Waymo Begins Los Angeles Ride-Hailing Service With Free Rides

Alphabet’s self-driving car division Waymo has confirmed plans to expand its operations later this year to a total of four major cities in the US.

And the same time, Waymo announced in blog post that starting on Thursday 14 March, its “fully autonomous ride-hailing service will be available to select members of the public in Los Angeles,” and these initial rides will be free of charge.

The move comes amid some unwelcome news for self-driving vehicles, in particular Waymo rival Cruise (owned by GM), after a pedestrian was struck and badly injured in an accident last year involving one of its vehicles.

Los Angeles

Waymo also had a minor issue last month when it recalled 444 vehicles, after two of its vehicles operating in Phoenix, Arizona made contact with a “pickup truck being towed backwards and at an angle relative to the towing vehicle” within minutes of each other last December.

Waymo’s expansion in the United States is still on track, and last week it started an initial rider-only testing in Austin, Texas (with plans to launch a full service later this year).

And from today (14 March), Waymo is to begin its ride-hailing program (known as Waymo One) in LA, by offering rides in a 63 square mile area from Santa Monica to Downtown LA, and will scale its operations over time.

This comes after it received approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) earlier this month to start Waymo One in Los Angeles and a few cities near San Francisco.

Free rides

Waymo said these initial rides in LA will be free, and it will transition to paid service in the coming weeks.

Waymo said it would permanently welcome riders into its LA service, “gradually onboarding the more than 50,000 people on our LA waitlist and continuing to hand out temporary codes at local events throughout the city.”

“Once an unimaginable future, autonomous driving is now a real-world way of getting around for tens of thousands of people each week,” said Waymo co-CEO, Tekedra Mawakana.

“After achieving key milestones in each city, we’re so excited to bring the safety, comfort and delight of our Waymo One service to more people in Los Angeles and Austin this year,” said Mawakana.

Waymo had begun offering a limited service in Los Angeles in October 2023, and since that time, the service has been delivered 15,000 fully autonomous rides to that city.

Austin, Texas

Los Angeles was the Waymo’s third ride-hailing city, after Phoenix and San Francisco.

Austin will be the fourth, and currently Waymo is operating fully autonomous rides in that Texas city across 43 square miles, encompassing the heart of downtown, Barton Hills, Riverside, East Austin, and Hyde Park.

Waymo vehicle waiting at a railroad crossing in Austin, Texas.
Image credit Waymo

At this stage of testing, the Alphabet firm is only providing rides to Waymo employees before opening Waymo One in Austin to members of the public later this year.

“Our next steps are consistent with how we’ve built our service in other cities, focusing on community partnerships, engagement with policymakers and first responders and incremental expansion supported by our rigorous safety standards,” Waymo stated.

“Waymo vehicles have now driven over 10 million miles without a human driver behind the wheel and billions more in simulation – an unprecedented dataset of safe driving experience that has helped generalize the Waymo Driver’s capabilities to Los Angeles and Austin,” it concluded.

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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