Waymo is dramatically expanding its robotaxi service areas in Phoenix and San Francisco to gain new customers, generate more revenue and make a compelling case that self-driving cars are more than just an expensive fad.
In Phoenix, the company’s Jaguar I-PACE autonomous vehicles will now cover a total of 300 square miles, or about twice the size of the current map and four times the size of the area the company served when it first launched its ride hailing launched. operation in 2020.
Waymo’s two separate service areas, Downtown Phoenix and the East Valley communities of Tempe, Gilbert, Mesa and Chandler, will be connected for the first time. And the company’s robotaxis will now serve the city of Scottsdale, known for its spas and golf courses.
Waymo is also adding a new pick-up spot at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, which the company considers important for its potential to make money. (Airports are usually the main destination for ridehail companies.) And it now allows up to four passengers in its self-driving vehicles.
Waymo has been testing its cars in Phoenix since 2017, and now the city represents the “largest contiguous AV area in the world,” Waymo product chief Saswat Panigrahi said in a briefing with reporters.
Phoenix represents the “largest contiguous AV area in the world,” says Waymo
In San Francisco, the company now covers the entire peninsula with a free 24/7 robotaxi service. The northeastern part of the city, including Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach, is still only accessible to Waymo’s Trusted Testers, which are employees and guests who have signed up to beta test certain features.
But operating a robotaxi service will remain difficult as long as there are restrictions on where the vehicles can drive. Human-powered services like Uber and Lyft have no such restrictions. And customers can be fickle and quickly switch to another service that promises shorter wait times and fewer restrictions on where they can travel.
The company said it hopes to eventually begin charging for rides in San Francisco once it has received a license from the California Public Utilities Commission. All in all, both cities represent the bulk of Waymo’s current business.
“We already serve 10,000 fully autonomous rides with public riders every week,” said Panigrahi. “I want to clarify that those are outside riders; this does not include the rides we offer our own employees.”
The news comes as San Francisco city officials grapple with the increasing number of self-driving vehicles on their roads. In addition to Waymo, GM’s Cruise also operates a small fleet of self-driving vehicles as part of a ridehail service. And lately, there have been a number of incidents, including blocked roads and rear buses, that have led some officials to ask the companies to delay their expansion plans.
“We already serve 10,000 fully autonomous rides with public drivers every week”
But Panigrahi said Waymo’s vehicles are “continually improving,” implying that past mistakes won’t necessarily be repeated by the company’s fleet of AI-powered taxis. “Now, as part of deploying a fully autonomous vehicle, there are clearly additional lessons we are responding to, and we will put safety first and foremost,” he said.
Recently, fog in San Francisco caused a group of five self-driving Waymo vehicles to come to a halt, causing a minor traffic jam, according to The Washington Post. Officials at the county’s public transportation bureau have written to regulators arguing that the expansion of Waymo’s service is “unreasonable,” citing recent incidents where stopped self-driving vehicles blocked traffic and hindered emergency responders.
“We’re discussing unique situations where, for example, the ideal behavior in potentially unsafe situations is sometimes to pull over to the right,” Panigrahi said. “That’s what you want a competent driver to do.”