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California approves Waymo's request to expand driverless robotaxis

Ryan Macasero, The Mercury News on

Published in Automotive News

California state regulators on Friday approved Waymo’s request to allow driverless taxis to operate on the Peninsula.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) stated in a disposition letter that Waymo’s driverless taxis can begin picking up fared passengers immediately.

Waymo’s updated passenger safety plan and the new features and enhanced protocols “demonstrate Waymo’s attention to continuous evaluation and improvement of its technology, safety practices, and aspects of its operations involving humans,” the letter said.

The commission’s Consumer Enforcement and Protection Division (CEPD) found that “Waymo has complied with the requirements of the deployment decision.”

The company will be allowed to operate on roads and highways along the Peninsula, as well as in Los Angeles. The move comes despite pushback from residents and local elected leaders. San Mateo County officials expressed safety concerns. Autonomous vehicle companies, in particular Waymo’s competitor Cruise, have experienced safety problems in San Francisco, including several instances where driverless cars caused traffic congestion and impeded emergency responders.

“I find this to be egregious and disingenuous,” said San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa, one of the loudest voices against autonomous vehicles on the Peninsula. “I thought the CPUC gave us 120 days to sit down with Waymo and discuss our concerns here in San Mateo County… We have had no talks to address our concerns and it says to me that neither Waymo nor the CPUC care about local concerns over the public safety of residents.”

In January, Waymo, now a subsidiary of Google parent firm Alphabet, applied to the CPUC, which regulates robotaxis along with the DMV, to begin taking paid fares down the Peninsula to the Sunnyvale city line.

 

Waymo already received DMV approval in January.

“We’re grateful to the CPUC for this vote of confidence in our operations, which paves the way for the deployment of our commercial Waymo One service in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Peninsula,” a company spokesperson said in an email to this news organization.

When asked about a deployment date, Waymo said, “We have no immediate plans to expand our commercial service into the San Francisco Peninsula. As always, we’ll take a careful and incremental approach to expansion by continuing to work closely with city officials, local communities and our partners before we open the service to the public.”

The approval came only two weeks after the CPUC suspended its decision “up to 120 days” from February 20, which was the end of the first 30 days of the initial review period.

Terrie Prosper, a spokesperson for the CPUC, clarified that the suspension was not a punitive action against Waymo but rather a measure to allow the commission additional time to thoroughly review letters, both in support of and in opposition to Waymo.

The CPUC received 81 responses and five protests.


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