Sorry, Lyft drivers: you may be (nearly) out of a job in 5 years

September 19, 2016

Remember the gig economy and its glorious promise to free us from the tyranny of the 9-to-5 workplace? Well, unfortunately, one of the poster children of that economy, Lyft, is leaving gig-ers in the dust.

Yesterday, Lyft co-founder John Zimmer posted a long article about the company's future plans. Before he reaches his bulletpoints, though, he talks about the many problems posed by cars--for example, they take up lots of space, but they're rarely used. (He cites a statistic that the majority of vehicles are parked 96 percent of the time.) When they are in use, most are polluting the environment.

His solution? More autonomous cars. By creating self-driving vehicles, a family or company could reduce the number of cars it needs. For example, instead of having one car for a working parent and another for a child, the parent could send her car home while she's at the office, ferrying the kid to school, soccer practice, Pokemon tournaments, or whatever else kids are up to these days. Then, it could come pick up the parent at the end of the day.

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It's an idea we've heard before, and it has massive implications for the auto industry. Some analysts think that self-driving cars could cut auto sales by as much as 50 percent.

That would make Zimmer very, very happy, because undoubtedly Lyft would help pick up the slack and meet the world's transportation needs. To prepare for that day, Zimmer says that within five years, most Lyft rides will be in autonomous cars.  

That shouldn't be too surprising. Lyft partnered with General Motors earlier this year to develop a fleet of autonomous cars for ride-sharing, and Lyft's biggest U.S. competitor, Uber, began an autonomous car pilot program in Pittsburgh last month.  

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Does this mean the end of the road for Lyft drivers? Not just yet. Even where autonomous cars are legal--and that's not everywhere, mind you--laws still require human drivers behind the wheel in case something goes wrong. Until those laws change, Lyft will still need folks in its driver's seats.

But will Lyft pay those humans less if they're not actually driving, or if they're sitting in an autonomous car that's owned by Lyft and not the human in question? We wouldn't be surprised. 

If you have time to read Zimmer's full article, it's an interesting piece. He spends much of his post talking about the multitude of problems caused by cars, and on many counts he's right. His prediction that car ownership in cities will all but end by 2025 seems way, way too rosy, but hey, it's Monday, so a little optimism is a welcome thing.

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