California has granted Waymo permission to carry passengers in the autonomous vehicles it is testing on the state’s roads, paving the way for the self-driving car company to roll out a taxi service here.
The California Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday approved Waymo’s application for a passenger service pilot program, which according to the three-year permit can be a “round-trip sightseeing tour service” that cannot accept any money from passengers or operate from or within airports.
“The CPUC permit allows us to participate in their pilot program, giving Waymo employees the ability to hail our vehicles and bring guests on rides within our South Bay territory,” a Waymo spokeswoman said. “This is the next step on our path to eventually expand and offer more Californians opportunities to access our self-driving technology, just as we have gradually done with Waymo One in Metro Phoenix.”
The Mountain View-based Alphabet subsidiary has been testing Waymo One, an autonomous shuttle service that passengers can summon with an app, in the Phoenix metro area since late last year.
While Waymo did not provide details about the scope of any service it will launch in California, the CPUC also OK’d the company’s request for an exemption that would allow it to use safety drivers from third-party providers in addition to its own drivers.
Waymo’s request for that exemption hints that it plans a service of considerable size: “To provide the Commission with operational data at a scale that is both qualitatively and quantitatively meaningful, Waymo finds that it will be critical to use more drivers than it employs directly.”
As part of the pilot, Waymo must send disaggregated and anonymized quarterly data including miles traveled and number of rides requested, fulfilled and declined to the CPUC, which the commission will make publicly available and use as it establishes a framework for future AV passenger services in the state.
Three other companies have permission to operate a similar pilot in California: Zoox, Autox Technologies and Pony.ai.
Waymo also has the DMV’s permission to test fully driverless vehicles — ones without a human at the wheel — on public roads in five cities in Silicon Valley. It has yet to begin that testing.
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