Autonomous vehicles (AVs) transported passengers more than 900,000 miles in California during the past two years, as part of a pilot program approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2018. Most of those miles were logged by Waymo, Google’s AV subsidiary. All of those trips were free and all were with a human driver onboard – no AV company opted to test truly driverless service, with monitoring by a remote operator.
That’s about to change. In a proposed decision due for a vote later today, the CPUC would allow AV companies to pick up fare-paying passengers…
While testing has provided passengers with opportunities to provide feedback on their riding experience in a free program, the program is at an inflection point where fared service is an appropriate next step to support AVs in passenger service and to expand the public’s understanding of the service.
Accordingly, building on the frameworks for the Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Program and the Driverless Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Program, the Commission concludes it is appropriate to authorize fare collection for both drivered and driverless passenger service.
Shared rides would also be allowed.
In the past two years, only two companies have logged a significant amount of miles while carrying passengers. According to reports submitted to the CPUC, Waymo is the big kahuna with 810,000 miles reported. Pony.ai, a Chinese company with ties to Toyota, put in 97,000 miles. Cruise, General Motor’s entry in the AV sweepstakes, is one of the five other companies registered with the CPUC, but it did not report any passenger transportation miles. Uber isn’t on the list – it gave up on California’s bureaucracy and moved its self-driving car operations to Arizona.
The decision adopts several goals, including protecting passenger safety, improving options “for disadvantaged and low-income communities” and for accessibility, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, it doesn’t set out hard requirements regarding what companies must do to achieve those goals. Instead, it either defers to other agencies, particularly the department of motor vehicles, or requires companies to submit voluminous reports, including data on where every trip begins and ends.