Waymo, Alphabet's ride-hailing subsidiary, has gained approval to begin transporting humans using driverless cars in Arizona. According to a new report by Quartz, the state's Department of Transportation has granted Waymo a permit late last month to operate as a Transportation Network Company in Arizona, where it will initially deploy its fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans to ferry paying passengers around the region. It's not immediately clear when Waymo exactly plans to kick off its driverless ride-hailing service in the state, but following the state agency's approval, the company is understood to be preparing to launch the service commercially in Phoenix this year. It also remains unclear how much the company will charge riders, though it is expected to be competitive with Uber's rates.
The company started offering free rides to local customers in Phoenix using self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, as part of its Early Rider program which marked the first time that Waymo began serving the general public with its autonomous ride service. Although Waymo is set to launch its first commercial autonomous ride-sharing service this year, it is expected to be limited by the company's current inventory of Chrysler Pacifica minivans. However, the company is also set to grow its fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans by the thousands this year, with the majority of those vehicles expected to hit Arizona roads first.
Since late last year, the company has been road-testing fully autonomous vehicles on the road with no safety driver in some parts of Arizona. The safety features of Waymo's autonomous vehicles have also improved in time following months of road tests. In fact, the company recently filed its latest report with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to show how often the autonomous cars had to disengage in order to allow a human driver to take control of the vehicle. As of November last year, Waymo autonomous cars recorded just one disengagement after completing 30,516 miles on public roads. Overall, there were 63 disengagements through 352,544 miles of public road test drive. Apart from Arizona, Waymo is also expected to launch its driverless ride-hailing service in other major cities in the United States, with the company having recently announced that its next stop is Atlanta, Georgia. Waymo also recently revealed that its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans started hitting San Francisco earlier last month.