Lyft is building its own map platform. Here's why Google Maps doesn't cut it

The "true battleground" when it comes to building a great map product, Lyft co-founder and President John Zimmer said, is whether users are earning money on it.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

After several years of R&D investments, Lyft is scaling out an in-house mapping platform it has built specifically for its transportation network. The ride-hailing business highlighted the investment during its fourth-quarter earnings conference call this week, noting that R&D investments are one of the company's major areas of focus for 2022. 

"We're building Lyft Maps to be able to optimize the entire Lyft experience," Lyft co-founder and President John Zimmer said on the conference call. "We're incredibly excited about this work. The team has been heads down for several years."

Lyft's decision to build its own mapping platform may seem strange, given that Google and Apple have already spent several years and huge sums of money to create top-notch maps that are nearly ubiquitous. In 2020, 15 years after the launch of Google Maps, Google didn't just boast about its enormous user base or the sophisticated features it had built for Maps -- the company noted that hundreds of millions of people each year contribute information that helps keep the product up to date.

However, Zimmer noted, "when you build a product like Google Maps, you build it for many different types of use cases -- people walking, people driving, people not earning income driving primarily." 

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Lyft, on the other hand, has "very specific use cases." And building a product for those specific use cases, he said, should help Lyft drivers make more money. 

"The true battleground for building a great map product is [whether] the people using your maps are earning money on it," Zimmer said. Lyft drivers are "only going to use it if it helps them." 

The limited rollout of Lyft Maps so far suggests they're on the right track, Zimmer said. Among the drivers who have had access to it, he said, 50% prefer using it over whatever map product they were using previously. Lyft Maps has already powered more than 3 million rides in select markets. 

"If you take enough rideshare rides, it's easy to see why this is so helpful," Zimmer said. "Many drivers end up with multiple phones on their dashboards or other complicated setups to try to achieve the same outcome."

Lyft is tapping into data collected from Lyft rides to detect street closures and traffic delays to build the platform. It uses that information to improve overall routing capabilities. It also incorporates data around factors like which doors and street corners people exit venues from. The platform optimizes pickups and drop-offs to save drivers time, help position them for the next ride and avoid unnecessary tolls. 

Meanwhile, Lyft is partnering with Google to get the platform into the hands of more drivers. 

This summer, they're launching an integration to make the Lyft app and the mapping platform available on car displays that have Android Auto. 

Lyft says its drivers should make more money with its proprietary mapping, but the company itself also stands to save a significant sum -- and potentially earn more from the platform. Along with using it to send drivers on the most efficient routes, Lyft can use the platform to send them on safer routes and bring down insurance costs.

"The broader kind of consumer-focused mapping companies don't have the same sort of dollars on the line and don't necessarily optimize for the same things that we are in our business," Lyft CEO Logan Green said.

Lastly, Zimmer argued that the mapping platform will add to capabilities that will be key to Lyft's future. 

"What I love about what we're doing with the business is that we can build phenomenal products for drivers -- whether that's the mapping software, whether that's vehicle services or fleet management -- and then we could position those for the consumer, the rider and then ultimately the autonomous vehicle to make sure we optimize for cost of operations, as well as revenue per mile," he said. "So it all adds up to both helping in the near term and for the long term."

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