Waymo Expands Phoenix Driverless Service, Offers San Fran Staff Rides

Alphabet’s Waymo division on Wednesday announced it has started offering driverless rides to its staff in San Francisco.

In the same announcement, Waymo also revealed it was expanding its ongoing trial of autonomous driving in Arizona to include downtown Phoenix.

It was back in August 2021 when Waymo expanded its testing program beyond Phoenix and opened its self-driving taxis to some San Francisco residents.

San Francisco

But it has not been a smooth ride in the Californian city.

Last October, self-driving vehicles from Waymo began annoying local residents in San Francisco, when they started clogging a normally quiet cul-de-sac in the city, apparently due to confusion over traffic regulations.

Each day dozens of Waymo cars entered 15th Avenue, which was a “dead-end” street where they are obliged to perform a multi-point turn and exit the way they came.

The firm fixed that problem after it came to light.

Now Waymo is allowing its staff to use the taxi service in the California city.

“We’re particularly excited about this next phase of our journey as we officially bring our rider-only technology to San Francisco – the city many of us at Waymo call home,” said co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana.

“We’ve learned so much from our San Francisco Trusted Testers over the last six months, not to mention the innumerable lessons from our riders in the years since launching our fully autonomous service in the East Valley of Phoenix,” said Mawakana. “Both of which have directly impacted how we bring forward our service as we welcome our first employee riders in SF.”

Waymo did not elaborate on when or whether it plans to charge customers for rides in San Francisco.

However it should be noted it has applied for a regulatory permit to do so.

Phoenix expansion

“While removing the human driver from our vehicles in San Francisco is a significant milestone, this is not Waymo’s first time deploying fully autonomous vehicles in a city,” said the firm in the blog post.

“This step we’re taking in SF comes from years of experience deploying our technology in the East Valley of Phoenix, beginning first with our Early Rider Program (now Trusted Tester) in 2017, then introducing fully autonomous public rides in 2020, to serving hundreds of rides weekly.”

In May 2021 a self-driving taxi from Waymo caused problems after it reportedly got confused when it encountered a coned-off road.

And to make matters worse, when roadside assistance was dispatched, the confused Waymo vehicle repeatedly drove off from the Waymo engineer.

Despite glitches likes this, Waymo said that its commitment to Phoenix and the community there remains strong, and it will soon be expanding to another area: Downtown Phoenix.

“All of this cumulative experience, not to mention the valuable feedback from our riders, allows us to continue to build incredible operational expertise in deploying and operating a fully autonomous fleet,” said Waymo. “Notably, this is the first time any company is simultaneously running fully autonomous ride-hailing operations in multiple cities, and we look forward to being able to serve more riders and continue learning from them.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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