Lyft customers know It’s a cute pink app that you can use when they want to ride a car or rent a bike or scooter. Today the company announced that it wants to be the place to go to get your car serviced. The Lyft app will provide a way to find and reserve parking spaces in 16 cities, order roadside assistance, and schedule car repairs.
Adding these new services is a small part of the program but it is part of a big change in the ride. As Lyft and its main competitor Uber search for a way to finally turn a profit, some of their visions for the future have been changed, if not left by the wayside. Lyft once pushed for the end of car ownership. Now the betting will continue and provide a new source of income. About 75 percent of the people who use the car own a car. “We’re meeting passengers and customers where they are,” says Jody Kelman, the company’s fleet manager.
Here’s how Lyft got there: In 2016, co-founder John Zimmer posted a kind of cri de coeur on Medium about the startup’s four-year project called “The Third Transportation Revolution.” Zimmer admitted, yes, he loves cars and has since he was a kid. But during an urban planning course in college he realized that US cities have been dominated by the car, and not in a good way. One time you go outside, he wrote, “see how much space is given to cars—and nothing else.” Empty and underutilized cars fill parking lots and streets, leaving bicycles and scooters and pedestrians to crowd the streets. “America is running a failed business,” he concluded — and Lyft will change.
Lyft’s biggest tool in bringing about this change will have to be autonomous vehicles. Zimmer predicted that robotaxis will account for most of Lyft’s rides within the next decade (that’s two years from today). He also said that between Lyft and autonomous driving, private car ownership “will disappear” in major US cities by 2025. cooperation with transport and built environment. A city without private cars, Zimmer wrote, could be rebuilt with freeways and parks instead of parking lots.
But growth is painful. Over the past few years, Lyft and Uber have had to compete in the transportation industry. It turns out that it is very difficult to spend money on climbing; and they have not put any real value on it. Lyft’s share price has fallen more than 80 percent since it went public in 2019. This month, the company laid off 13 percent of its employees, citing financial difficulties.
Uber’s rush to diversify has involved investing in food and retail. Lyft is trying to find its own ways to get riders for its apps. The rollout of the car service, in partnership with parking SpotHero, roadside assistance provider Agero, and service center Goodyear, is part of a revamp of its Lyft Pink subscription program. For $9.99 a month it gives users discounts on rides, premium pickups, several free bike and scooter rides, and now four free road services a year and 15 percent off car maintenance. Lyft declined to share how many people sign up for Lyft Pink.
The broader landscape of transportation technology also appears to be different. Car manufacturers express skepticism about the long-term viability of robotaxi technology. Uber sold its self-driving car kit in 2020, and a few months later Lyft did the same. A partnership with autonomous vehicle technology company Motional means more self-driving cars will appear in the Lyft app in Las Vegas. Lyft announced today that the same robotaxi will be available in Los Angeles in the coming years. But overall, the development of autonomous vehicles appears to have stalled, and Zimmer is no longer standing by his prediction that robotaxis will provide “more Lyft rides” any time soon. In October, he told a tech conference that he didn’t think Lyft would replace human drivers with robots “anytime in the next decade.”
Now Lyft has stopped wanting to kill their cars to get into the business of helping owners take care of them. And there’s logic to the shift in class: The number of private cars in dense cities where Lyft is most popular has increased over the past decade. In areas where public transportation is the preferred mode of transportation, the pandemic exacerbated this, as fear of the virus pushed people who could afford to take trains and buses to car dealerships. In the summer of 2020 new cars registered 18 percent in New York City than the same time last year.
“What I have realized is that there is an opportunity reduce car ownership” rather than removing it, says Kelman, head of fleet at Lyft. Maybe a family can work with one car instead of two. As they say, Lyft has grown. “Our founders have stepped into the family life phase while we’ve been running this company,” he says. “When we see how we can continue to evolve to support our passengers in their lives with the best transportation in the world, we can say, ‘We want to be with you when you have two kids and you have to stop in town to see a doctor.'”
Kelman says Lyft still wants to change the world, but its vision now looks like it’s a reality. The company once wanted to help destroy the parking lot; now you can book through its app.