The co-founder of Lyft this weekend argued that private car ownership will be a thing of the past by 2025. Citizens will instead rely on self-driving taxis, and in the process free up land now occupied by parking lots and congested streets for new businesses and public spaces.
That will likely be unwelcome news to those who currently make their living driving for ridesharing services, but Lyft's John Zimmer insists that this upcoming shift will, in fact, create more jobs, at least at first.
"America is running a failing transportation business," Zimmer wrote in a Medium post. "Our country has more than 6,000 square miles of parking -- bigger than my home state of Connecticut."
That's one of the reasons Lyft partnered with GM earlier this year in a $500 million deal that includes plans for on-demand autonomous vehicles. "If you live in San Francisco or Phoenix, you may have seen these cars on the road, and within five years a fully autonomous fleet of cars will provide the majority of Lyft rides across the country," Zimmer wrote this week.
For those who scoff at the notion of giving up their cars, Zimmer points to Netflix, which made DVD ownership "obsolete," and Spotify, which "made it unnecessary to own CDs and MP3s."
"Eventually, we'll look at owning a car in much the same way," according to Zimmer, who sees ridesharing as "the ultimate subscription service."
He tipped different car plans, from the pay-as-you-go model with which most Lyft users are familiar with to an unlimited mileage package plan for a weekend road trip or a premium package with higher-end vehicles.
"The point is, you won't be stuck with one car and limited options," he writes. "Through a fleet of autonomous cars, you'll have better transportation choices than ever before with a plan that works for you."
In the process, private car ownership "will go the way of the DVD" by 2025.
Elon Musk recently laid out a similar plan for the future, though he said Tesla owners will share their cars when they're not in use. But Zimmer said his vision for the future is more viable since Tesla owners probably "won't want to rent their cars to strangers." A Lyft fleet will also "provide significantly more consistency and availability than a patchwork of privately owned cars," Zimmer says.
Until then, there are regulatory and technical hurdles to overcome, so "over the next five to 10 years there will be both driver and driverless cars on the road, which we call a hybrid network," Zimmer says. Self-driving Lyfts might first be restricted to certain areas of a city; flat, dry stretches of land with low speed limits, for example.
For Lyft drivers wondering if they'll be out of a job within the next decade, Zimmer says that demand will grow as people ditch their cars. "When autonomous cars can only solve a portion of those trips, more Lyft drivers will be needed to provide service to the growing market of former car owners," he writes.
Human drivers can also take over in certain conditions. "If it's snowing or raining we can turn off autonomous mode -- and still pick you up."
Whether that actually becomes a reality remains to be seen. Zimmer's blog post comes as rival Uber started picking up Pittsburgh passengers in self-driving cars. For now, those cars will have human drivers behind the wheel, ready to take over if necessary.