Lyft riders in the Phoenix area will soon be able to summon one of Waymo’s self-driving minivans for a ride, the companies said Tuesday. It’s the culmination of a partnership that was first announced almost two years ago exactly.
To start out, just 10 vehicles will be available on Lyft’s app in the handful of towns around Phoenix. Lyft customers will have the option to select a ride in a Waymo self-driving car through the ride-hail company’s app. There will be safety drivers behind the wheel, much like with Waymo One, Alphabet’s commercial ride-hailing service.
But despite looking limited on the surface, it represents a pretty big leap forward for both ride-hailing and autonomous vehicles. Lyft is already facilitating trips in self-driving cars developed by tech company Aptiv in Las Vegas, but Waymo has been mapping the streets of the Phoenix suburbs for over two years. And the Google spinoff is widely seen as having some of the best technology in operation today.
That said, Waymo has been stingy about giving rides in its self-driving minivans. The company is operating two services in the Phoenix area: Waymo One, which has carried over 1,000 riders to school, work, or shopping; and its early rider program, which requires riders to sign nondisclosure agreements before experiencing some of the company’s latest updates. Waymo One is only available to former early riders, but is not subject to an NDA.
The terms of the deal were not announced, so we don’t know how Waymo and Lyft are splitting the fares or handling customer service issues. The two companies announced plans to work together in 2017, but never explained what they would do. That year, Alphabet’s investing arm led a $1 billion funding round in Lyft, which recently went public.
Today’s announcement signals a willingness by Waymo to open up its cars to a wider selection of riders. It also represents the first time Waymo has made its vehicles available to people not involved in its early rider program.
“This first step in our partnership will allow us to introduce the Waymo Driver to Lyft users, enabling them to take what for many will be their first ride in a self-driving vehicle,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a Medium post. “We’re committed to continuously improving our customer experience, and our partnership with Lyft will also give our teams the opportunity to collect valuable feedback.”
The news comes on the same day that Lyft announced its first quarterly earnings report as a public company. The ride-hail company said it lost a whopping $1.1 billion in the last quarter, compared to a $243 million loss over the same period in 2018. Lyft said its losses were compounded by costs associated with its IPO; its revenue was $776 million, nearly double the amount from last year.