Self-driving taxis get 24/7 access in San Francisco!

A Waymo self-driving car parked on a street in San Francisco on May 1, 2023.

A Waymo self-driving car parked on a street in San Francisco on May 1, 2023.

Dear Commons Community,

San Francisco is the first city in the world where two separate self-driving taxi companies can offer paid rides after a historic vote by the California Public Utilities Commission Thursday.

The vote means Waymo, owned by Google parent company Alphabet, and Cruise, owned by General Motors, can now open up the entire city to paid ridership in their fleets of robot cars.  As reported by USA Today.

“Today’s permit marks the true beginning of our commercial operations in San Francisco,” Tekedra Mawakana, co-CEO of Waymo, said in a statement.

“Offering a commercial, 24/7 driverless ride-hail service across San Francisco is a historic industry milestone –– putting Cruise in a position to compete with traditional ride-hail,” Prashanthi Raman, Cruise vice president of global government affairs, said in a statement.

Autonomous vehicle taxis also are operating in other cities, though in some areas only for testers, not paying customers. In Phoenix, Waymo offers ride-hailing in its cars across a 40-square mile area in downtown Phoenix and a 50-square mile area in Chandler, Arizona, though not on freeways. Earlier this month it announced plans to offer rides in Austin as well and has plans for Los Angeles.

Cruise offers rides in Austin and Phoenix and plans to expand into Houston and Dallas, Raman said.

In San Francisco, self-driving electric vehicles already are a common sight in many parts of the city. Waymo has been doing driverless test drives since 2018; Cruise began in 2022. Approximately 500 self-driving cars are on the streets of San Francisco each day.

Until the vote, Cruise was allowed to offer paid rides in portions of the city between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., while Waymo offered free trips to about 1,000 people who had signed up for the service. Now both companies will be able to offer paid trips 24 hours a day. Freeways are still off-limits.

The 3-to-1 vote came after seven hours of public testimony and despite protests by San Francisco city officials, who have said the self-driving cars pose safety hazards when they become confused in emergency situations such as fires or downed power lines.

Supporters say the self-driving cars are safer than human drivers.

Most of the self-driving cars seen on the streets of San Francisco at this point are empty, as the cars do a seemingly endless series of test drives – to the amusement, annoyance and sometimes anger of local residents.

Congratulations to San Francisco for giving self-driving taxis a chance although some believe their future is uncertain!



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