SXSW: In Travel, the sharing economy always feels 9 minutes away…

lyftMonday’s keynote was a conversation with Logan Green, the CEO of ‘ride-sharing’ start-up and Uber competitor, Lyft.

Likeable and honest, LA-born Green gave an account of how Lyft was born from his childhood spent in gridlock on highways in the back of his parents’ car. Even at a young age, it struck him as illogical that all the cars were headed (slowly) in the same direction with only one person in each.

Green spent years trying to foster change through membership of local government transport committees, but realized there was no way through the inertia of the public sector to deliver anything of meaning. After enjoying minor success with ride-sharing through his first Zimride, the arrival of the smartphone finally offered him the combination of location and immediacy that ride-sharing needs.

Lyft (which I have used throughout SXSW this year) is now in 65 US cities, and has pulled in over $800m in funding. It’s not a small business, but is still in a fraction of the cities that Uber services.

Green claims a kind of moral high ground over Uber. While Lyft is billed as a ride-sharing service, a true part of the sharing economy, Uber is a glorified taxi service run through an app.

In reality there is currently very little difference between the two, with both players aping each other’s product offering as well as, to some degree, their predatory business practices.

The most positive sign for me that Lyft will have the benefit on our crippling transport problems that Green hopes it will, is that Lyft Line, the multi-passenger ride-sharing feature that IS actually more than just a taxi service, is gaining traction, with Line users already greater than regular Lyft drivers in parts of California. Green himself habitually becomes a Lyft Line driver on the way in to work, and told the audience (to much ironic chortling) that he often makes “an extra $20 per day!”

It still puzzles me that Lyft and Uber have been so slow to foster true ride-sharing. Right now they may be impacting somewhat on the number of people declining to buy cars, and the number using regular car services, but the fact is, there aren’t any fewer cars on the road, there are just different cars. Until Lyft and Uber can make actual true ride-sharing prevalent among people who are travelling anyway, the sharing economy in transport will remain just around the corner.