Waymo, the autonomous vehicle unit of Alphabet, got the green light to start charging for rides in its autonomous taxis in San Francisco. The California Public Utilities Commission awarded the company a permit that allows them to charge for rides as long as there’s a human safety driver behind the wheel.
California requires that AV companies obtain a series of permits in order to start earning money from their autonomous vehicles. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles oversees test permits, while the CPUC determines when those companies can start commercial businesses. The permit obtained by Waymo is one of the last steps required before the company can launch a fully fleshed-out robotaxi business. The company will need to obtain a separate permit to charge for rides in its driverless vehicles too.
In a statement, Waymo said it would start charging for rides within “the next few weeks.” The company has been providing free rides around San Francisco to a select group of “trusted testers” since last August. These are members of the public, who are not Waymo employees, who sign non-disclosure agreements as a precursor before getting to ride in the company’s autonomous vehicles. Waymo says it has “hundreds” of people involved in its trusted tester program.
The vehicles will be available “24/7,” Waymo spokesperson Nicholas Smith wrote in an email. (Cruise, a rival AV company, has a permit to provide rides to members of the public in its fully driverless vehicles in San Francisco, but only at night.)
Waymo is currently testing at least a hundred vehicles in downtown San Francisco and in and around Google’s offices in Mountain View. Last year, the company logged the most miles driven autonomously of all the companies permitted to test in the state: 2.3 million miles, a huge increase over 2020, when it had about 629,000 miles driven, and even the pre-pandemic year of 2019, with 1.45 million.
Waymo is still in the early stages of commercializing its service in the Bay Area. From November through January, Waymo reported providing rides to 1,503 passengers, according to the CPUC.
There have been some notable moments, such as the dead-end road in the Richmond district that seemed to flummox the company’s vehicles. There was also an incident when a Waymo vehicle in manual mode struck a pedestrian. (The injuries were non-life-threatening, police said.) And the company recently successfully obtained an injunction to keep secret some of the safety details in its testing application to the state.