Excerpt from article by John Zimmer
The coming revolution will be defined by three key shifts:
- Autonomous vehicle fleets will quickly become widespread and will account for the majority of Lyft rides within 5 years.
Last January, Lyft announced a partnership with General Motors to launch an on-demand network of autonomous vehicles. If you live in San Francisco or Phoenix, you may have seen these cars on the road, and within five years a fully autonomous fleet of cars will provide the majority of Lyft rides across the country.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk believes the transition to autonomous vehicles will happen through a network of autonomous car owners renting their vehicles to others. Elon is right that a network of vehicles is critical, but the transition to an autonomous future will not occur primarily through individually owned cars. It will be both more practical and appealing to access autonomous vehicles when they are part of Lyft’s networked fleet.
Why? For starters, our fleet will provide significantly more consistency and availability than a patchwork of privately owned cars. That kind of program will have a hard time scaling because individual car owners won’t want to rent their cars to strangers. And most importantly, passengers expect clean and well-maintained vehicles, which can be best achieved through Lyft’s fleet operations. Today, our business is dependent on being experts at maximizing utilization and managing peak hours, which allow us to provide the most affordable rides. This core competency translates when we move to an autonomous network. In other words, Lyft will provide a better value and a superior experience to customers.
I’ll have more to say on how the autonomous network will work a bit later in this piece.
- By 2025, private car ownership will all-but end in major U.S. cities.
As a country, we’ve long celebrated cars as symbols of freedom and identity. But for many people — especially millennials — this doesn’t ring true. We see car ownership as a burden that is costing the average American $9,000 every year. 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.
Ridesharing has already begun to empower many people to live without owning a car. The age of young people with driver’s licenses has been steadily decreasing ever since right around when I was born. In 1983, 92% of 20 to 24-year-olds had driver’s licenses. In 2014 it was just 77%. In 1983, 46% of 16-year-olds had licenses. Today it’s just 24%. All told, a millennial today is 30% less likely to buy a car than someone from the previous generation.
Every year, more and more people are concluding that it is simpler and more affordable to live without a car. And when networked autonomous vehicles come onto the scene, below the cost of car ownership, most city-dwellers will stop using a personal car altogether.
- As a result, cities’ physical environment will change more than we’ve ever experienced in our lifetimes.
So why should you care about changes in transportation? Even if you don’t care about cars — even if you never step into a Lyft or an autonomous vehicle — these changes are going to transform your life. Because transportation doesn’t just impact how we get from place to place. It shapes what those places look like, and the lives of the people who live there.
Transportation doesn’t just impact how we get from place to place. It shapes what those places look like, and the lives of the people who live there.
The end of private car ownership means we’ll have far fewer cars sitting parked and empty. And that means we’ll have the chance to redesign our entire urban fabric. Cities of the future must be built around people, not vehicles. They should be defined by communities and connections, not pavement and parking spots. They need common spaces where culture can thrive — and where new ideas can be shared in the very places where cars previously stood parked and empty.
Taken together, this urban reimagination has the opportunity to deliver one of the most significant infrastructure shifts we have ever undertaken as a nation. And the good news is that we have to make these investments anyway. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave U.S. infrastructure a D+, estimating that our country requires $3.6 trillion in infrastructure investment by 2020. If we have to rebuild and revitalize our roads and cities anyway, let’s do it in a way that puts people, not cars, at the center of our future.
Before we continue looking forward, I want to take a moment to look back at how we got here. Because there’s something I haven’t mentioned yet. This won’t just be a transportation revolution: It will be America’s third transportation revolution.
How We Got Here: America’s First Two Transportation Revolutions
America looked very different in the early days. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the U.S. was made up of loosely connected, largely agricultural communities. If you wanted to travel over long distances, the covered wagon was pretty much your best option. The United States, in other words, were still pretty divided.
That all changed over the next several decades, as America constructed a massive transportation network of canals and railroads. By 1860, the first revolution was in full swing as more than 30,000 miles of railroad track spread out across the U.S. — and as tracks linked together, so did communities, economies, and people. Wherever these transportation networks went, small outposts were transformed into thriving cities. Chicago, Baltimore, and Los Angeles exist as they do today because of transportation innovations that helped spark their growth.
Now fast-forward into the next century, when the assembly line automobile came onto the scene. For individuals, this brought almost unprecedented freedom. But for our cities, car ownership started a vicious cycle: as more cars filled the streets, more roads had to be built to accommodate them. This second transportation revolution caused communities to spread farther and farther apart, which made having constant access to a car increasingly necessary — resulting in even more cars that needed even more space. In the process, our cities were dramatically reshaped to favor cars over communities.
Across the country, city planners wanted to make it as easy as possible for drivers to access metropolitan areas. That often meant building highways straight through the centers of our most vibrant cities. Neighborhoods were literally split in half, and many never recovered.
In some cases, neighborhoods were demolished to make room for cars. In Los Angeles, for instance, engineers built structures like the Four Level Interchange, which connects the 101 with the 110 and hosts 425,000 cars a day. The builders made room for it by knocking down 4,000 houses and apartment buildings that were there before.
Credit: California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries
In addition to widespread demolition, there was also a more subtle way that cars began to reshape our cities. Streets themselves used to look very different than they do today. Most were more narrow, leaving room for sidewalks, front yards, and places where people could come together outside.
Back then, people used city streets as public spaces. Streets were where children could play. A place for shopping, where you could stop at a cart on the way home to pick up everything from dinner ingredients to shoes for your family. People spent a lot of time outside on the street, making friends, seeing neighbors, and living their lives within a true community.
But when streets began to be redesigned for more and more cars, all of these other benefits suffered. As time went on, streets became a place solely for cars. They encroached closer to homes. Yards disappeared. People were left with narrower sidewalks — or no sidewalks at all. That meant less foot traffic, which made it harder for small businesses, shops, and restaurants to flourish. Development patterns changed dramatically and the strip mall was born. And with fewer people outside, neighborhoods also became less safe because we lost the benefit of having “eyes on the street” most hours of the day. For the first time in history, cities were no longer centered on human social interaction.
All of this made it harder for a community to thrive. And as changes like this played out across the country, the face of America’s cities was transformed for generations.