Two trailblazing ride-hailing services are heading toward uncharted territory as they seek regulatory approval to transport passengers around the clock throughout one of the most densely populated US cities in vehicles that will have no one sitting in the driver’s seat.
If Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, and Waymo, a spinoff from Google, reach their goal before year’s end, San Francisco would become the first US city with two totally driverless services competing against Uber, Lyft and traditional taxis—all of which depend on people to control the automobiles.
But Cruise and Waymo still must navigate around potential roadblocks, including complaints about their vehicles making unexpected, traffic-clogging stops that threaten to inconvenience other travelers and imperil public safety.
Cruise already has been charging people for driverless rides in less congested parts of San Francisco during night-time hours since last June. Waymo has been giving free driverless rides in a broader swath of the city while awaiting clearance to begin charging passengers in robotic vehicles that Google secretly began working on 14 years ago.
The effort to unleash dueling driverless services throughout San Francisco is shaping up to be just the first step in a far more ambitious expansion centered in California—a state where more than 35 million vehicles driven by humans are currently registered.
Cruise recently applied for permission to begin testing its robotic vehicles throughout California at speeds of up to 88 kilometers per hour—40 kilometers per hour above the maximum speed for its robotaxis in San Francisco. Waymo is already testing its driverless cars in Los Angeles, the second largest city in the US.
The California push comes on top of Cruise starting to test its robotaxis in Austin, Texas, as well as Phoenix, where since 2020 Waymo’s driverless ride-hailing service has been carrying passengers on Arizona roads that are far less congested and challenging than the streets of San Francisco.
“We still have work to do, but it’s improving at a pretty rapid rate,” Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt told The Associated Press. “As it gets fine-tuned, it will get really elegant over time, but also the safety continues to improve.” AP
Image credits: AP