Waymo rides in San Francisco will start costing money soon, according to TechCrunch. The robotaxi spinoff from Alphabet has obtained a necessary permit from the California Public Utilities Commission that allows it to charge customers for their trips, something that should start happening later in March.
Originally, Waymo started teaching its robotaxis to drive in the flat, sunny expanse of Chandler, Arizona. And in October 2020, the company finally started offering an actual commercial ride-hailing service in the area.
Ironically, there are limits to the lessons you can learn in such a car-centric environment. Training an autonomous vehicle is all about mastering the edge cases, and there are many more of those in the dense, chaotic, pedestrian-filled environment of San Francisco than an Arizona suburb.
In fall 2021, Waymo successfully applied for a deployment permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Until then, the robotaxi startup had a testing permit, first issued in 2014. This allowed it to test its autonomous vehicles on public roads, at first with a safety driver on board and then in 2018 without that human in the driver’s seat. But Waymo could not carry passengers.
Waymo’s DMV deployment permit allows the company to operate within parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties, even in light rain and light fog and at speeds of up to 65 mph (105 km/h).
But that deployment permit on its own was not sufficient to begin commercial operations—it also required the CPUC’s sign-off. And now Waymo has that, although customers who hail rides in San Francisco will find they’re sharing the cabin with a human safety operator, per the permit’s conditions.