May 26, 2024

Waymo plans to soon start testing fully autonomous rides across California’s San Francisco Peninsula, despite criticism and concerns from residents and city officials.

In the coming weeks, Waymo employees will begin testing rides without a human driver on city streets north of San Mateo, the company said Friday. Waymo added that expanding its service across the rest of the Peninsula will take time and it will continue to work with local communities and city officials.

The startup, which is owned by Google parent Alphabet, in March won approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to expand its operations beyond San Francisco, where it has been offering its ride-hail robotaxis for months.

The regulator gave Waymo approval to begin operating in San Mateo County and Los Angeles County. On April 9, Waymo began offering paid robotaxis rides in Los Angeles, noting that more than 50,000 people were on its waitlist.

“Chamber San Mateo County is excited about Waymo’s progress on the Peninsula and the future opportunities that come with neighbor connecting with neighbors to eventually help support local businesses,” Amy Buckmaster, the chamber’s president, said in a statement provided by Waymo.

But not everyone is embracing the technology.

In February, Waymo’s expansion across California was temporarily suspended after San Mateo County supervisors asked for a review period. That was expected to last up to 120 days, but was done away with after 11 days, with the CPUC citing Waymo’s updated passenger safety plan.

David Canepa, a San Mateo County supervisor, told ABC7 in March that the short-lived review period was “truly a slap in the face.” The county filed an appeal with the CPUC’s enforcement arm and asked it to review the approval.

California’s state senate is set to have a hearing on SB915, a bill regulating autonomous vehicles, on Monday. The bill would give cities and counties control over self-driving cars, instead of the state. The legislation has won support from both Democrats and Republicans in the senate, as well as the Teamsters union.

“SB 915 makes sure that as we step into this new age of cars that drive themselves, we’re not taking any chances with public safety,” Dave Cortese, who represents San Jose in the senate and introduced the bill, said in a statement earlier this year.

Waymo’s initial expansion in San Francisco last August was met with biting criticism from labor unions, residents, and some government officials.

In February, an angry crowd in the city set a Waymo car on fire. The incident occurred just days after a Waymo self-driving car hit a bicyclist. A few days following the arson, Waymo recalled its software, pointing to a December incident in which two driverless cars crashed into the same truck in rapid succession.

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