Google’s Waymo autonomous rideshare company has been working on launching Robo-taxis in California for years, and this week the approval finally came through. And while the company still has several rules to follow, Waymo now can charge fares and start self-driving passengers in select cities.
Waymo isn’t the only one, either, as GM’s Cruise received similar approval. Both Waymo and Cruise already had DMV permits to test their driverless cars in California and offer free rides. This giant step allows the vehicles to operate more freely and pick up paying passengers in San Francisco and San Mateo, but there is one big caveat. The cars still need a “safety driver” present, even if that person isn’t controlling the car.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a “Drivered Deployment” permit to Waymo and Cruise at the end of February 2022, allowing for shared rides between different groups of passengers.
Oddly enough, the CPUC gives Google’s Waymo brand more freedom to operate in the city than GM, but both can take on passengers. According to the permit, Waymo can operate in “designated parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties at any time of day or night at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour.”
However, GM’s Cruise self-driving vehicles can only operate on specific public roads between the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and only at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. It’s worth noting that the vehicles must stop operations during heavy rain or fog for obvious safety reasons. Additionally, the company Nuro already operates in San Fran, so Waymo and Cruise aren’t the only ones on the street.
Being granted permission to continue testing with a “safety driver” in the vehicle is an essential step before either company gets a permit for complete “driverless deployment.” If we get to that step, they’ll be able to operate without a human in the driver or passenger seat, meaning the vehicle will be empty as it picks up passengers.
For now, someone will still be close enough to take over the controls in case of emergencies, but it’s still a big deal. Free rides were available to limited users in a test program until now. Expect the two Robo-taxi brands to start offering paid rides to trusted passengers in the coming weeks and months.