Waymo is testing what it should charge for its robotaxi service

Self-driving startup Waymo, a Google spin-off owned by parent company Alphabet, has started to test pricing models for rides in its autonomous vehicles in Phoenix, the latest indication that the company is preparing to launch a commercial robotaxi service.

Waymo has not launched a wide-scale commercial robotaxi service in Phoenix — or anywhere — just yet. But it is getting closer.

Waymo’s early rider program, designed to give a vetted group of real people the ability to use an app to hail a self-driving vehicle, has been expanded, Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat explained Thursday during the company’s quarterly earnings call. Waymo started testing pricing models within its app during the third quarter, Porat said.

The early rider program had 400 participants the last time Waymo shared figures on the program. A Waymo spokesperson declined to elaborate on how much it had grown.

“As part of our early rider program, we have recently begun testing pricing models within our app,” a Waymo spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Pricing is currently experimental and intended solely to solicit feedback from early riders and does not reflect the various pricing models under consideration for a public service.”

Waymo has been inching toward a commercial service in Phoenix since it began testing in the suburbs like Chandler in 2016. It started in earnest when Waymo launched the early rider program in April 2017. Later that year, Waymo removed employees and passengers from its test fleet, sending empty self-driving minivans onto the streets of greater Phoenix.

By May of this year, Waymo began allowing some early riders to hail a self-driving minivan without a human test driver behind the wheel. More recently, the company launched a public transit program in Phoenix focused on delivering people to bus stops and train and light-rail stations.

Testing continues in other cities as well, including Mountain View, California and Austin. The company announced earlier this month that its autonomous vehicles have driven 10 million miles on public roads in the United States.