When management upheaval, allegations of corporate espionage, and revelations of sexual harassment sent Uber into a public relations sinkhole, its long overshadowed rival Lyft shifted into overdrive. (Aug. 31)

SAN FRANCISCO — Ride-hailing start-up Lyft may soon be picking up passengers in self-driving cars owned and powered by tech start-up, the two companies announced Thursday. 

When the program starts around’s Mountain View headquarters, around 10 cars outfitted with the company’s sensors and software will become a part of Lyft’s free self-driving service, although passengers who are assigned an autonomous Lyft can opt out. 

“The purpose here is to see how passengers interact with autonomous vehicles, as well as to see how cities need to change to integrate them,” CEO Carol Reiley tells USA TODAY. “We’ve been testing for about a year, so we’re excited to start having passengers on board (along with a safety driver).”

Lyft did not offer up an executive to discuss the news. No precise timing was offered for the start of the test program.

The partnership is yet another push by Uber’s smaller rival to press forward on autonomous car technology, which ultimately could turn ride-hailing into a very lucrative business once the need to pay a driver vanishes.

While Uber grapples with both the onboarding of new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi as well as a sensor lawsuit from Google-owned Waymo, Lyft is making broad bets on self-driving car technology.

In June, it partnered with Boston-based nuTonomy for the purpose of bringing self-driving Lyfts to that town, and in July it opened a dedicated facility in Silicon Valley. And that’s on top of existing Lyft partnerships with Waymo and General Motors.

GM has indicated that it will consider deploying self-driving Chevy Bolts on Lyft’s network. Last year, GM invested $500 million in Lyft, and paid a similar amount to acquire Cruise, another Bay Area tech company that develops bolt-on autonomous tech  kits for vehicles. 

By contrast, Uber felt it could go it virtually alone with a self-driving cars.