Lyft president on self-driving cars and why Lyft is “better than Uber”

The president of ride-sharing company Lyft said Tuesday the deadly crash in Arizona involving an Uber self-driving SUV could have been prevented. As Lyft continues trials of its own autonomous vehicles, its co-founder and president John Zimmer joined “CBS This Morning” to discuss how his own unique background influences the company’s direction and what sets them apart from their main competitor. 

“I think everybody should take pause after what happened in Arizona, but it’s important to zoom out and understand why companies are doing this and the fact is that 35,000 people every year are killed in a car accident. And the ultimate goal is to bring that to zero,” Zimmer said. 

His company’s revenue crossed the billion-dollar threshold for 2017 – up 168 percent since the end of 2016, according to Lyft.  

“I think what’s working well is our vision, which is to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation. The way we treat people, whether that’s our drivers or our passengers…or our team members or employees,” he said. “To me, this was always a service business.”

Zimmer credits part of the company’s success with his background in hospitality and focus on service. Every New Year’s Eve and on a monthly basis when possible, Zimmer drives on Lyft to get a sense of what the experience is like from all perspectives.

“One of my first jobs was a phone operator in a hotel and I saw the obvious importance of taking care of people, to provide great service, and I think that’s what’s really paying off,” he said. “I learn the challenges of being a driver on the platform. The opportunities for us to improve the product for our drivers and I understand better the passenger experience.”

Despite revenue hitting $1 billion in 2017, Lyft still isn’t profitable. Instead, Zimmer said the company is focused on growth and capturing as much of the massive American transportation market as possible.

“The opportunity here is that Americans spend $2 trillion every year on car ownership. We spend more money on cars than we do on food,” he said.

Part Lyft’s growth plan includes a goal of ending – or making impractical – personal car ownership in major cities by 2025.

“It won’t make financial sense. You spend $9,000 every year owning and operating a vehicle when you look at all the costs and you use the car just 4 percent of the time on average. That does not make sense. We can give you the equivalent of a $5,000 tax credit back to every household if we improve that efficiency,” he said.

Changing the way cities operate is part of the reason Zimmer believes Lyft is superior to its biggest competition.  

“Lyft is better than Uber because we care about improving our cities. We care about improving people’s lives and we care about the people that are behind the business,” Zimmer said. 

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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