Google’s Waymo, Cruise Get Nod to Expand in San Francisco

California regulators voted in favor of robotaxi operators expanding their paid driverless services in the city of San Francisco, a major milestone toward commercializing the technology.

(Bloomberg) — California regulators voted in favor of robotaxi operators expanding their paid driverless services in the city of San Francisco, a major milestone toward commercializing the technology.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission voted 3 to 1 to allow General Motors Co.’s Cruise LLC and Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo to increase the areas of the city where they can operate a car without a safety driver, and charge riders a fare for it.

Alphabet fell less than 1% at 12:51 p.m. Friday in New York, while GM was down 1.3%.

The commission, which met in San Francisco on Thursday, heard hours of public testimony arguing for and against the expansion of Waymo and Cruise’s turf. Robotaxis have increasingly become a normal sight on the Northern California city’s roads, with Waymo running a fleet of about 200 cars. Such services are currently limited in where they can drive, and the companies typically can’t charge passengers. Cruise has 300 cars across three cities — San Francisco, Austin and Phoenix — averaging 1,000 trips a day. Both services have thousands of individuals on waiting lists to try them out.

Cruise said the decision will help it revamp an unsafe transport system. It’ll also support the company’s further expansion, Chief Executive Officer Kyle Vogt said.

“A year ago we were in one city and today we have about seven, eight that will begin imminently,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Friday. “We will see that route expansion in the Sun Belt.”

Waymo called it a “huge milestone” that will enable its growth as well.

Read More: Waymo, Cruise Robotaxis Are All Over San Francisco: Tech Daily 

Multiple people at the hearing expressed the view that expanding the services of driverless taxis would better serve those with disabilities. Human-driven ride-share vehicles often neglect the needs of picking up individuals with physical challenges, such as stopping abruptly at a curb, some said. Others said autonomous taxis would eliminate discrimination from the process of hailing a ride. 

“I experienced rideshare drivers who have left me on the street and refused to open their vehicles. Drivers can discriminate against vulnerable populations, including queer, black, and trans folks, far more than any computer,” city resident Sean Durkin told commissioners at the meeting.

Others who testified argued that expanding autonomous vehicles would make the city’s streets safer. 

“I never have to guess if Cruise is going to decide to follow traffic rules today,” said San Francisco resident Jason Stafford. “I’m tired of seeing my family put in danger when we have a solution to the danger that human drivers cause.”

Read more: Cathie Wood Keeps Up Tesla Robotaxi Hopes After Six-Year Letdown

On the opposing end, many of the individuals who testified against the expansion of autonomous vehicles said it would put jobs at risk, including drivers for traditional ride-share apps like Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. — both based in San Francisco — as well as workers for delivery services. Others focused on concerns about the safety and accountability of vehicles that companies like Waymo and Cruise allow to navigate the city. 

“I encourage you to think about the 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States, and to think that Cruise is currently rolling out delivery vehicles that they call driverless delivery with the express intent of replacing delivery drivers, long-haul truckers, and affecting the livelihood of millions of American families and working people, ” city resident Graham Isom said during the testimony. 

The verdict expands how Waymo and Cruise vehicles can operate. Prior to Thursdays decision, Cruise could only charge a fare in a limited section of the city, while offering a free service covering almost all of the peninsula. Waymo did not charge a fare in San Francisco.

Read More: GM’s Driverless Car Jams Threaten Its San Francisco Expansion

The resolutions permit the autonomous vehicles to operate without a human safety driver during the day or at night, throughout the entire city of San Francisco.

–With assistance from Aisha Counts and David Welch.

(Updated with Cruise CEO comment. A previous version was corrected to remove inaccurate regulatory information.)

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