LAS VEGAS – I had my first Lyft ride yesterday, and I’ve gotta say I’m a big fan.
This time of year, whether it’s here to cover CES or in Detroit to cover the North American International Auto Show, comes with undue anxiety about getting around to press conferences surrounding these two events that are so important to the future of mobility.
For the past several years, I’ve wanted to write a scathing piece about how the executives get up at these press conferences and describe a world where cars and shuttle buses move in some synchronized ballet where traffic isn’t a problem.
Meanwhile, in the real world, just getting to the Las Vegas Convention Center or Detroit’s Cobo Center could be a comical, dismal slog.
Last year, for instance, it took me an hour just to catch a ride from a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip to the convention center. And once I was in the car, it took another 30 minutes because of traffic – just to go a few miles. On most days, when CES hasn’t consumed all of Las Vegas, that ride would take less than 15 minutes.
I was shaking my head, wondering when this grand vision for the future would begin to take shape.
Yesterday morning, I was feeling much more optimistic about the road ahead, thanks to a delightful ride with a Lyft driver who arrived promptly and got me from one end of the Strip to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center at the other end. Leaving at 7:15 a.m. certainly helped avoid traffic.
As I was plotting my route, I knew walking was not an option (too far), and I looked up bus routes wondering if that was the best way to go. I’ve seen enough insanely long taxi lines during the week of CES to dismiss that option outright.
A colleague told me about a promo code for Lyft that included $20 of free rides during CES, so I uploaded the Lyft app to my phone, and added two payment methods. My hotel, the Venetian, has a neatly organized section of its labyrinth of a parking deck where Lyft and Uber ride-sharing customers can be picked up and dropped off.
My smartphone showed me exactly where the driver was as his Toyota Camry was approaching my spot in the parking deck.
The driver, Maikel Douglas, arrived on time, and the interior of his Camry was tidy. He was even playing soothing music. He’s been driving for Lyft for nine months and really enjoys it – says he’s been making good money driving in Vegas.
He got me right where I needed to be – the Mandalay Bay Convention Center – and the whole experience left me hopeful for the future.
At the end of the day, my spirits fell once again as I was in a shuttle bus trying to get from the Hard Rock Hotel back to the Venetian. It’s less than 2 miles (3.2 km) away, but 5 p.m. is a really bad time to drive this route.
It took about 40 minutes, and I could have walked it faster.
Bottom line: The mobility revolution we hear so much about remains in its infancy, but incremental progress is being made. Governments, urban planners and traffic managers play a vital role, and I believe the industry will keep moving forward so long as the model can be profitable. Ride-hailing outfits such as Lyft and industry-leader Uber currently lose money.
But it’s also up to us consumers to think differently about how to get from Point A to Point B. If we all just keep climbing behind the wheel of our single-occupant cars and heading off to work and then drive home at the end of the day, well, the 5 p.m. Vegas experience won’t get any better.
We all need to be open as new mobility opportunities arise, whether it’s Lyft or self-driving shuttles or expanded bus routes or trams that head into the city center, like Detroit’s modest new QLine.
Heck, even if we all try to do a little more carpooling, our collective lives on the road could be so much better.