- Valley Metro, the Phoenix regional transit authority, is partnering with Waymo, the autonomous vehicle (AV) arm of Google parent company Alphabet, to explore how autonomous vehicles (AVs) could fill transportation gaps.
- The pilot launches this month and will test first mile/last mile options to connect passengers with Valley Metro. Users will request an AV through the Waymo app and receive transportation to transit stops. Valley Metro employees will test the system first, then underserved groups in the RideChoice program will join in a few months.
- Waymo hopes to open the program to the general public at some point in the future.
While Waymo has been doing numerous other AV tests — including fleet trucks in Atlanta and a shuttle program in Phoenix — partnering with a transit agency is new territory.
"This is the first partnership between a public transit system and a private autonomous vehicle company that will provide a mobility service outside of a controlled environment," Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith said in a statement. "Think of it as the start of mobility on demand or mobility as a service."
Waymo said in the pilot announcement that it aims to be "an enabler rather than a disruptor: to help everyone better utilize the investments and infrastructure that already exist today." By partnering with transit from the get-go, AV operators could fend off some of the criticism that ride-share faced a couple years after launching.
Many view ride-share as direct competition to transit. More alternative transportation providers are realizing opportunities to partner with transit agencies — especially on first mile/last mile solutions — instead of competing with them, such as several municipalities in California adding on-demand microtransit. AVs could develop a large presence in that same space.
"Technology is fueling a transportation revolution," Phoenix Mayor and Valley Metro Rail Chair Thelda Williams said in a statement. "Valley Metro and Waymo are joining forces to pilot autonomous vehicle trips to better understand the purpose of real-life trips and connectivity. AV technology, combined with public transit’s expertise, will help bolster and reinvent transportation."