Lyft CEO: Self-Driving Cars Aren’t the Future

Google, Tesla, Mercedes and others are working hard to build the best self-driving car. But will anyone actually buy them? In a Q&A session at this year’s South by Southwest, Lyft CEO Logan Green insisted the answer is “No.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.32.02 PMGreen still thinks the transportation world will undergo a massive shift over the next few years, with more and more people opting to hail a car rather than own one. Eliminating vehicle ownership has apparently been Lyft’s mission all along, even though the company is mostly known as Uber’s main competition for taxi customers.

“We never set out to make a better taxi cab,” Green told the audience. “Our vision for the world is making car ownership unnecessary.” To take things another level deeper, the Lyft model is essentially an evolution of Green’s previous company, Zimride, a Web platform for arranging ride shares.

The problem with Zimride (other than the fact that it was a Web-based platform that made its debut just a few months before the iPhone) was that people didn’t want to plan how they’d get around days in advance. “When people want transportation, they want it now,” Green said. Lyft was Green’s solution to that particular conundrum.

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Green suggested that eliminating the need to own a car would have major impacts on society that extend beyond transportation, including an increase in most people’s disposable income, a decrease in the amount of infrastructure needed for cars, and a shift in the social norms of commuting. But does Green truly believe in this vision, or is he driven by other motivations?

It’s possible that Green’s stance on self-driving cars has to do more with Uber’s decision to aggressively fund research into that technology. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announcing that self-driving cars were the future was something that greatly upset many Uber drivers, and Green may see that spasm of anger as an opportunity to differentiate Lyft in the hearts and minds of the drivers who work for his service.

Whether or not Green’s vision is genuine, we won’t know the outcome for several more years. Panelists at this year’s South by Southwest agree that self-driving vehicles probably won’t hit the road for several years, at least.

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14 Responses to “Lyft CEO: Self-Driving Cars Aren’t the Future”

  1. Tom in the suburbs of Phoenix, AZ

    When seniors or people with disabilities have to give up driving a car, the self driving vehicles give them freedom to be independent. If Lyft or it’s competition can provide that same independence without requiring that person live in an urban environment where it is viable and competitive to use the service, then maybe they can provide a fairly comprehensive option. I would love a self driving car, so I could do something else on my commute. Mass transit isn’t a real solution where I live for most people, I am pulling for more options, whatever they might be. Self driving cars could eliminate the need for trusting the person driving and the cost of that person’s time.

    • I tend to disagree. One of the items mentioned when discussing autonomous automobiles is that the still will have to have a “driver” who is prepared to take control at any time. I think the first hurdle for these cars will be the legal system in states and countries as well as tort reform and insurance requirements. Personally, I think there is a LONG way to go before these cars hit the road and even longer if anyone thinks that there won’t be a need to have a licensed driver in the vehicle.

  2. Bob Johnson

    Car and car part manufacturers can’t even get an air bag system or an ignition switch to work properly without killing people. Do you honestly think anyone can build a safe, reliable self-driving vehicle? No, thanks. Let the early adopters experiment with their lives.

  3. Clifford Nelson

    Not only will everyone eventually want self driving car, but I suspect that in many roads it will be illegal to self drive. This will be progressive to a certain extent. First where will be advanced cruise control that will slow down as car approaches another car, and not a long step to people expecting the car to warn as drift out of lane. It just keeps going.

    • What you’re referring to is called “Adaptive Cruise Control” and it already exists. Tesla recently pushed an update to the entire Model S fleet whereby the vehicle can “watch” the lines as well as adapt to the vehicle in front slowing or speeding up.

    • And every year, a commercial airliner has some problem with “autopilot” that could usually be fixed by having a “regular pilot” actively flying instead of sleeping.

      From the sound of things, the reason there haven’t been many accidents with the public tests of these cars is not because the programming or hardware is superior; but because they don’t play nicely with REAL drivers, meaning they drive like an old man. Letting a pedestrian jaywalk in open traffic rather than have to deal with the high demand of accident avoidance is bad form; having HUNDREDS of cars randomly stopping because someone “looks like they’re going to do something that can cause an accident” would just create traffic congestion.

      These cars still have far too many issues to consider because their design isn’t “safety first” but “make it look like it is safe” first. If a person is going 100mph in a 40mph zone, and about to rear end you do you A) risk pushing into the curb / off the road… or B) Let them rear end you and claim your software isn’t at fault, the other driver was.

      If you answered B you’re right!!! (Probably). Adding in a safety feature like that would probably result in many false positives and people would complain about the cars destroying themselves… NOT adding it in shows you don’t care about the safety of the passenger and are only going to blame other people.

      Or what about the car’s brakes have failed and you’re about to plow into a group of kids. You have the option of crashing the car into the side railing but it will likely kill the passenger. Kill the kiddies right?

      For any REAL emergency, the car will not know what to do, but you can only avoid having to make a real decision so long.

