Waymo opens its robotaxi service to all in San Francisco

26 Jun 2024

Image: © MichaelVi/Stock.adobe.com

Waymo has been steadily expanding its services in the US and claims its robotaxis are safer than human drivers, but the self-driving sector has suffered knocks due to multiple accidents.

Alphabet-owned Waymo has dropped its waitlist in San Francisco, making its robotaxis available to everyone in the city.

The company has been operating in the US city for some time, but has now made its ride-hailing app publicly available for download. Waymo said it has been “deliberately” scaling up its operations in the city over time.

“Nearly 300,000 people, including those who live, work and visit San Francisco, have signed up to ride with Waymo since we first opened a waitlist – more than a quarter of the city’s population,” Waymo said in a blogpost. “We’ve been welcoming new riders to the service incrementally and we are now excited to open it up to everyone.”

The opening of its San Francisco waitlist comes amid a period of expansion for Waymo, which has been spreading its services to more US cities this year. Waymo received approval in March to significantly expand its driverless taxi operations in the state of California. Shortly after, the company revealed plans to make its services available in four major US cities later this year.

By mid-May, Waymo said its robotaxi service had grown to more than 50,000 paid trips each week in the cities of San Francisco, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Waymo also claims its vehicles are boosting road safety and that its automated vehicles avoids high-severity collisions “better than even the most attentive human drivers”. But the automated vehicle sector has suffered multiple knocks in the US due to accidents and concerns about the safety of these vehicles.

Waymo itself issued a voluntary recall of its self-driving software in February, after two of its robotaxis hit a towed vehicle in December 2023. The company claimed the truck was being improperly towed and that this error contributed to the “unusual” incident.

The company also faced a backlash in San Francisco after one of its robotaxis drove into a busy intersection during a Chinese New Year celebration and was set on fire as a result.

But one of the most significant incidents for robotaxis occurred last year by GM-owned Cruise, when one of its robotaxis dragged and pinned a hit-and-run victim in San Francisco. This incident is being investigated by multiple US organisations and led to the company’s driverless taxi permit being suspended in the US state of California.

In January, a law firm’s investigation into the incident claimed Cruise did not disclose all of the relevant information with regulators, Wired reports.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic