Waymo's robotaxi service to hit the streets in Los Angeles

Waymo is now allowed to commence fare-based driverless passenger service operations in specified regions effective immediately
The image shows a Jaguar I-Pace, Waymo Ones cab. — Waymo
The image shows a Jaguar I-Pace, Waymo One's cab. — Waymo

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has granted Waymo permission to extend its robotaxi operations into Los Angeles and additional areas within the San Francisco Peninsula, despite facing opposition from various local groups and governmental bodies. 

The regulatory body's decision, outlined in its official statement (PDF), allows Waymo to commence fare-based driverless passenger service operations in specified regions effective immediately. CNBC highlights that while Waymo has been conducting trials of its driverless vehicles in these areas for some time, this ruling permits the company to charge passengers for their robotaxi journeys.

Acknowledging the receipt of protest letters from entities such as the City of South San Francisco, the County of San Mateo, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, and the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, the CPUC revealed that these objections were lodged before the agency temporarily halted Waymo's expansion efforts in February for a period of up to 120 days. 

Read more: Waymo One in San Francisco  Crowd vandalises a driverless Waymo Jaguar I-Pace

This suspension was initiated following Waymo's disclosure of a vehicle recall due to two robotaxi collisions with a backward-facing pickup truck being towed in December 2023, attributed to incorrect software predictions. Waymo was required to develop and implement a remedy across its fleet.

Expressing reservations about the CPUC's decision, LA Mayor Karen Bass conveyed her concerns in a letter (PDF) to the regulatory body, highlighting the lack of input from local jurisdictions like Los Angeles in autonomous vehicle (AV) deployment decisions. 

Similarly, David Canepa, Vice President of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, expressed confusion and suspicion regarding the rapid reversal of the CPUC's decision within just 11 days of suspension. He criticised the lack of dialogue to address local concerns and ensure public safety.

In response to these developments, Waymo spokesperson Julia Ilina reassured the public in a statement to Wired, emphasising the company's commitment to an "incremental approach" in launching its service in LA and clarifying that there are no immediate plans for expansion in San Francisco. 

Ilina also affirmed Waymo's dedication to collaborating closely with city officials, local communities, and partners. Despite the opposition, she noted that the CPUC received letters of support for Waymo's expansion from 81 organisations and individuals, including groups advocating for the elderly and people with disabilities, local community councils, and transportation advocates.