Lyft sees Detroit as possible transit partner

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Romulus — Lyft Inc. has explored partnering with Detroit transit authorities to offer subsidized rides for residents to get to and from local bus or light rail stations.

The idea, known as a “first mile/last mile” solution, is a way to complement public transit by allowing people to reach stations without needing to own a car, and Lyft already is testing such pilot programs in California and Denver. Emily Castor, Lyft’s director of transportation policy, said Wednesday there are no plans to announce in Detroit, but the ride-hailing company sees the Motor City as a good opportunity for such a service.

“We have had discussions. ... It’s something we’d be excited to do,” she said following a speech at the World Mobility Leadership Forum. “Detroit is a place where it’s difficult to provide efficient, fixed-route transit because of the large land areas and low population density in some areas; it’s not a perfect fit for traditional transit. We think this could be an excellent opportunity area for doing flexible on-demand dispatch with Lyft in partnership with transit.”

The idea is already being tested. Last month, Lyft announced it would offer free rides to residents from Centennial, a suburb of Denver, Colorado, to and from the Dry Creek light rail station. Castor said Thursday the company is also offering heavily-subsidized rides in Bay Area suburbs through the Livermore Avenue Valley Transit Authority. Those rides would be independent of any local train stations and allow residents to ride anywhere in the area. The company has run similar pilots with 16 total cities.

“I think right now, public transportation agencies are re-evaluating their role,” she said. “They’re identifying certain areas where they’ve traditionally provided service, where it may not make sense for them to do service in the way they have in the past.”

Castor on Wednesday reiterated Lyft President John Zimmer’s recent comments that most Lyft rides will be autonomous within five years, and car ownership will end in cities by 2025.

She said that the company is working to reduce the price of its rides to “pennies on the dollar.”

“It will no longer make financial sense for people to own cars,” she said.

The company is testing autonomous Chevrolet Bolts in California and Arizona as part of a collaboration with General Motors Co. Earlier this year, GM announced a $500 million investment in Lyft, and the company will roll out its Bolt EVs with the ride-hailing company.

Castor declined to say if Lyft would test in Michigan.

“We are very excited about some of the recent moves by the Michigan state government in terms of legislation, as well as the new facilities being developed,” she said. “We’d welcome the opportunity to do that in the future.”

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