California regulators gave the green light Thursday to a robot taxi service to start charging passengers for driverless rides in San Francisco. This is a first in a state that has seen dozens of companies trying to train their vehicles to drive on congested roads.
California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved Cruise, a company owned by General Motors, to launch its driverless ride-hailing system. Safety concerns stemming from Cruise's inability pick up and drop passengers at curbs in its autonomous taxis required the regulators to grant the permit. The vehicles must also double park in traffic lanes.
Initially, the ride-hailing service will only consist of 30 electric vehicles. It is limited to transporting passengers in San Francisco's less congested areas between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. These restrictions are intended to reduce the risk of robot taxis causing injury, property damage or even death. This will allow regulators to evaluate the technology before allowing the service to grow.
Waymo and Cruise, another robotic car pioneers, have already begun charging passengers to ride in autonomous vehicles in San Francisco with a human driver backup in case something goes wrong.
Cruise is now allowed to charge passengers for rides in vehicles with no other passengers than the passengers. This ambition has been pursued by a variety of technology companies as well as traditional automakers for over a decade. Driverless vehicles are being hailed as a way for taxis to be cheaper and reduce traffic deaths and accidents caused by careless human drivers.
Cruise's chief operating office Gil West, wrote in a blog post that Thursday's vote was a "big leap for our mission at Cruise to save lives and help save the environment, as well as save time and money." He stated that the company would start rolling out its fared rides slowly.
Cruise's new driverless service in San Francisco has been tightly controlled because of this. Cruise's driverless vehicle will not be permitted to operate in heavy rain and fog.
Although Cruise's application to create a driverless taxi service in San Francisco received widespread support from supporters who hope the technology will be viable in other cities around the world, some transportation experts advised the Public Utilities Commission not to proceed.
Ryan Russo, director of the Oakland transportation department, stated that many of the claims about autonomous vehicles' benefits have not been proven and that some claims are unfounded.
This point took much longer than many companies anticipated when they started working on autonomous technology.
Uber, the largest ride-hailing company, had hoped to have 75,000 self driving cars on the roads by 2019, and operate a driverless taxi fleet at least in 13 cities by 2022. This was according to court documents filed in a high profile case in which Waymo accused the company of stealing trade secrets. Uber sold its autonomous driving division in 2020 to Aurora and relies on human drivers, who are more difficult to hire since the pandemic.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that his electric car company would have a fleet of autonomous taxis by 2020. Musk still promises it will happen eventually, but that didn't happen.