Waymo is reportedly planning to take the next step towards offering a commercial driverless car service in early December, according to an unnamed source who spoke to Bloomberg. The soft launch will see Alphabet’s self-driving car division offering rides from a new — unnamed — consumer taxi brand. The autonomous service is expected to launch in Phoenix Arizona, where the company already operates a fleet of modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans. “Some cars” will contain backup drivers who can take control if necessary, according to the report, with straight-forward fares priced to be competitive with Uber and Lyft.
Offering paid rides is a big milestone for the service, but this is otherwise an incremental step. Initially, Bloomberg speculates that availability will be restricted to Waymo’s existing 400-person “Early Rider Program” — although they’ll no longer be bound by a secretive NDA. The location is also not set to change from the same 100 square mile area around Phoenix already used for testing. Finally, although many of the autonomous taxis will not have backup drivers, this has already been a feature of Waymo’s tests since October 2017 (humans in remote operations centers are available to step in when things get complicated).
Waymo’s plans for the service are reported to involve launching in various metropolitan areas across the US. On the short list would be Silicon Valley, where Waymo already has self-driving vans providing a taxi service for X lab employees, and which recently approved Waymo’s application to test driverless cars without backup drivers.