Nearly a year ago, Lyft submitted a report to the California Department of Motor Vehicles that sums up its 2018 autonomous vehicle testing activity in a single, short paragraph.
“Lyft Inc. did not operate any vehicles in autonomous mode on California public roads during the reporting period,” the letter read. “As such, Lyft Inc. has no autonomous mode disengagements to report.”
While the 2019 data tells a very different story. Lyft had a total of 19 autonomous vehicles testing on public roads in California in 2019, according to data released by the CA DMV. Those 19 vehicles, which operated from December 2018 to November 2019, drove nearly 43,000 miles in autonomous mode, which is still far below when compared to Cruise and Waymo, which accumulated 831,000 and 1.45 million autonomous miles, respectively.
The report is that Lyft is ramping up its self-driving vehicle program known as Level 5.
The total number of autonomous miles driven in 2019 rose by 40%, largely due to a notable uptick in public on-road testing by Baidu, Cruise, Pony.ai, Waymo, and Zoox. While the number of companies with testing permits grew to 60 in 2019, the percentage of companies actually testing on public roads fell to about 58%.
Lyft’s Level 5 program is a nod to the SAE automated driving level which means that the vehicle handles all driving in all conditions which was launched in July 2017. Today, Level 5 employs more than 400 people in the U.S., Munich, and London.
The testing on public roads in California began in November 2018 with a pilot program in Palo Alto that provided rides to Lyft employees in Palo Alto. The pilot provided on-demand rides set on fixed routes, such as traveling between the Lyft office and Caltrain.
Since then, the company has expanded the scope and geography of the pilot. By the end of 2019, Lyft was driving 4 times more autonomous miles per quarter than it was six months prior.
Lyft is also testing on a dedicated closed-course track in East Palo Alto that it opened in November 2019. The company told TechCrunch it uses this facility, which can be changed to include intersections, traffic lights, and merges, to test software prior to putting its vehicles on public roads.