Robo-taxis take another step toward commercial use in California

Waymo now has permission to carry passengers in its self-driving vehicles on public roads in California.

The development takes Waymo another step closer to being able to accept paying passengers for rides in California in the same way that it has been doing with a limited robo-taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona.

A permit recently granted to Alphabet-owned Waymo by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allows the company to join a test program called the Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot.

Confirming the news to Digital Trends, a Waymo spokesperson said: “The CPUC permit allows us to participate in their pilot program, giving Waymo employees the ability to hail our vehicles and bring guests on rides within our South Bay territory [in San Francisco].”

The spokesperson added, “This is the next step on our path to eventually expand and offer more Californians opportunities to access our self-driving technology, just as we have gradually done with Waymo One in Metro Phoenix.”

News of the permit comes a year after the CPUC began inviting applications for its pilot program. The program’s guidelines mean that at this stage, companies are not allowed to charge passengers for any of the rides. That sets it apart from Waymo’s service in neighboring Arizona, where officials have allowed the company to charge for rides. In all of the services, a safety driver still has to be behind the wheel should anything go wrong during a ride.

CPUC commissioner Liane M. Randolph said last year that she was pleased to launch the pilot program “as part of the evolution of the passenger transportation system in California,” adding, “Our state is home to world-class innovative companies and I look forward to these services being offered with the high level of safety that we expect from our passenger service providers.”

California has already handed out permits to more than 50 companies wishing to test their autonomous car technology on its public roads, but Waymo appears to be the first company to receive a permit for taking passengers inside its vehicles. Up to now, only those directly connected with the vehicle — for example a safety driver and/or an engineer — have been traveling inside Waymo’s self-driving cars

Giving members of the public a chance to ride in a driverless car helps to get people more comfortable with the technology, while at the same time providing companies with useful data on how people interact with it.

For California, setting up programs like this helps to keep the state at the forefront of driverless-car development as the various players engaged in the development of the technology seek out places to test their vehicles.

Waymo will use its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to carry passengers, as well as its autonomous Jaguar I-Pace cars.

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