Waymo expands robotaxi service to LA
Waymo has announced it plans to expand its ride-hailing robotaxi service to Los Angeles.
“When we think about our next cities, Los Angeles jumps out,” said Waymo’s co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana. “LA is a remarkable, vibrant place – and Waymo’s experience leaves us best positioned to tackle its driving complexity. We’re working closely with Angelenos to ensure we’re addressing the transportation needs and priorities of their communities as we bring the Waymo Driver to LA.”
As the blog points out, that complexity incorporates “roads that include crisscrossing freeway ramps, narrow surface streets, high numbers of unprotected left turns, and blinding sunsets down its east-west roads.” But with millions of testing miles driven autonomously under its belt, Waymo says it is ready to take on the challenge.
At present, the company’s operations are focused on San Francisco and Phoenix, Arizona.
In San Francisco, Jaguar i-Pace SUVs fitted with Waymo’s autonomous tech have been providing employees with driverless rides since March.
In Phoenix, the company has been running commercialized driverless services in the city’s East Valley for some time, and in August it confirmed it was expanding its service to the downtown area for members of the public who sign up to its “trusted tester” program.
With approximately 13 million residents, the Los Angeles metropolitan area will present a more complicated driving environment. Waymo claims it “as one of the largest ride-hailing service areas in the world and the third largest in the U.S., with an estimated market opportunity of $2 billion in 2022.”
Although the company has not yet revealed when services might start, it says it wants to run “round the clock” and has already made some preparations. It’s been mapping areas of LA since 2019 and claims to know several areas well, including Downtown and Miracle Mile, Koreatown, Santa Monica, Westwood and West Hollywood. However, in terms of a timeline, all the blog post commits to is a pledge to “begin driving autonomously in several central districts over the coming months.”
The company’s experience in San Francisco means regulatory approval will not be the hurdle that it might have been in a different state. Under California state law, permits from the Department of Motor Vehicles are required to test and deploy AVs with and without human operators. Waymo already holds these.
Permits from the California Public Utilities Commission are required to charge for robotaxi services. Although Waymo has been granted one to operate with human safety monitors, it does not yet have one to do so driverless.
Waymo won’t be the first self-driving company to operate in LA. Earlier this year, Motional announced a pilot with Uber Eats in which its autonomous Hyundai Ioniq 5 carries out deliveries from a number of outlets in Santa Monica.