It’s true. The future is here. Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., is officially permitted to operate as a Transportation Network Company (TNC) in Arizona. Why is this a big deal, you ask? Because Waymo is operating fully autonomous vehicles—that’s LEVEL FOUR AUTONOMY. The Arizona Department of Transportation granted Waymo’s permit on January 24, less than two weeks after the application was filed. This means that Waymo can begin charging passengers for rides, something it hasn’t done since it began testing its autonomous vehicles in April 2017. According to Digital Trends, Waymo’s fleet of vehicles is comprised of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids, which are plug-in hybrids with an all-electric range of 33 miles. If everything goes according to plan, Waymo will start offering paid rides via an app (yep, just like Uber and Lyft) in Phoenix later this year.
Speaking of Uber and Lyft, this could spell competition for them since driverless cars are widely believed to be the thing that will make ride-hailing profitable with the elimination of driver wages. (According to Quartz, Uber paid ~$8 billion to drivers in earnings and bonuses in the 4th quarter of 2017.) Of course, Uber is famously working on its own driverless fleet, as is Lyft, though neither is yet operating fully autonomous vehicles. Waymo hasn’t announced a price structure, but chances are good that they’ll be competitive with what Uber and Lyft are currently charging.
The race is on and now is definitely the time for cities to get up to speed and get those regulations in place. As of now, there hasn’t been any mention of Waymo’s TNC roll-out prioritizing ridesharing, just ridehailing. What happens if they are all private rides? Will we be able to make the switch to shared after the fact? It increasingly seems like we are on the brink of Robin Chase’s Heaven or Hell scenario. Now seems like the perfect time to be convening experts from across the country to explore these questions and plan for the future…which is upon us. The Urbanism Next Conference kicks off Monday, March 5—there’s still time to register, but if you can’t make it in person keep an eye on our blog for updates!