Cruise, Waymo get OK to launch robotaxi service in San Francisco

Tech News

The California Department of Motor Vehicles gave General Motors-backed Cruise and Alphabet-owned Waymo the green light to start charging for autonomous services offered to the public.

On Thursday, Cruise received a “driverless deployment permit,” which means it can receive compensation for services provided without a safety operator in the front seat. Waymo’s “drivered deployment permit” allows the operator to also charge money while operating an AV, but with a driver in the front seat. While they can both in theory charge now for autonomous delivery services, they are still a step away from being able to charge for robotaxi services. That last hurdle will require a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), but both Waymo and Cruise declined to comment on a potential timeline for launching a commercial ride-hailing service in SF.

They won’t be the only ones making a business out of their AVs on the roads in California. In December, 2020, autonomous delivery startup Nuro became the first company to receive a permit from the California DMV to launch a commercial driverless service on public roads in the state.

Cruise and Waymo have been testing their AVs on public roads with a safety driver since 2015 and 2014, respectively, and without since October 2020 and October 2018. Cruise was also given permission to start giving passengers driverless rides in California in June, so the company has been offering its employees free rides for the past few months. In August, Waymo began its Trusted Tester program in the city, as well, allowing San Franciscans to hail one of its autonomous, electric Jaguar I-Pace vehicles, with a safety driver on board, for free rides.

Cruise’s most recent authorization grants the company permission to use its fleet of autonomous Chevy Bolt-based vehicles for commercial services on public surface streets within certain parts of San Francisco between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. at a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour. Waymo can use its fleet of light-duty AVs within parts of SF and San Mateo counties on public roads with a speed limit of up to 65 miles per hour and with no apparent time restrictions. Both can operate in rain and light fog.

Both Cruise and Waymo declined to comment on when they plan to launch a commercial service in the Bay Area or whether they have plans to begin a delivery service. Last November, Cruise and Walmart partnered in Scottsdale, Arizona to deliver goods with a safety operator in the front seat. Waymo Via’s local delivery business has also been operational in Phoenix, Arizona since January 2020, also with a trained operator onboard, providing services for clients like UPS and AutoNation.

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