Waymo is one step closer to charging passengers for fully driverless rides in San Francisco. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has granted the company a Driverless Pilot permit, which allows it to pick up passengers in a test vehicle without a driver behind the wheel. It's only the second participant in the CPUC's Driverless Permit program, with Cruise being the first.
By securing the permit, Waymo now has the authority to offer driverless rides throughout San Francisco, portions of Daly City, as well as in portions of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. Its vehicles are allowed to go as fast as 65 miles per hour and can operate 24/7, but the company can't charge for the rides just yet. Waymo told Engadget that it will begin offering free rides without a driver to select members of the public in the coming weeks. To note, the company has been offering free driverless rides to the public in Phoenix since 2020.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles recently authorized Waymo to charge for fully autonomous rides. However, the company still has to secure a Driverless Deployment permit — the next step after this one — from the CPUC to be able to start doing so. The agency gave Cruise a deployment permit for robotaxis in June, almost a year after it was allowed to offer free rides to the public.
Like Cruise, Waymo likely won't be allowed to operate its vehicles during times of heavy fog and rain when it gets its deployment permit. Robotaxi companies have to find a way to overcome autonomous vehicles' performance issues in bad weather, however, if they want to be able to service more places and more people. Waymo is taking steps to address the problem and recently announced that it's using its latest car sensor arrays to create real-time weather maps of Phoenix and San Francisco. The Alphabet-owned company will use the data it gathers to improve its Driver AI's ability to handle rough weather and to better understand the limits of its vehicles.