Waymo to launch robotaxi service in Los Angeles

Waymo said it plans to launch a robotaxi service in Los Angeles, another sign that the Alphabet subsidiary is accelerating its commercial ramp up.

Waymo has had a presence in Los Angeles since 2019, periodically coming in to map neighborhoods, including downtown, Miracle Mile, Koreatown, Santa Monica, Westwood and West Hollywood.

The announcement Wednesday has a decidedly more commercial aim. Initially, more than a dozen Waymo autonomous vehicles will be in Los Angeles and scale from there, according to Waymo’s new chief product officer Saswat Panigrahi, who most recently was vice president of strategy, product management and data science.

The intent, he added, is that this will be a driverless robotaxi service that will operate 24 hours a day. In the run up to its eventual launch, Waymo is partnering with local groups MADD California and Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

“When we think about our next cities, Los Angeles jumps out,” said Waymo co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana.

And for good reason.

Los Angeles is the most populous market that Waymo has ever attempted to launch in. The vast metropolis of 13 million residents is the third largest ride-hailing market in the U.S., with an estimated opportunity of $2 billion in 2022, according to Waymo.

There are still some regulatory hoops that Waymo must jump through to achieve that goal.

There are two regulatory bodies, the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, that dictate the testing and eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles. The California DMV regulates testing of autonomous vehicles with and without safety operators. Companies must then get a driverless testing permit if they want to test AVs without a human operator behind the wheel. The final step with the DMW is a deployment permit.

Over at the CPUC, there are “drivered” and “driverless” permits, which allow companies to give rides in their autonomous vehicles. Any company that wants to eventually shuttle and charge passengers for rides in their robotaxis must secure all of these permits from the DMV and CPUC.

Waymo has received every required permit from the DMV and received a permit from the CPUC to charge for robotaxi service, but only if a human safety operator is present during rides. As it awaits those final permits in California, the company is operating and scaling in Arizona.

Waymo operates a driverless commercial ride-hail service in Chandler and other Phoenix suburbs. Recently, the company expanded its driverless program to downtown Phoenix.