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Waymo expansion towards Peninsula sees mixed response

Planned expansion of Waymo service sees mixed reactions
Planned expansion of Waymo service sees mixed reactions 03:51

Even as driverless cars become more common throughout San Francisco, people still tend to stop and stare. But soon, spotting something at an intersection with nobody at the wheel could become a more regular occurance beyond city limits.

Rick Gepilano is always looking for the next best mode of transportation. He rides the bus, uses an e-scooter, and even uses a ride-hailing service if the weather gets nasty.  Whatever makes things easier is critical when your commute is everyday.

"I work two jobs and am able to rest in between riding the bus," said Gepilano.

With Waymo expanding to the Peninsula for the first time, Rick believes it could become part of his regular commute to San Bruno if the ride fare makes economic sense.

Waymo is expanding its at a critical juncture to determine who will own the robo-taxi world.

"The future is driverless. All of us know that. It's just a matter of when," said Ahmed Banafa, a professor of engineering at San Jose State.

But it's not full throttle forward for Waymo just yet as lawmakers, unions, and first responders have voiced various concerns - chief among them road safety.

San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa opposes Waymo's expansion. He wants more data and transparency related to any safety issues, near crashes, and more.

"We need to put in guardrails. That means Waymo needs to communicate with police chiefs, fire chiefs. They have to communicate with the department of public works," said Canepa.

Waymo sent us this statement in response, "While we have ambitious plans, expanding our service across the Peninsula will take time as we prioritize a careful and gradual rollout. As always, we'll take an incremental approach to expansion, following our safety framework and continuing to work closely with city officials, local communities, first responders, and our partners to ensure we're offering a service that's safe, accessible, and valuable to riders."

"It's a very tight rope they're walking to gain the trust, and market share before Tesla comes into play and Cruise comes back," said Banafa.

Part of the conundrum for Gepilano is that what could make his commute easier and cheaper one day, could also come at a cost.

"I can see Uber and Lyft drivers losing their jobs because you have automated cars moving out there," said Gepilano.

Waymo's expansion in the Bay Area outside of San Francisco will begin with 7 cities in the Peninsula all the way to Sunnyvale.

"Once you gain this trust, people get used to it, and are not afraid of seeing it on their roads, then the human driver disappears. Then it's really driverless autonomous cars," said Banafa.

The company has the green-light from state regulators to go beyond that to 22 cities including the South Bay.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are working to advance Senate Bill 915, which would give local governments the power over state regulators to permit and regulate autonomous vehicles.

The pilot program in the Peninsula will only be available to Waymo employees at first, who will be able to order trips anywhere from San Francisco down to the border of San Mateo and Burlingame.

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