      • I agree. First of all, most vehicle laws/codes in the U.S. are on a state-by-state basis with some things at the federal level (interstate highways, car design, crash tests, etc.). For there to be a “self-driving” car, there would probably need to be changes globally in these laws. Since accidents will always happen (batteries die, objects fall from large vehicles, etc.), right now, the DRIVERS have to get out and exchange information (not to mention having to deal with insurance companies). So, I doubt that there will be any way that a vehicle would be allowed on the road without a licensed driver, especially if the electronics tells the driver to “take over”. And what happens when the police car flashing his lights (and siren) needs you to pull over. Not that these things can’t be handled, somehow, but I think it is going to be a long time before the car is allowed to venture forth without a driver sitting there. Just my opinion.

  4. Alex vega

    Logan Green will do or say anything to bring the customer base to Lyft. He is a risk taker with no ethical shame or word of honor. He will say anything grandiose that will excite and get people to listen and take another look at Lyft. As a registered Lyft driver, a few weeks ago Lyft was offering a $2000 split referral bonus for referring new drivers and $1000 sign up bonus for new a drivers in certain markets. The only requirement was to complete 1, yes one ride before the expiration date which was a week or less after the bonus announcement.The whole thing was a bait and switch that never happen. His excuse was “we never anticipated so many new drivers to sign up” which apparently was in the 1000s. Such a great incentive with minimal requirements could have only anticipated new registrations in the masses. Obviously he is not such a great visionary. As both a registered Lyft and Uber driver, Lyft has always tried to drive the customer and driver base their way offering deceiving bonuses that are hard to come by.

  5. Self driving cars are still a long way off. Its not that we don’t have the tech to do it, but the fact that these vehicles will have to coexist with human drivers. Since humans are highly unpredictable a self driving car cannot react the same way humans do. Think about it. We often look at the DRIVERS of other cars to get advance clues about what they’re going to do, and we respond accordingly. How many times have you approached a green light intersection with an opposing car getting ready to make a left turn, and you must predict whether or not they’re going to turn in front of you. You use many subliminal clues to make that decision. It will be a long time before a sensor in a car and artificial intelligence can do that. If all vehicles were mandated to be computer driven, the situation might be easier to deal with but that is unlikely to happen.

    Look, we have been imagining these things since the Jetsons (Remember them anyone? Its a 50 year old cartoon.) but this is harder than sending a man to the moon (which we did in the Jetson’s era) because so much infrastructure and human habits would have to change for it to be viable. But it doesn’t hurt to dream.

  6. When self driving cars are used by Uber or any other company, I’ll be waiting for news reports about how they’re being vandalized…by miscreants and starving taxi drivers. Urban teens will have fun slashing tires and otherwise attacking these robotic vehicles. Just go into any public bathroom and see what they do, and that couldn’t be HALF as much fun as watching a car with 4 flat tires try to drive itself down the street. Gangs will have fun tagging them too!

  7. One major issue that hasn’t been mentioned is; How are they going to prevent Hackers from interfering with self driving autos?

    Self driving cars used in a Lyft or Uber would need to know their current GPS location, the GPS location of the passenger, and his or her destination. All that kidnapper would need to do would be change the destination, lock the doors, and the self driving car becomes the perfect accomplice..

    • They have already been there. At some conference, a year or so ago, they demonstrated stopping a car by laying a power cable across a road. This was not a self-driving car, by any means. This can bring us back to the good old days of stagecoach robberies. You stop a car by running in front of it and then rob the occupants. With a normal driver, the car would go around the problem. I suspect the self-driving car would no nothing about what was happening so it would just sit there. Unfortunately, there are far too many decisions that today, the driver makes, especially in unusual circumstances, that would take decades for the self-driving car to learn.

      Anyone see the self-driving taxi in “Total Recall” (The original one with Arnold in it)?

  8. “Green suggested that eliminating the need to own a car would have major impacts on society that extend beyond transportation, including an increase in most people’s disposable income, a decrease in the amount of infrastructure needed for cars, and a shift in the social norms of commuting. But does Green truly believe in this vision, or is he driven by other motivations?”

    “…including an increase in most people’s disposable income…” Really? Unless he is planning on offering his service for free, what will happen is that the income that is freed up by not owning a car will be expended paying for the car service.

    “…a decrease in the amount of infrastructure needed for cars…” The amount of infrastructure required will not diminish by any near what Mr. Green thinks.

    “…But does Green truly believe in this vision, or is he driven by other motivations?” Motivations? Money comes to mind.

    Lets take a look at the future. Suppose that Lyft or some combination ride services is successful in their quest to eliminate personal auto ownership; What prevents this group from charging whatever they want for the service?

  9. Increasing reliance on a taxi service like Lyft will INCREASE traffic congestion and pollution. Taxis need to constantly drive around to pick people up, drop them off, drive to the next customer, and so on. This results in more car miles driven overall, not what we should be striving for. It will decrease parking needs perhaps, but at the expense of more cars driving on the road.