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December 18, 2023
Waymo is expanding its self-driving taxi service at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
The company is now offering curbside pickups and dropoffs at Terminal 3 and Terminal 4, marking a significant step forward from the launch of the service in 2022, which saw the company’s converted autonomous Jaguar i-Paces run to and from the airport’s 44th Street and Washington Sky Train Station.
Curbside operations will prove a further challenge for the taxis, given the normal chaos of terminal traffic, but Waymo’s confidence is such that they will be fully driverless – i.e. will not have a safety monitor on board – from the outset.
However, the new service does come with a few caveats.
Initially, at least, it will operate during limited hours – specifically 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. – rather than around the clock, as has been the case with taxis operating from the Sky Train Station.
Additionally, it will only be available to select Waymo riders, although these will not necessarily be part of the group the company has traditionally classed as “trusted testers” – individuals who signed non-disclosure agreements.
Over the next few months, as Waymo gains experience in autonomous driving at the terminals, the hours are likely to be extended and the service will open out to more users.
Airports have long been identified as a lucrative target for self-driving taxi operators, with airport trips traditionally representing a major portion of business for ride-hailing companies. But they can pose specific challenges for AVs, because of the volume of traffic, the confused nature of the driving and the simple fact many motorists don’t know where they’re going.
Waymo’s experience at Phoenix so far has been a positive one, though.
Kerry Brennan, a Waymo user experience manager, said: “We’ve already served tens of thousands of airport trips since opening service to the airport Sky Train stops – but we also heard [users’] feedback for more convenience.
“So thanks to what’s been shared in surveys, research sessions and in-app feedback, as well as our technical advances, we’re thrilled to see this rollout.”
“Last year, we partnered with Waymo to become the first airport in the world to offer travelers the ability to take an autonomous vehicle to the airport,” added Chad Makovsky, Sky Harbor aviation director.
“This partnership has allowed us to develop confidence in the technology, and we’re excited to take the next step and safely expand this innovative service to our terminal curbs.”
Waymo’s progress is in stark contrast to the issues engulfing long-term self-driving taxi rival Cruise, which has just been forced to lay off more than 900 people as General Motors rethinks its strategy amid the fallout from a crash in San Francisco in October.
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