FutureStructure

Facing Lack of Driver Interest, Lyft Hits Pause on Carpooling Experiment

Carpooling will become part of the company's services eventually, but for now, its pilot project has petered out.

by / August 25, 2016

Lyft’s experiment with commuter carpooling isn’t dead, just “paused.”

Faced with a lack of interest from drivers, the ride sharing company has halted a pilot project where it sought to bring commuters together to carpool in the San Francisco Bay Area. The project, launched in March, was a way for the company to dip into an issue its leaders have been hoping to address since Lyft’s founding — that is, the daily congestion of roads with single-occupant cars.

Since some three-quarters of American workers drive by themselves to work every day, many transportation leaders have begun describing the empty car seats in those vehicles as an untapped resource. Consolidate drivers into fewer vehicles, and theoretically they should all be able to pass through the roads more quickly. Or at least more efficiently.

Of course, there are challenges when it comes to finding people who have similar beginning and ending points at the same time. That’s where Lyft’s carpool experiment aimed to fill the gap, by helping match drivers with riders via smartphones.

“While we think a scheduled carpool feature is the right long-term strategy, it is too soon to scale to a meaningful level where supply matches demand,” a Lyft spokesperson told Government Technology's FutureStructure. “We learned a lot and will apply it to new and existing projects — like Lyft Line — as we drive our vision forward to solve pain points in commuting.”

Originally, Lyft planned on expanding the carpooling experiment outside the Bay Area. But although there were plenty of passengers interested in the program, which focused on a highway between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, a Lyft source said that there weren’t enough drivers to support the test.

The source declined to provide usage statistics, but did say the company is still assessing the carpool program’s success. How the program might alter Lyft Line, a program where passengers can opt to share their ride with other passengers in exchange for a reduced rate, isn’t clear.

But Lyft Line isn’t the only carpooling-adjacent idea the company has had. Since 2014, Lyft has offered drivers a “destination filter,” where drivers can set a destination they’d like to go and then pick up passengers headed the same way. Uber has a similar program, called Driver Destinations.

The source said the carpooling feature will likely come back in the future as Lyft expands.

In the long term, Lyft and other transportation-focused companies have a vision that they think will get people into the same vehicles: automated driving. If cars are able to drive themselves, it would be possible for people to eschew ownership in favor of subscription or on-demand ride hailing. At that point, carpooling might be a more natural fit.

And that’s exactly what Lyft, Uber, Ford and others are working toward — as soon as the technology is ready to go, regulations allow for it and society is willing to accept it.

Ben Miller Staff Writer

Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.