As Waymo continues to test its in the Phoenix area, it's got its eyes on expansion. Now, with a new permit from the California Public Utilities Commision in its hands, it's one step closer to achieving that.
Waymo has received a permit from the CPUC to enter California's Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot program, TechCrunch reports Tuesday, citing subsequent confirmation from Waymo. Before this, Waymo was not allowed to transport passengers, but now that it's part of the CPUC's pilot program, it can.
"The CPUC permit allows us to participate in their pilot program, giving Waymo employees the ability to hail our vehicles and bring guests on rides within our South Bay territory," a Waymo spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "This is the next step on our path to eventually expand and offer more Californians opportunities to access our self-driving technology, just as we have gradually done with Waymo One in Metro Phoenix."
In order to be eligible for this permit, the company in question must already have an AV testing permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which Waymo has had since 2014. It operates a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica and Jaguar I-Pace vehicles, both of which are outfitted with the hardware and software capable of autonomy.
This doesn't mean Waymo One has begun operation in California. That may change in the future, though. There's a second tier of the CPUC pilot program that allows members of the public to be shuttled around in driverless vehicles, but that tier requires a DMV permit for driverless testing, and what do you know, Waymo has one of those already. All the company needs to do is start testing its driverless vehicles in California to be eligible for this next stage of the CPUC's pilot.
According to the CPUC website, only four companies have been granted access to the first tier of the pilot program: AutoX, Pony.ai, Waymo and Zoox. Waymo is the only company of the four to receive an exemption to use a third party for contracting the safety operators required in every vehicle. In its letter to the CPUC requesting the exemption (PDF), the company said that "operating and scaling a meaningful pilot requires a large group of drivers who are more efficiently engaged through Waymo's experienced and specialized third-party staffing providers." All of its test drivers go through the same training program, the letter says.