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Autonomous ride-sharing: A Possibility in the not too distant Future

Autonomous or self-driving cars harken to science fiction. But the development of such vehicles has been in the works for years.

Though we’re still some years away from it, companies like Uber and Lyft are actually further along in the development of self-driving cars than you might think. Combine this with the recent on-demand economic platform of ride-sharing and it becomes clear that autonomous ride-sharing could soon be our reality.

Though we’re still some years away from it, Uber and Lyft are actually further along in the development of self-driving cars than you might think. Combine this with the recent on-demand economic platform of ride-sharing and it becomes clear that the way we get around could be forever changed in the not too distant future.

Imagine a dense network of driver-less cars available to the masses on-demand. By eliminating the troubles of congestion, traffic accidents, parking and commuting, traveling could become safer and much more efficient. Nonetheless, a complete shift to autonomous vehicles for said companies could take more than a decade. But Lyft’s co-founder John Zimmer still believes that we are on the verge of a “Third transportation revolution”.

In his article  The Road Ahead’, John Zimmer talks about the influence of cars in this country and how over the decades, as we moved from rails to cars, cars have become our most essential means of transportation.  However, millennials have shied away from actually owning them, especially in big cities. Because car ownership of is often seen as a hassle due to parking, fuel prices, and maintenance.

But thanks to the on-demand economy and companies like Uber and Lyft. Many commuters can get around conveniently without making the investment of purchasing their own vehicles. Especially in cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.


The Uber way:

Image result for autonomous cars

Uber introduced their first set of autonomous ride-sharing vehicles in the city of Pittsburgh. Their aim was to test these vehicles under the supervision of a human driver. Pairing with Volvo for their fully driverless XC90 sports utility vehicle, Uber hopes to eliminate the need for safety drivers soon as they work out the bugs in the system.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick believes in the cost effective model of this driverless car concept. He knows that over a period of time, the mile-per cost of the autonomous ride-sharing vehicles will be cheaper than private cars. This will also make it more cost effective to commute from the city  bringing their services to less populated areas.


Autonomous vehicle fleets by Lyft:

While ride-sharing was one step in transportation, Lyft plans to go completely driver-less by 2025. Lyft debuted their autonomous ride-sharing vehicles, in partnership with GM, in San Francisco and Phoenix. Their cars also require safety drivers but they hope to be fully autonomous within the next 5-10 years.

One issue, however, is that ride-sharing has depended on independent contractors using their private vehicles to get people around. Because of this, John Zimmer believes that Lyft needs to cut out the middle man by partnering with driver-less car manufacturers. By striking a deal with autonomous car companies, Lyft plans to form a dense network of cars owned by the company instead of individuals.

On the financial front, Zimmer talks about the long-term reduction in costs. As driver-less cars should prove to be more economical for customers. Basically, because they won’t have to pay independent contractors this will correlate to savings for consumers.


In an article on Medium.com John Zimmer explains his concept of the three phases we can expect as we transition into a future with autonomous cars explaining:

1.We are currently in the first of three phases and will be until vehicles can be operated without any human intervention.

2.The second, or hybrid, period will be defined by a mix of limited capability autonomous vehicles operating alongside human-driven ones.

3.As technology improves, these cars will be able to drive themselves in more and more situations…and so on and so on, until every kind of trip can be completed by an autonomous car.


While a future of driverless ride-sharing cars sounds cool, what’s the big picture? It does seem advantageous for consumers but what about those who make their living from driving for ride-sharing companies?


The good elements:

  • Cost-effective

Car ownerships is expensive. And if autonomous cars do prove to be less expensive for consumers it’s easy to see that business will boom for Uber and Lyft. Commuters will no longer have to worry about gas money, parking tickets or car maintenance. Customers will also save because said companies will not have to pay drivers which should mean lower fairs.

  • Perfect solution younger and older generations

Many senior citizens find it difficult driving themselves and rely on ride-sharing to travel. While millennials prefer the quick on-demand convenience of ride-sharing, even in cities with abundant public transportation. They’d rather click their app and forget about it.

  • Better infrastructure

Autonomous ride-sharing cars could eventually mean an end to car ownership. Though it may not eliminate all ownership initially, it could lower the demand for parking spaces and make way for opening up much more public space.  Opening up spaces for more housing, lawns, playgrounds & Parks.


  • Environmentally sound

Electric autonomous ride-sharing vehicles can reduce pollution in urban areasPerhaps leading to more stop and go services in large cities. This may lead to smaller sized vehicles, less pollution and easy accessibility. Autonomous vehicle ride-sharing will also reduce the overall demand for fossil fuels for cars that aren’t electric. This will naturally lead to less air pollution and a cleaner environment.


The bad elements:

  • No accountability

As driver-less cars will not have a human driver to monitor commuters, this could lead to problems with disgruntled, inebriated or destructive passengers. This could lead to a slew of unforeseen issues, issues that could put passengers in danger. Hopefully, there has been some thought put into this as it probably will require advanced systems in place to ensure customer safety. Perhaps workers will still have to monitor the inside of cars to make sure everything is copacetic.


  • Risk of unemployment

On-demand services have offered employment to a variety independent contractors, from recent retirees to millennials. Ride-sharing has provided a means for thousands of  car owners to supplement their incomes and autonomous ride-sharing vehicles may bring mass unemployment to those who depend on companies like Uber and Lyft for their livelihood. We also can’t overlook the fact that the “savings & convenience” Uber and Lyft foresee in the future will mostly be because they won’t have to pay drivers. It’s definitely something to think about.


The idea of Autonomous ride-sharing is an exciting one. But as we move forward in this new millennium we can’t forget about the human element. Perhaps self-driving cars will equate to safer roads, less pollution and fewer expenses for the masses. But will we lose something along the road?




Image sources: medium.com, zackkanter.com, domain.com
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