San Francisco robotaxis get the green light to operate 24/7

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Google’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise have both received the green light from California’s regulatory body to implement 24/7 fare-based services for fully driverless rides in San Francisco.

The pivotal decision was made by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which voted 3 to 1 in favour of granting the expansion of driverless services for the two tech giants. The CPUC says it meticulously evaluated the companies’ adherence to licensing requisites and considered public opinions both for and against the proposal.

Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, revealed its intention to gradually welcome more riders to its service. The company, which already boasts a waitlist of over 100,000 individuals, is poised to initiate fare charges for rider-exclusive trips within the city in the coming weeks.

Cognisant of the substantial demand expected, Waymo aims to ensure a reliable service by cautiously rolling out its fully autonomous rides to the public. Waymo also expressed its commitment to extending these innovative travel options to a broader audience over time.

In a similar vein, Kyle Vogt, the CEO of Cruise, affirmed the company’s dedication to fostering partnerships with regulators to fulfil their shared vision of providing safer, cleaner, and more accessible transportation alternatives.

At present, Waymo operates a fleet of 200 autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, while Cruise boasts a fleet of 300 self-driving cars.

Before securing approval from the CPUC, Cruise was limited to offering fare-based rides to passengers within specific zones of San Francisco from 10 PM to 6 AM, without the presence of a safety driver. Waymo, on the other hand, could charge passengers throughout the day but only when a safety driver was onboard.

CPUC President Alice Reynolds and Commissioners Darcie Houck and John Reynolds voted in favour of the expansion, citing the potential benefits and advancements in autonomous technology. 

Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma dissented, contending that the commission lacked comprehensive information to fully assess the implications of self-driving vehicles on first responders.

The approval of 24/7 fare-based services without the need for a safety driver represents a remarkable leap forward for the autonomous vehicle industry. Public concerns regarding safety were addressed, while testimonies highlighting the potential for increased independence for elderly individuals and those with disabilities underscored the transformative nature of this technological progression.

As Waymo and Cruise prepare to take the next steps, eyes remain fixed on their journey to shape the future of transportation and revolutionise the way we navigate our cities.

(Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash)

See also: Waymo announces Austin as its fourth major city

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