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Starting this month, certain employees of Valley Metro in Phoenix, Arizona, will be able to use an autonomous shuttle from Waymo to get back and forth to work. It is part of an experiment to figure out how self-driving cars and public transportation can work together.

Autonomous Vehicles

Waymo Autonomous Shuttle Service In Phoenix Focusing First On Public Transportation Workers

Starting this month, certain employees of Valley Metro in Phoenix, Arizona, will be able to use an autonomous shuttle from Waymo to get back and forth to work. It is part of an experiment to figure out how self-driving cars and public transportation can work together.

Waymo is bravely going where no company has dared to go before. It has ordered 82,000 autonomous driving vehicles from Chrysler and Jaguar — equal to one quarter of all the taxis and limousine in revenue service in the United States — and is preparing a major push into providing transportation as a service using self-driving cars. But never start vast projects with half vast ideas, the old expression goes.

Waymo autonomous van

Waymo is approaching the future one step at a time. And what could be more appropriate for a service that expects to connect people with existing public transportation options than helping the employees who operate those transportation systems get back and forth to work?

That’s precisely what Waymo is doing in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. In a program designed to learn how self driving vehicles can connect to light rail stations and bus stops, Waymo is offering some employees of Valley Metro a chance to use its autonomous vehicles to get from their homes to work and back, according to Transportation Topics.

“This is a laboratory. We are going to see how things progress,” says Scott Smith, CEO of Valley Metro. The companies will collect data that will help them figure out how to move forward. A three month trial of the program will begin this month. A planned two year long pilot will follow, during which it may be expanded to others. For now, there will be a human driver onboard each of the self-driving cars, although Waymo is already offering fully autonomous rides to certain Phoenix area residents that have no safety driver included.

“The benefit we have with the Valley Metro folks is they are professionals who focused their careers on transportation, so we want their opinions and their insights from their educated perspective on what’s working and what isn’t,” says Shaun Stewart, Waymo’s chief business development officer. “ Scott Smith adds, “Part of the pilot program is just to figure out those logistics will work. How do you merge this vibrant company with technology into a system like Valley Metro that is an established, large public transportation organization and make it seamless?”

Phoenix has a number of underused destinations along its light rail line. Increased ridership could provide an important boost to the businesses along the route. Mesa, Arizona, is one of the places that stands to benefit. John Giles, mayor of Mesa, says “The future is here. Autonomous vehicles are not a concept anymore, they are a part of people’s lives. I love this partnership because it is not either or with autonomous vehicles and public transportation.” One beneficiary could be Arizona State University, which is planning to add facilities in Mesa.

Unlike Apple, which has dropped a Cone Of Silence around its Project Titan autonomous driving program, Waymo conducts all its testing in public and works to promote transparency within the communities it serves. Some people are still highly skeptical about self-driving cars. Letting them be part of the everyday environment will help reduce fears about the new technology.

Last fall, Waymo published a 43-page safety report that describes in detail the types of hardware and software it uses in its vehicles and how it tests and validates those tools to make sure they work correctly. Other companies (Tesla?) would do well to emulate Waymo’s culture of openness about self-driving technology.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.


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