GM's Cruise on Thursday received California's first permit to operate a paid robotaxi service on San Francisco streets.
This is a major step toward bringing commercially viable driverless cars into the public sphere.
While many companies are testing driverless cars in various places around the US, making the leap from testing to commercial deployment is still extremely rare. For GM's Cruise, it's no longer an aspiration, but a reality.
Cruise announced on Thursday that it has secured the first driverless deployment permit from the California Public Utilities Commission. This gives Cruise the ability to charge riders to use its robotaxi service, and according to the company, this makes it "the first and only company to operate a commercial, driverless ridehail service in a major US city."
Cruise did not divulge too many details about its next steps, only saying in a blog post that it will roll out its fared services "gradually, expanding in alignment with the smoothest customer experience possible." Prior to this, the company was already offering free driverless rides in San Francisco using modified Chevrolet Bolt EVs with all the hardware and software required for driverless operation.
According to the CPUC's press release, there will still be some limitations in effect. The fleet of 30 Bolt EVs will be limited to the San Francisco area and a maximum speed of 30 mph. It can only operate its commercial robotaxi service between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., in weather conditions that "do not include heavy rain, heavy fog, heavy smoke, hail, sleet or snow." The company is also disallowed from placing unrelated parties in the same car at the same time. If Cruise desires to expand its parameters, it will have to resubmit a passenger safety plan and receive additional approval.
Cruise may be among the first to achieve commercial approval for its robotaxi services, but it is not the sole company to make it this far. Alphabet offshoot Waymo has been offering paid rides in modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans in the Phoenix area since 2018, and while Waymo has been operating driverless vehicles in San Francisco this year, it has not yet received the permit that Cruise just scored.
It's unclear how Phoenicians feel about Cruise's backhanded comment about it not being a major US city.