Lyft's cofounder John Zimmer's essay The Road Ahead provides a fascinating look at Lyft's vision for transportation over the next 10 years and beyond.
It's a pretty compelling forecast of how ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles are going to change transportation and even society.
The two key forecasts are:
Autonomous vehicle fleets will quickly become widespread and will account for the majority of Lyft rides within 5 years.
By 2025, private car ownership will all-but end in major U.S. cities.
The essay chart below shows Lyft's self-driving car forecast.
The essay is well worth reading. And we agree that autonomous vehicles will have a big impact on the transportation industry as well as society overall.
But we think it is very unlikely it will happen this fast.
By coincidence, the Wall Street Journal had an article on the paperless office getting closer (registration required) a few days after the Lyft essay was released.
The article references a well known forecast made in 1975 saying that paper would be all but nonexistent in business offices by 1990.
There were a series of other "end of paper" forecasts made by a variety of industry analysts and futurists during the 1980s and 1990s. Most of them claimed the use of paper would end or become very minor no later than the year 2000.
Not only did these forecasts not come true, the use of paper continued to grow until the mid-2000s. Paper use is now in decline, but it's use is only declining 1%-2% per year. So paper is going to be around for a long time. This means these forecasts only missed their mark by 40-50 years or so.
As we've pointed out in the past, one of the biggest mistakes forecasters make is overestimating the near term impact of new technologies.
We think the same mistakes is being made with self-driving car forecasts.
Don't get us wrong. We believe self-driving cars will be common by 2025 - especially cars that self-drive part of the time and cars and trucks in closed environments.
But 9 years is not a long time. And there are still a lot of hurdles to be crossed before truly autonomous cars comprise a majority of the vehicles on the road. These include unsolved technical issues as well as legal and regulatory issues that are only beginning to be addressed.
Also, there's a major installed infrastructure issue. The average car stays on the road for a bit more than a decade. This means most of the cars sold today and over the next few years will still be around in 2025. Almost none of these cars are or will be self-driving. This factor alone almost guarantees self-driving cars will not be the majority of vehicles in 2025.
There's also a cultural issue. People like cars and many like to drive their cars. So just as many prefer to read real books over reading them on a screen, there will be people who still want to drive in 10 years.
And finally there is the issue of cost. It seems likely self-driving cars will be more expensive than traditional cars. It's not clear how big a premium car buyers will be willing to pay for them.
So while we too are excited about this technology and will likely be early adopters, we're not expecting it to move anywhere near as quickly as is being predicted.