Lyft users in the Bay Area will soon have the option of being shuttled around in self-driving cars. The ride-sharing company trails its main competitor, Uber, in the autonomous vehicle game, but Lyft will be the only one of the two operating the technology in the Bay Area for the time being, since Uber’s self-driving program was slapped with a cease-and-desist by the state of California last year. The pilot will allow Lyft to see how riders react to self-driving cars.
The cars offered by Lyft will come from Drive.ai, a Mountain View-based startup that builds autonomous vehicle software, according to Reuters. The rollout will be small at first, and each car will come with a trained driver in the front seat in case something goes awry. Passengers must opt into the program, but once they do, rides will be free.
Other U.S. cities that have opened their arms to self-driving cars in general (and Uber in particular) include Pittsburgh and Tempe, Arizona. Austin, Portland and Sacramento are also making strides to welcome the technology — in a series of one-upping bids that feels a bit like online dating.
But questions remain about the technology’s impact, particularly on people whose livelihoods depend on driving. As Johnny Magdaleno wrote for Next City in June, states like Mississippi, Wyoming, West Virginia and Idaho will most likely be hit the hardest economically by self-driving tech because they employ the most drivers. But cities are expected to feel the blow as well. Maya Rockeymoore, a director of the Center for Global Policy Solutions, told Magdaleno that she worries about a sudden influx of unemployed drivers at the municipal level.
“What this could mean for those areas where there’s disproportionate impact, is that we see more unemployment, and people scrambling to get jobs but when they do get jobs they’re earning less,” she said. “That means human need will increase, and the burden will fall on public programs in cities to meet that need.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.