California will allow autonomous cars to pick up passengers

But the rides have to be free of charge.

California is launching two pilot programs that will allow autonomous vehicles to pick up passengers in the state, the San Francisco Examiner reports. One will let companies pick up passengers with their self-driving cars as long as a safety driver is behind the wheel. The other will allow for passenger pickup without a driver in the autonomous vehicle -- though the company will be required to have humans monitoring the cars remotely. "I am pleased to launch these pilot programs as part of the evolution of the passenger transportation system in California," California Public Utilities Commissioner Liane Randolph said in a statement. "Our state is home to world-class innovative companies and I look forward to these services being offered with the high level of safety that we expect from our passenger service providers."

In April, state officials began accepting applications from companies looking to test their autonomous vehicles on state roads without a driver behind the wheel. At least two companies, including Waymo, applied for such a permit. Arizona has also allowed driverless cars to operate on its roads and Waymo is gearing up to launch a driverless taxi service in the state. Uber's autonomous vehicles have been transporting passengers in Arizona since February with safety drivers on board.

California's new pilot programs require certain permits to be obtained and the Public Utilities Commission decided that companies participating in the programs can't charge for the rides they provide. Randolph said the move was made in order to differentiate these rides from other modes of transportation in an effort to encourage riders to be "more mindful of their experiences and provide critical feedback to the commission and the permit-holders."

Other program rules prohibit driverless cars from operating within airports and limit riders to being 18 years of age or older.