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Waymo begins experimenting with self-driving taxi prices

Waymo begins experimenting with self-driving taxi prices


Alphabet unit is also taking early steps to position itself as a link to public transportation

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Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet, has kept mum about how much it will eventually charge people to ride in its autonomous taxis. But according to Bloomberg, the self-driving company has begun testing out trip fares with its early riders as it moves closer to launching its commercial ride-hailing service in Phoenix.

In interviewing members of Waymo’s “Early Rider” program, reporters from Bloomberg got to see a mock-up of the company’s still-underwraps ride-hailing app, complete with probable fare prices. Waymo insists those numbers are just placeholders, but they would appear to be aligned with preexisting services like Uber and Lyft.

According to Bloomberg:

All rides are free for volunteers, but the Waymo app recently started to show hypothetical prices. A view of the app by Bloomberg News offers the first indication of Waymo’s early experiments with pricing. A ride to Kyla’s nearby school shows up as $5, for example, while a longer 11.3-mile trip lists a cost of $19.15. That’s similar to the cost of a ride from Uber Technologies Inc. or Lyft Inc., and cheaper than a local taxi.

A spokesperson for Waymo told Bloomberg that the prices were placeholders meant to solicit feedback from its early riders and “does not reflect the various pricing models under consideration.” Still, its a sign that Waymo is getting closer and closer to launching its autonomous ride-hailing service, which would be a significant step for the two-year-old company.

“does not reflect the various pricing models under consideration”

Waymo is expected to launch its for-profit taxi service with its fleet of hundreds of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans later this year. The company is currently testing its vehicles in Phoenix, San Francisco and the Bay Area, Detroit, Atlanta, and Kirkland, Washington.

Meanwhile, the company announced today that it’s partnering with Phoenix’s regional public transportation agency to better connect workers and residents to mass transit hubs. The Alphabet unit says it will work with the Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority to “explore mobility solutions that use self-driving technology to better connect travelers with the city’s existing buses and light rail.”

Starting in August, Waymo will begin offering rides to Valley Metro employees traveling to and from public transportation. These workers will be able to use the aforementioned ride-hailing app to summon an autonomous vehicle for these trips, much like the 400-plus members of the company’s “Early Rider” program have been doing for over a year now.

“better connect travelers with the city’s existing buses and light rail”

Waymo says it will also provide ride-hailing services to Valley Metro RideChoice travelers, which negotiates deals with taxi companies and subsidizes rates to cover groups traditionally underserved by public transit. “This will form the basis of joint research to evaluate the adoption of Waymo technology, its impact, and its long-term potential to enable greater access to public transit,” the company says.

Like its Silicon Valley brethren, Waymo is sensitive to its impact on public transportation and is trying to cushion itself from any possible blowback that suggests it is poaching transit riders or adversely affecting service. Those criticisms have been leveled at companies like Uber and Lyft, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Waymo come under scrutiny as well. And with fares as low as Uber and Lyft, it will be hard for Waymo to overcome the argument that it is drawing customers away from public transportation, which could effect how cities fund its buses and rail projects.

The transit agency in Phoenix is already preparing for that inevitability. “It will absolutely happen,” Scott Smith, Valley Metro’s CEO, told Bloomberg, when asked about the negative impact of self-driving cars on transit ridership. “But I’m not scared, I’m excited. There will be a reduction in bus use, in subway use in some areas, but expanded use in others. This is real. We’ve got to be a part of it.” 

Update July 31st 4:21 pm ET: The headline to this story has been changed to reflect the fact that Waymo is just testing fares with early riders and has yet to settle on a final pricing structure.