After years operating only in a corner of Phoenix, Arizona, Waymo branched out to San Francisco in 2021. However, it is hasn’t been charging for its robotaxi service there. That’s about to change. Waymo is on the verge of taking another step toward profitability (even if that’s still far, far away) and will charge riders in the San Francisco area real-life money to get a ride.
Part of the delay commencing non-free rides is that Waymo had to get a special permit from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to charge customers for its service. That has reportedly been secured.
Though, before you look for videos of people jumping in an empty Waymo and going somewhere while comparing the ride to the cost of an Uber, note that the current permit requires that a safety driver be present as well — just in case. Waymo has long had no safety drivers in its vehicles in Phoenix, and I’m sure it will be eager to get to that stage in San Francisco once enough data are collected.
If you’ve been following Waymo super closely, you know that the company has been allowed to deliver packages/goods autonomously in San Francisco since September 2021 — and get paid for that. It just wasn’t allowed to charge for the delivery of human packages.
Waymo tells TechCrunch that the way Waymo has rolled out in San Francisco is how it will roll out in other cities. “That’s the approach we took in Arizona — deeply rooted in our focus on safety — and it’s the approach we’ll take in any of the cities we operate in going forward,” Nick Smith of Waymo states. “We start with an autonomous specialist behind the wheel operating in autonomous mode, and open the rides to a select group of Trusted Testers for free, before we begin charging. Eventually we move to launching in rider only mode (without anyone else in the car). This path helps us to gain learnings about operating our service and worked well for us in Arizona, where we’ve completed tens of thousands of trips in rider only mode for thousands of riders.”
A CPUC report covering September through November 2021 indicated that Waymo had 100 autonomous electric Jaguar I-PACE SUVs on California roads at the time. We don’t have more info on how many Waymo anticipates having on the road as this paid passenger service rolls out or by the end of 2022 or 2023.
We don’t yet know what the price of Waymo rides will be in San Francisco.