Lyft thinks the answer to easing traffic is to carpool or pay up
Using “smart lanes,” cars with three or more passengers ride free, while those with two or one get charged.
Lyft’s co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer are proposing that governments charge people extra tolls to drive on specific highways or streets during times of increased traffic in order to curb congestion. Think surge pricing for highways.
But there’s a loophole: If you are in a car with three or more passengers, you can ride for free. It’s like a carpool lane that charges non-carpools to use it.
The two co-founders laid out their proposal for what they’re calling “smart lanes” — a system similar to those in heavy-traffic places like Singapore — in a Medium post they published on Tuesday.
For a ride-hail company that hopes to “unlock every seat in every car” through services like Lyft Line, it certainly makes a lot of sense. The cost of rush-hour pricing would become an incentive to share a ride with other people.
“Lyft Line fits into this really nicely,” Green told Recode. “Services like Lyft Line make it much easier to form a transit route
[and] form a car-pool lane on the fly. Right now, there’s usually little timing advantage and no cost advantage.”
It’s no surprise that either Lyft or Uber would want to promote its car-sharing services. Lyft Line and Uber Pool are more lucrative than the ride-hail players’ basic one-person-per-car services because, while it’s cheaper for each person, the companies are getting double or sometimes triple the fare.
So, though that incentive extends to all methods of car sharing — like UberPool or traditional car pooling with people you know — it would also be a boost for Lyft Line, which already makes up one-third of the company’s rides.
“In New York City alone, if Lyft Line were to be applied to all single-occupancy taxi trips, it would reduce the number of vehicles needed by 75 percent,” they wrote in the post. “We’ve started doing what we can to mitigate traffic, but we need collective action and policy to eliminate it completely.”
That’s especially true for both Uber and Lyft given that the companies spent much of the beginning of their existence embroiled in bitter battles with many of those transit agencies to become legal in markets across the country.
“It’s a critical point now where the country is making a decision about how to invest in infrastructure,” Green said. “[We] care very deeply about ending traffic and helping set our country up to be more competitive and [creating] the right type of infrastructure [because] most big cities struggle with setting up their infrastructure.”
Green and Zimmer plan to discuss their proposal with policy makers going forward but it’s unlikely the company will have much to do with the actual execution of the smart lanes.
Lyft’s self-driving ambitions also fit squarely in with this proposal. Tracking and charging drivers dynamically will also become easier with the advent of autonomous cars as they will be connected via cloud networks, which in turn might help with funding road and highway projects.
“As vehicles move to electric, the country will have to change the gas tax to a per-mile tax,” Green said. “[The gas tax] is how we fund our roads today. It’s impossible to do an electricity tax, so they’ll have to flip to a per-mile tax. There are already conversations about what the best way to track those miles [is].”