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Lyft will make all of its rides carbon neutral starting immediately by investing millions of dollars in projects that offset its emissions, the company announced Thursday.

The ridesharing service, which is part of the We Are Still coalition, provides more than 10 million rides worldwide each week. "We feel immense responsibility for the profound impact that Lyft will have on our planet," founders John Zimmer and Logan Green wrote in a Medium post.

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By Gina Coplon-Newfield

If you think the only way to drive electric is to buy electric, then think again. From ride sharing to car sharing, and short-term rentals to typical rental cars, the auto industry is making it easier for those without their own set of wheels to drive—or ride—electric.

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Here's another thing that Elon Musk is on the verge of disrupting: Ride-sharing.

The Tesla CEO is already shaking up the global automobile industry with his fleet of electric cars, but now he's taking aim at ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft by creating his own car-sharing network—the so-called "Tesla Network."

Elon Musk's new autonomous car-sharing service will allow Tesla owners to make money from their electric vehicles when they are not in use.Flickr

On an Q3 earnings call on Wednesday, Musk said that future Tesla owners will be able to make money off their cars by renting them out for ride shares by using Tesla's Autopilot feature, its famed semi-autonomous driving system.

“This would be something that would be a significant offset on the cost of ownership for a car, and a revenue generator for Tesla as well, but the majority of the revenue would go to owners," he said, according to TechCrunch.

“This has been characterized as Tesla vs. Uber," Musk added. “But it's not Tesla versus Uber, it's the people versus Uber."

Musk means that Tesla owners will not be using their car's self-driving function to give Uber or Lyft rides. Rather, Tesla owners—or "the people"—are competing directly against these companies.

Musk has seemingly confirmed the creation of the Tesla ride-sharing after retweeting TechCrunch's writeup.

Just think, if the Tesla Network actually comes to fruition, a Tesla owner can make money by giving autonomous rides to the public while he or she is at work or on vacation. Instead of taking up space in a parking spot, the car can help ferry people from A to B.

However you feel about autonomous vehicles (here are some pros and cons) this nascent technology can be environmentally friendly.

"The key benefit of a self-driving vehicles is greater fuel efficiency," as EcoWatch's Dan Zukowski wrote recently. "The computer can drive better than you can. It will drive at a steady speed, will avoid jackrabbit starts and won't exceed the speed limit. Ultimately, a preponderance of autonomous vehicles could reduce traffic congestion by communicating with each other and traveling together in a controlled caravan. Car-sharing and carpooling make for more efficient use of roadways, vehicles and infrastructure devoted to parking."

Musk actually proposed his ride-sharing network idea back in July in his "Master Plan, Part Deux." He wrote:

"When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination.

"You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.

"In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are."

Also on yesterday's earnings call, Tesla Motors reported its first quarterly net profit in more than three years. According to Fortune, Tesla posted a net income of $21.9 million and total revenue more than doubled to $2.30 billion.

"Record deliveries helped to offset rising expenses related to next year's roll-out of the company's mass-market Model 3 sedan," Forbes wrote.

Musk said the company could turn a profit again in the fourth quarter. Reuters noted that Tesla's positive earnings report should calm skeptics who have criticized the automaker's plans to acquire solar panel sister company SolarCity.

Could Uber and Lyft make the dream of futurists for personal rapid transit come true?

Since the 1950s, thinkers such as city transportation planner Donn Fichter began to envision an automated public transit system for low-density areas where rail and even buses were not practical. Even in denser urban environments, it has always been a challenge to get people to leave their cars at home when mass transit cannot offer point-to-point and schedule on demand service.

The 1960s through 1990s saw research studies and a handful of demonstration projects in the U.S., Europe and Japan. In 1999, I visited the Honda R&D facility in Tochigi, Japan, where I could summon a self-driven minicar to take me to specific spots around the campus. The vehicle would then return to its home base on its own. Other proposed systems used guideways, separating the vehicle from existing road or rail systems but offering less flexibility.

The automotive industry is investing heavily in autonomous vehicle technology, some aspects of which are already available in mass-market vehicles from major manufacturers. Two major industry suppliers, Delphi Automotive and Mobileye, are teaming up to produce off-the-shelf autonomous vehicle technology that will be shown at the International CES in Las Vegas in January. This will enable automakers to more quickly introduce self-driving cars and spend less on their own research and development.

Uber has just started a pilot program in Pittsburgh involving up to 100 self-driving vehicles in partnership with Volvo. The company has also acquired Otto, a start-up company headed by autonomous vehicle engineer Anthony Levandowski.

Uber's modified Volvo XC90 for its Pittsburgh self-driving fleet.Uber

Earlier this year, General Motors announced a $500 million in investment in rival Lyft. This month, Ford said it would have a fully autonomous vehicle on the road for ride sharing by 2021. Google's 25-mph prototype vehicle is also testing on public roads.

Uber and Lyft are looking beyond competition with traditional taxi services. They may be creating the first practical, affordable personal rapid transit (PRT) systems that will compete with buses. In 2014, Uber launched UberPool, enabling multiple parties to share a ride along similar routes. The following year, the company announced uberCOMMUTE in China, which they described as " carpooling at the press of a button." In the U.S., it's being tested in Chicago. Then, in December, Uber launched uberHOP in Seattle, which operates along pre-selected commuters routes.

Virtually all mass transit systems are publicly subsidized. Farebox revenues rarely cover more than 50 percent of expenses, which are labor and capital-intensive. In Pinellas Park, Florida—a Tampa suburb—has just replaced two bus lines with Uber service, subsidized to the tune of $3 per ride. It's cheaper than running the buses. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority budgeted $40,000 a year. Running the two bus lines cost four times as much.

In the Denver suburb of Centennial, Lyft launched a program this month providing free rides to the Dry Creek light rail station. In this case, the program is designed to encourage mass transit use by enabling commuters to get to the station without having to park a car there all day. A self-driving bus is already being tested in Washington, DC.

A key benefit of a self-driving vehicles is greater fuel efficiency. The computer can drive better than you can. It will drive at a steady speed, will avoid jackrabbit starts and won't exceed the speed limit. Ultimately, a preponderance of autonomous vehicles could reduce traffic congestion by communicating with each other and traveling together in a controlled caravan. Car-sharing and carpooling make for more efficient use of roadways, vehicles and infrastructure devoted to parking.

There are concerns, however, that self-driving cars will encourage more driving. That remains to be seen, but if the technology is accompanied by more car-sharing and greater use of electric vehicles, that may act as an offset.

A KPMG/Center for Automotive Research study stated, "The new technology could provide solutions to some of our most intractable social problems—the high cost of traffic crashes and transportation infrastructure, the millions of hours wasted in traffic jams and the wasted urban space given over to parking lots, just to name a few. But if self-driving vehicles become a reality, the implications would also be profoundly disruptive for almost every stakeholder in the automotive ecosystem."

Personal rapid transit is no longer a pipe dream; it's a business.

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