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Bay Area-based Waymo expands robotaxi service with free rides in parts of Los Angeles

Waymo gets approval to expand self-driving service on the Peninsula
Waymo gets approval to expand self-driving service on the Peninsula 02:44

Google spinoff Waymo is bringing its robotaxi service to the streets of Los Angeles, offering free rides to some of the roughly 50,000 people who have signed up to use the company's driverless cars.

On Thursday, the Bay Area-based company is expanding into Los Angeles, the second largest U.S. city, seven months after California regulators authorized its robotaxis to begin charging for around-the-clock rides throughout San Francisco. 

That authorization came despite objections from local officials who asserted the driverless vehicles posed unacceptable risks to public safety.

Although Waymo isn't charging for rides in its robotaxis in Los Angeles to start, the company said in a blog post announcing the expansion that it will eventually collect fares from passengers there too. The service is also approved to expand in the Bay Area, with its area of coverage growing beyond San Francisco to include part of San Mateo County, but Waymo has yet to move its robotaxi service into the Peninsula

"Eventually we want to bring Waymo's fully autonomous, rider-only service to more people in more places, including expanding to additional Bay Area cities, but we have no immediate plans at this time," according to a spokesperson for Waymo.

While San Mateo County officials has appealed the CPUC's approval of Waymo's expansion, the CPUC has not suspended Waymo's permits in either San Mateo or LA counties.     

The CPUC approval came after the agency issued a 120-day suspension of Waymo's expansion request mid-February, though officials said that pause was so the commission would have ample time to review the request and not as a punitive measure.

Waymo also hopes to begin commercial operations in Austin, Texas, later this year, a goal that makes its robotaxi service available in four major U.S. cities 15 years after it began as a secret project within Google. Waymo's robotaxis have been charging for rides in Phoenix since 2020.

Initially, Waymo's free rides in Los Angeles will cover a 63-square-mile area spanning from Santa Monica to downtown.

The worst fears about robotaxis were realized in San Francisco last October when a vehicle operated by Cruise, a driverless ride-hailing service owned by General Motors, dragged a pedestrian who was hit by another car operated by a human for 20 feet while traveling at roughly 7 mph before coming to a stop. 

The collision set off a string of events that placed the company's future into question. On Oct. 24, the California Public Utilities Commission pulled Cruise's driverless testing permit. Cruise then pulled all its driverless cars off the road nationwide. The company's future remains in doubt as it faces a U.S. Justice Department inquiry focused on the crash.

Waymo's robotaxis so far haven't been involved in any major accidents, though last month San Francisco police confirmed a collision involving a Waymo vehicle and a bicyclist, but the cyclist left the scene on their own before police officers arrived. In another February incident, a Waymo autonomous vehicle was set on fire after it was vandalized by a group of people in San Francisco's Chinatown, according to firefighters. 

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