has other plans to reduce the number of cars on the road: The company will start a subscription model in the future, where instead of paying per ride users will purchase a yearly subscription.  This will save consumers money by helping them avoid buying a new car every few years and spending even more on its maintenance and upkeep, Lambert said.

Lyft, valued last year at around $5 billion, often operates in the shadow of its competitor, the rideshare giant Uber, but Lambert said that Lyft has solidified its position in the ridesharing market after receiving a $500 million investment from General Motors (GM) to spearhead the development of the autonomous technology. GM is primarily responsible for the research and development of Lyft’s fleet of autonomous vehicles, whereas Lyft itself is responsible for the software side.

Lambert admitted that a big obstacle to the future of transportation and the autonomous car trend will be convincing consumers to give up driving. When asked what companies he considered to be Lyft’s competitors, Lambert said it was “behavior change.”

“It’s going to take a lot of investment and awareness to have consumers give up their cars,” Lambert said.

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