Autonomous cars, often referred to as self-driving cars, are being tested in several cities across the U.S. Despite the fact that there have been issues, the technology itself is something that will continue to progress until the day when the vehicles will likely become commonplace. Self-driving technology may one day affect every component of our lives—from city design to commute times, the job economy, and the legal world—but how will it affect rideshare companies and those who depend on these services?
The first thing to consider is that self-driving vehicle technology is almost ideal for rideshare systems and communities that are built and operate with rideshare services in mind. This is one reason that major rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft have both spearheaded self-driving vehicle testing projects. Uber maintains its own project while Lyft is working with General Motors.
Rideshare services are ideal for housing the first self-driving vehicle projects since autonomous cars are on-demand in nature. Early technology adaptors will undoubtedly jump to purchase self-driving cars as personal vehicles, but since the vehicles are already built with multiple computer, tracking, and infrared systems in place, utilizing them in urban areas to supplement mass transit/existing rideshare services will likely be the first way we see major use of them.
In interviews with Lyft’s president, John Zimmer, he said that he envisions Lyft’s entire fleet to be automated within the next five years. He also mentioned that the service could possibly be maintained using a subscription model and that certain cities and areas would likely be allotted or “zoned” for automated services while other areas would still require in-person drivers.
Zimmer suggested that rideshare companies won’t jump to 100% automation right off the bat—especially in more rural areas or for longer trips. Instead, he suggested that most companies will adopt a two-part system that includes automated rides but also in-person rides when necessary. The vehicles that complete fully-automated rides will need far more maintenance than other vehicles which is one reason autonomous vehicles may stay within certain areas “zoned” for use.
While much of this information remains pure speculation at this point, we will also see a great number of changes regarding insurance and legal liability when we see more self-driving vehicles on the road. In the long term, we will likely see accident rates drop as human error is taken more out of the equation, but as we know, even self-driving vehicles in their current state can make mistakes. Liability and insurance will both always be necessary components.