Lyft says self-driving cars won’t replace drivers’ jobs, but they might make carpooling awkward

Imagine hailing a Lyft car through the app and a driverless car comes to pick you up. Now imagine it picks up another passenger, and then a third, all of them strangers.

That could be the future of ride-hailing and carpooling, but that’s a future Lyft is still a bit unsure about.

“When [self-driving car technology] becomes available and more widely adopted, I think that will work for Lyft Line and I think that will work for Lyft,” Rob Farmer, a Lyft product manager, told Business Insider. “We have a really strong team here who is investing in that as part of our partnership with GM.”

But what Farmer wonders about is what that experience would actually be like for passengers. With no driver, what are the expectations? What’s the etiquette? And how would self-driving cars change Lyft’s emphasis on community-building and the driver-rider relationship?

“If you get into a robot-driven car and there are other people there, it’s a little bit strange because you feel like one of you has to play host,” Farmer said. “I think that’s a different experience than getting into your own ride by yourself where you can just zone out. So I’m very interested in what that will do to the community aspect of sharing a ride.”

Farmer doesn’t work on Lyft’s autonomous team — he’s involved in building Lyft Line — but he said he thinks autonomous cars are just a piece of what Lyft will be in the future.

Uber Car

One of the big questions surrounding ride-hailing companies building self-driving cars is what it would mean for drivers’ jobs. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick recently said that the company’s self-driving cars — which will soon hit the roads in Pittsburgh — will create more jobs, not eliminate them. Kalanick argues that some Uber cars will still
require a human at the wheel for tricky geographical situations.
This is a sentiment Lyft echoes, but for a slightly different reason.

“There’s never going to be a situation where there won’t be drivers, I think,” Farmer said. “I defer to the future and what that will turn out to be, but drivers are a really big part of our experience and it’s something that we want to focus on as well. For now, we are very excited to have drivers and passengers interacting together.”

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