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Lyft's president says 'majority' of rides will be in self-driving cars by 2021

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Also say bye-bye to personal car ownership

Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Lyft

Lyft president and co-founder John Zimmer released a 14-page document today in which he predicts that by 2021, "a majority" of rides on its network will be in autonomous vehicles. Also by 2025, Zimmer says personal car ownership in US cities will be a thing of the past.

The end of car ownership will change cities in "huge ways," he said, echoing those experts and academics that predict streets and parking lots will be transformed into housing and open spaces with the mass adoption of autonomous vehicles. It will also change the daily experience of riding in a car, he said.

Zimmer posted his manifesto, titled "The Third Transportation Revolution: Lyft’s Vision for the Next Ten Years and Beyond," on Medium on Sunday, but provided an early copy to The Verge. In an interview, Zimmer painted a fantastical vision of the future, in which driverless cars suddenly become de facto offices and nightclubs.

"If you think of yourself as the consumer, I can offer you 10 different vehicle types on the Lyft platform," he said. "They all have amazing Virgin America cabins-slash-beautiful hospitality experience inside. There’s the private version if you want to do work on your ride, there’s the sleeper car if you want to take a nap, there’s the entertainment car if your friends and family want to watch movies, there’s the bar car to have fun with other people on your ride home."

He added, "We’re going to offer all that, and you never have to deal with parking, maintenance, cleaning, etc. Or you can own a private vehicle."

Lyft will operate as a hybrid network, with drivers using autonomous vehicles, until the technology advances to the point where drivers, and even steering wheels and pedals, are unnecessary. At that point, Zimmer envisions a future where passengers can hail a self-driving Lyft by paying by-the-mile or by subscription model similar to Netflix and Spotify.

Zimmer admits there are still a lot of details to work out, such as who would own this fleet of driverless vehicles if there are no drivers, what happens to drivers in a post-driver world, and how state and federal governments can slow or speed this process up.

Lyft

Zimmer’s bold predictions come a few days after Lyft’s main rival Uber began publicly testing its own on-demand, self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, and Ford announced it would begin selling its own driverless cars in 2025. For a technology that is still in its developing stages, the prognostications from both the tech and car industries are flying fast and free.

Zimmer said Lyft, along with its partner General Motors, is already testing autonomous vehicles in San Francisco and Arizona, but said he wasn’t ready to commit to a date for public trials quite yet. "The time to put other people in the car will come," he said.

He also dismissed public demonstrations of self-driving technology by his competitors as "marketing stunts." And he also threw some shade at Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who in his master plan recently predicted that the transition to autonomous vehicles will happen through the cars’ owners renting them to other people.

"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," Zimmer writes in the essay. "It will be both more practical and appealing to access autonomous vehicles when they are part of Lyft’s networked fleet."

Zimmer’s "vision for the next 10 years and beyond" seems timed to generate headlines for Lyft at a time when much the coverage has been focused either on its rivals or its failed attempts to find a buyer. GM expressed interest in buying Lyft for $6 billion, which was a long way from the $8–10 billion being sought by the ride-hail company. And other reports have suggested that Lyft was involved in acquisition discussions with a variety of companies, including Apple, Google, Uber, and Didi Chuxing.

But Zimmer dismissed the notion that his mission statement was a reaction to anything specific, saying it was more meant to serve as a "call to arms." "Cars have really taken over our landscape," he said. "Every hundred years or so, you get an opportunity for a redo."