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What would you do if you called for a ride using an app on your phone and the car showed up without someone sitting behind the steering wheel? That's one of the projects the company Lyft is working on with General Motors - a fleet driverless cars. It made that and a related announcement today. Here's NPR's Aarti Shahani.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: GM is putting half a billion dollars into Lyft. And together, they'll work on two big projects. First and starting immediately, they're offering a new service that should make it easier for human beings to drive for Lyft. It's a very simple service.
JOHN ZIMMER: Rental hubs.
SHAHANI: Lyft CEO John Zimmer.
ZIMMER: Rental hubs for drivers to have short-term rental opportunities.
SHAHANI: To work for Lyft or its competitor Uber, many drivers have to undertake the big expense of buying a car, and many drivers lie to their insurance companies, claiming the car is for personal, not commercial, use. Now Lyft and GM are reducing the burden, killing a couple birds with one stone. You could do a short-term rental if you don't own a car at all or you don't have a nice car or...
ZIMMER: Or you know, potentially a Lyft driver whose car is in the shop and doesn't have access to earning income during that period. They can rent a car for a week and make sure that they continue to earn that income.
SHAHANI: In the long term, Lyft and GM plan to get rid of the need for human drivers altogether by building a vast network of driverless cars. The companies haven't released a specific timeline on when, though CEO Zimmer says the new fleet will have features to make it a better passenger experience. For example, business riders get wifi. A family on a weekend trip gets a Lyft with a TV.
ZIMMER: And you have the ability to watch a movie and relax and enjoy your time together with your family.
SHAHANI: For GM, this partnership is a radical departure from its traditional business. That is, selling cars to individuals - the owner-driver model. GM president Dan Amman says it's a way for his company to build business in big cities where people don't want to bother with insuring and parking cars.
DAN AMMAN: Well, fundamentally, we need to go where our customers want to go.
SHAHANI: This isn't the only team racing to build a self-driving fleet. Google and Ford are expected to announce their own joint venture, according to the Yahoo Autos, and Uber CEO said he expects a fleet by 2030. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco.
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