Waymo Obtains Permit for Autonomous Taxi Service in San Francisco

Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project, has been offering free rides in autonomous vehicles in San Francisco to a vetted group of testers who gave the company their feedback on the experiences. Now, the company will begin offering fared rides around The Golden City thanks to a recently obtained permit.

The autonomous taxis will still have employees onboard

Waymo autonomous Jaguar I-Pace Electric SUV parked on curb in San Fransisco
Waymo autonomous Jaguar | Waymo

According to Techcrunch, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently granted Waymo a permit that allows the company to receive financial compensation for rides aboard their autonomously driving taxis. However, the vehicles will not be entirely free of Waymo employees.

The permit has a stipulation that requires a human safety operator to be onboard the vehicle. However, the onboard employee will not be driving the car. They are solely there to ensure it’s operating safely.

Riders taking advantage of this program in San Francisco will find themselves in the seats of a fully autonomously driving Jaguar I-Pace SUV. Though Waymo provided no specific numbers, a CPUC quarterly report reveals that Waymo had around 100 vehicles available for riders. With the launch of the paid program, there’s a decent chance more will be added to the fleet, too.

Techcrunch spoke with Nick Smith, a Waymo spokesperson.

“We take a step-by-step approach on the path to rolling out our fully autonomous experience to the public. That’s the approach we took in Arizona — deeply rooted in our focus on safety — and it’s the approach we’ll take in any of the cities we operate in going forward. We start with an autonomous specialist behind the wheel operating in autonomous mode and open the rides to a select group of Trusted Testers for free before we begin charging. Eventually, we move to launching in rider-only mode (without anyone else in the car). This path helps us to gain learnings about operating our service and worked well for us in Arizona, where we’ve completed tens of thousands of trips in rider only mode for thousands of riders,” Smith said.

How much does Waymo cost?

Waymo Autonomous driving system atop Jaguar I-Pace SUV in San Fransisco
Waymo camera system | Waymo

No specific pricing details for the autonomous taxi service, known as Waymo One, were provided for the San Francisco market. However, Smith stated that the pricing would be “reasonable and competitive with other services in San Francisco.”

Waymo One is already available as a fully driverless ride service in Arizona and may provide a rough estimate for the upcoming costs in San Francisco. A CNBC report stated that a 14-minute ride cost a total of $10.77, working out to about 77 cents per mile, which is relatively high compared to the average Uber ride pricing of about 40 cents per mile.

Additionally, the CNBC report states that the Waymo ride in Arizona was largely uneventful. Though, an abrupt parking lot stop for a pedestrian and the vehicle parking in fire lanes was a bit uninspiring.

Waymo isn’t the only autonomous ride service provider in San Francisco

Waymo’s biggest competitor, Cruise, has been offering free rides since February. Furthermore, thanks to a permit from the California DMV, Cruise provides an opportunity to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle with no onboard human safety operator. Techcrunch reports that Waymo would not comment on whether or not they are attempting to gain the same permission. 

Overall, this permit is a big step for Waymo’s services in the state of California. As with any advancements in technology, there are bugs to be worked out. However, this is an exciting step for autonomous technology. Furthermore, it’s an incredible look into the future of public transportation and ride-sharing services.

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