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Lyft Offers Self-Driving Rides in Limited Trial

Partnership with Waymo combines autonomous vehicles and ride-hailing
Photograph courtesy of Waymo

SAN FRANCISCO — Lyft riders in a small area outside Phoenix can opt to reach their destination in a car that can drive itself.

San Francisco-based ride-hailing company Lyft is partnering with Mountain View, Calif.-based Google’s autonomous vehicle (AV) arm, Waymo, to offer the service.

There are plenty of caveats to the limited trial. Eligible Lyft passengers must request a ride that both starts and ends in the area of Phoenix that Waymo has already blocked off for testing in order to summon a self-driving car. Also, there are fewer than 10 Waymo vehicles currently offering the service. There are plans to eventually expand the number of self-driving cars available to 10 total. And despite being self-driven, the cars will arrive with human drivers behind the wheel, just in case.

The trial marks firsts for both Lyft and Waymo. This is Lyft’s first experience managing self-driving cars with customers in the field. And while Waymo launched its own similar ride-hailing service with AVs in December 2018, this is the first time Waymo’s AVs are available commercially and relatively unrestricted.

While the partnership marks progress for AVs, Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Autotrader, said a more widespread version of a self-driving ride-hailing service is still a distant prospect on CNBC. “Nobody knows the right answers technically, and certainly, nobody knows the right answer for building a business model,” she said. “So I think there is going to be a lot of partnering up, changing partners and figuring out strategies before this settles out, and I think that’s a way down the road.”

While it is too early to tell exactly how the mass availability of AVs might affect convenience stores, more ride-hailing consumers might mean fewer pit stops if people are being ferried straight to their destinations.  

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