California allows companies to charge for autonomous car rides

It's the first time companies have been able to charge for driverless rides.

One of the most common potential scenarios involving autonomous cars is using them as driverless taxis; both Uber and Lyft have made self-driving cars a big part of their future strategies. The possibility of hopping into a ride without a driver just got a little closer, at least in California — as spotted by The Verge, California approved two new autonomous driving programs last week that let companies charge fares for autonomous rides.

The two new programs are the “Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Program” and the “Driverless Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Program,” both of which allow approved participants to offer “passenger service, shared rides, and accept monetary compensation for rides in autonomous vehicles.”

Naturally, interested companies need to get the necessary permits and show the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that they’re taking the proper safety measure. They’ll need to get a AV Deployment Permit from California’s DMV as well as one of two permits issued by CPUC. Companies are also required to submit trip data on a quarterly basis, including anonymized pick-up and drop-off locations for individual trips. Companies will also need to provide data and reports on availability and volume of wheelchair-accessible rides, service levels to “disadvantaged” communities, fuel type and electric charging details, vehicle miles traveled both with and without passengers and “engagement with advocates for accessibility and disadvantaged communities.”

Permit-holders will also be required to submit a passenger safety plan to outline how they’ll minimize risk to passengers, including people with “limited mobility, vision impairments, or other disabilities.” Finally, permit-holders will also need to submit COVID-19 emergency plans detailing how they’ll prevent the transmission of the coronavirus. These new programs should open up the driverless ride-share market beyond its current small footprint — but given that autonomous vehicle technology is still very much a work in progress, chances are most California residents won’t be getting into a car without a driver any time soon.