GM, Lyft in joint venture, putting ride sharing drivers on notice — your days are numbered

GM has taken a big step towards offering autonomously driven robotaxi services, hinted in a press release in October 2015, by making a $500 million investment into Lyft.    The companies pledged “a long-term strategic alliance to create an integrated network of on-demand autonomous vehicles in the U.S.”  That investing $500M into Lyft will help Lyft “continue the rapid growth of its successful ridesharing service.”  Finally, GM will hold a seat on Lyft’s Board of Directors.

Quoting from the press release … Key elements of the GM and Lyft alliance include:

  • Autonomous On-Demand Network: The joint development of a network of on-demand autonomous vehicles will leverage GM’s deep knowledge of autonomous technology and Lyft’s capabilities in providing a broad choice of ride-sharing services.
  • Rental Hub: Beginning immediately, GM will become a preferred provider of short-term use vehicles to Lyft drivers through rental hubs in various cities in the U.S.
  • Connectivity: Lyft drivers and customers will have access to GM’s wide portfolio of cars and OnStar services, leveraging two decades of experience in connectivity. This will create a richer ride-sharing experience for both driver and passenger.
  • Joint Mobility Offerings: GM and Lyft will also provide each other’s customers with personalized mobility services and experiences through their respective channels.

Pretty much all automakers are working on autonomous driving and some sort of car sharing service.  There’s a demographic shift where youngsters prefer to access vehicles on an hourly payment rather than engage in vehicle ownership.  Technology advances are enabling a future of service offerings along these lines:

  • Smart phone app to request a vehicle – on demand
  • The vehicle will autonomously drive itself to your location
  • The vehicle will be customizable – infotainment settings automatically uploaded from a cloud storage service, for example – there’s even talk of customizable color schemes through special paints
  • These vehicles will be electric, and presumably autopark themselves on wireless charging pads as needed

Current autonomous vehicle technology doesn’t allow for these features.  However, the technology is rapidly progressing.  It will eventually be technically possible for a vehicle to drive itself through traffic, with no human of any kind on board, dispatching itself to your location, taking your command of a destination, drive itself to that destination, and so forth.  There are many legal hurdles to jump through before the vision becomes reality.  But it’s all solvable, and will eventually occur.

Lyft (and Uber) is already in a similar business, namely “Ride Sharing” relying on human drivers.  In at least Uber’s case, the human drivers are clamoring to be treated as employees, and claim that Uber is mistreating its workforce.

A few days ago Uber drivers went on strike in Istanbul.  In December, Uber drivers in Toronto tried to stage a strike.  Taxi drivers in Philadelphia staged a protest against Uber and Lyft.  Las Vegas area Uber drivers discussed staging a strike on New Years Eve.  A strike of Uber drivers in Kerala India was called off after the two sides talked.  In December, King County WA (Seattle) passed an ordinance letting Uber and Lyft drivers unionize.

I could go on and on with this – the point being that the current implementation of ride sharing services, with human drivers, isn’t working out too well.  The services are popular, I see advertising in Craigslist and elsewhere for drivers, and I’ve seen plenty of posts claiming these drivers make $20 per hour or more.  But there are plenty of articles discussing how disgruntled these people are.  It seems that Uber and Lyft management probably want to ditch those pesky humans and deploy robotic cars instead.

FWIW going by news searches for “Uber strike” and “Lyft strike” it appears Uber drivers are more disgruntled than are Lyft drivers.

Be that as it may, the  long term prospects of a career as a driver, whether of a ride sharing service or any other service, is dim.  Autonomously driven vehicles are on their way.  The car manufacturers are working on car sharing service business plans.  We will eventually be able to autonomously summon a car, it delivers itself to us, drives us somewhere, with no human involvement.   Human drivers will be displaced with automated vehicles.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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