Google Launches Commercial Self-Driving Taxi

Waymo takes its first steps into true ride-hailing
Photograph courtesy of Waymo

PHOENIX -- The first commercially available autonomous vehicle (AV) taxi service is here. Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, launched the service in the Phoenix metro area on Dec. 5.

The move is a big, yet measured, step for Google. The service will only serve riders who were part of Waymo’s early rider program, and although the cars drive themselves, they will be monitored by a human sitting behind the wheel—just in case.

To summon a Waymo vehicle, eligible customers open a ride-hailing app similar to Uber or Lyft. Cars are available 24/7 and up to three adults and one child can travel at once. Riders can contact support staff through the app via phone and chat functions.

Waymo has been testing AVs since 2009 and has been a leader in the race to put consumers in AVs for years. But even with the company’s fast progress, this initial launch of the company’s taxi service is still testing the waters. Waymo is still testing both the cars and consumers. Eventually the human monitor will be peeled away, and the service will expand to all consumers, not just early riders.

The journey to this point has not been without bumps in the road. Just last month, a Waymo vehicle struck a motorcycle driver while attempting to avoid another vehicle. The motorcyclist was sent to the hospital, but was not killed, and Google clarified afterward that the human monitor in the driver’s seat was responsible for the car’s actions at the time, not the self-driving software.

Convenience stores could potentially see a dip in traffic in markets where ride-hailing AV services such as Waymo’s are launched. More ride-hailing consumers could mean fewer pit stops and less impulse shopping if they are being ferried straight to their destination. However, it is too early to tell exactly how Waymo will affect the transportation ecosystem in markets where it launches.

Google is not the only company pursuing new kinds of transportation. Uber appears to have pivoted away from AVs in lieu of a flying taxi service the firm has claimed will launch in 2020.

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