The city wants to boost for-hire vehicle occupancy rates, while also improving low-income residents’ access to transportation and reducing traffic congestion.
WASHINGTON — Only 40 percent of the taxis and ride-hailing vehicles in the District of Columbia are occupied at any given time, ever since services like Uber and Lyft gained popularity, according to City Hall.
Car subscriptions and Google’s self-driving taxi service—under development in Mountain View, California—are likely to transform the transportation ecosystem even further in coming years. So, district officials say they want to start now to help fill the seats of the vehicles on the road, while also helping provide better transportation options for low-income residents.
Waymo, Google’s self-driving car project, is planning to launch a driverless taxi service in the Phoenix area in the next three months. It won’t be a pilot project or a publicity stunt, either. Waymo is planning to launch a public, commercial service—without anyone in the driver’s seat.
And to date, Waymo’s technology has gotten remarkably little oversight from government officials in either Phoenix or Washington, DC.
If a company wants to sell a new airplane or medical device, it must undergo an extensive process to prove to federal regulators that it’s safe. Currently, there’s no comparable requirement for self-driving cars. Federal and state laws allow Waymo to introduce fully self-driving cars onto public streets in Arizona without any formal approval process.
It’s 2018, and you may be asking yourself, “Where are all the driverless cars?” Well, they’re already here, driving at extremely low speeds in tightly geofenced areas in over a dozen cities, in what is probably the most low-key, unassuming start to a global paradigm shift that we’ve ever seen.
We can all be forgiven for assuming that completely unencumbered driverless cars were right around the corner. After all, the purveyors of such technology lead us to believe as much, promising coast-to-coast demonstrations and selling us on the prospect of sleeping while driving. But the reality is much different: low-speed autonomous pods are currently operating all over the country, racking up an impressive number of trips while barely drawing any attention for it. As billion-dollar companies like Google, Uber, Ford, and GM scramble to perfect their high-profile robot taxi projects before they launch, smaller, more nimble startups are making progress in lower-stakes pilots that are operating right under our noses.
Waymo is ready to start charging for its self-driving trips, but first, it needs to master the dreaded art of fleet management
In a nondescript depot in suburban Arizona, the future of transportation is getting a tune-up. This is where Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet, houses its growing fleet of self-driving cars: hundreds of Chrysler Pacifica minivans fitted with highly advanced hardware and software that enables them to safely ride on public roads without a human driver behind the wheel.
For over a year, Waymo has been offering trips to the 400-plus members of its Early Rider program who use Waymo’s ride-hailing app to summon the minivans for free trips to school, the mall, the gym, or elsewhere within its suburban Phoenix service area. Soon, Waymo will make that service available to the general public and it will start charging money for it, too. At the outset, the company plans on offering fully autonomous rides with a Waymo employee in the car only as a chaperone. And when that happens, it will make history as the first fully driverless taxi service in the world.