Waymo can now charge for robotaxi rides in LA and on San Francisco freeways

Waymo received approval Friday afternoon from the California Public Utilities Commission to operate a commercial robotaxi service in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Peninsula and on San Francisco freeways.

The approval removes the last barrier for the Alphabet company to charge for rides in these expanded areas. Importantly, it opens up new territory for Waymo in one of the country’s largest cities and unlocks a route to San Francisco International Airport, which is located south of the city.

Waymo has operated a commercial service 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the city of San Francisco since receiving approval from the commission in August. Waymo is also allowed to give people free driverless rides in parts of Los Angeles. But until today’s approval, it was not able to charge for rides in Los Angeles.

Last month, the CPUC’s Consumer Protection and Enforcement Division suspended Waymo’s application to expand its robotaxi service in Los Angeles and San Mateo counties for up to 120 days to provide extra time for review. The CPUC said it received 81 responses and five protests, which the agency said “required a little extra time beyond the 30 days to carefully review and incorporate into the staff decision.” The five protests came from 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.

Waymo, which kicked off a community tour of Los Angeles in October, was wrapping up its final neighborhood stop as it awaited final approval.

waymo tekedra mawakana strictly vc

Image Credits: TechCrunch

The CPUC decision comes just a day after Waymo co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana discussed the future of the company and the broader autonomous vehicle industry onstage at StrictlyVC LA. She said that Waymo robotaxis had received a “warm welcome” in the city with more than 15,000 people using the service. Mawakana said that trip data showed customers were using the service for everyday errands — evidence that she said suggested the service would do well commercially in Los Angeles.

“It’s exciting to see that like 2,000 of those trips are people going to very, very basic errands, right, which is that’s going to run an errand in a Waymo is like using it for your life,” Mawakana said. “Similarly, people are taking it to restaurants, bars at the same number, like 2,000 trips. And then 300 of the trips are people going to school, college as well as K through 12. So we like that signal that people aren’t just giving us a warm welcome, but they are really integrating into their lives.”

She said 50,000 people have joined the waitlist to use the service in Los Angeles.

Mawakana suggested Thursday evening that Waymo wouldn’t immediately start charging for rides in Los Angeles if it received approval (which of course happened a day later).

“We will, as we did in San Francisco, expand our service before we start charging,” she said. “And I mean, we sort of show up and you get to experience this for a couple of months or several months without paying. And then we have that moment of truth, which we went through in San Francisco, which is we start charging, and then we figure out how many people [have] really integrated it into their lives. What’s the price point they’re willing to pay?”

You can watch the full interview below.

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