- Waymo announced that its long-awaited self-driving taxi service is now live in the metropolitan Phoenix area, where select riders can hail and pay for a trip using an app.
- The Waymo One service is currently only available to people who participated in free test rides, but CEO John Krafcik wrote in a blog post that, "Over time, we hope to make Waymo One available to even more members of the public as we add vehicles and drive in more places."
- Axios reports that the taxi fleet will occupy about 100 of the company’s 600 Chrysler Pacifica pilot vehicles, with the rest continuing to run test rides. The rides will go in a 100-square-mile area and a Waymo employee will sit behind the wheel in case of emergency.
The anticipated launch of Waymo’s taxi service cements the Google offshoot as an industry leader, although the company is emphasizing its slow, cautious approach to expansion. Announcing the launch, Krafcik wrote "self-driving technology is new to many, so we’re proceeding carefully with the comfort and convenience of our riders in mind." Waymo has logged 10 million miles of real-world driving in autonomous cars across 25 cities, and has approval in two states — California and Arizona — to run vehicles without a driver.
Besides the Waymo employee in the car, the service’s app will have a one-touch connection to a service agent who can answer any questions. The design of the app would be familiar to users of Uber and Lyft, an attempt to smooth the transition and make the new technology feel less exotic.
That cautious approach is underlined by the limited customer base, which Krafcik said is only "hundreds" of people (each ride can carry up to three adults and one child). It’s unclear how rapidly Waymo One will be open to other users. Krafcik had previously said that businesses like Walmart, Avis and AutoNation had expressed interest in using self-driving taxis to bring customers to their locations, but the early focus is on passenger trips similar to ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber.
Given public concerns about the safety of self-driving cars, the low key approach should help Waymo avoid some criticism. It could also pave the way for other automakers who are eyeing their own ride-hailing services. General Motors’ Cruise has said it could soon launch its own service, and Daimler has announced its own pilot program in San Jose in the second half of 2019.