Waymo launches autonomous rides to Phoenix airport

Waymo is expanding its robotaxi service in downtown Phoenix to include pickups and drop-offs at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

This is the first time a U.S. robotaxi operator has launched paid trips to and from an airport, which will be an essential use case for autonomous vehicle companies looking to scale. Airport rides make up a significant portion of per-rider revenue for ride-hail companies. Lyft’s second-quarter earnings report shows the airport use case making up 10.2% of its total ride-share, for example.

Waymo’s airport rides, which are only open to the “trusted tester” program for now, will initially use a human safety operator. The company said it expects to launch rider-only operations “over weeks to come.”

The 24/7 service will run on a five-mile stretch between downtown Phoenix and an airport shuttle stop, specifically, the 44th Street Sky Train station. Pricing will be comparable to Uber or Lyft, but without surge pricing, according to Aman Nalavade, a product manager at Waymo. The company didn’t say how many of its electric Jaguar I-Pace vehicles would be used for airport rides, but Nalavade told TechCrunch Waymo would monitor passenger ETAs and right size the fleet accordingly.

Waymo has a total of 700 AVs in its fleet spanning across California and Arizona, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The news comes just a couple of weeks after Waymo announced plans to launch a robotaxi service, with a human safety operator present, in Los Angeles. LA would be Waymo’s second California city after San Francisco.

After years in the surrounding suburbs, Waymo expanded its service area in March 2022 to downtown Phoenix. The company first opened the downtown service, which was supported by human safety operators, to employees before opening it to members of its trusted tester program a couple of months later. At the time, Waymo also began testing airport rides with employees from downtown Phoenix. In August, the company started offering completely driverless rides in downtown Phoenix to trusted testers.

waymo phoenix map

Waymo’s Phoenix service area. The light green indicates the service area that Waymo opened to “trusted testers” in May. The dark green indicates the area that Waymo is expanding to as part of this launch, which includes Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Image Credits: Waymo

Waymo hopes to use the new robotaxi offering to advance its perception training and get experience with different types of road user behaviors at the airport, the company said.

“The curbs [where Waymo will be dropping off passengers] do add a level of complexity,” said Nalavade. “Just the number of passengers and cars and vehicles and road users that we may encounter… There are other large vehicles, like buses, that are also competing for some of those pickup and drop-off spots. Uber and Lyft, as well. So dealing with that is something that needs to be thought through.”

Even though getting to the sky train doesn’t involve going on the highway, Nalavade said Waymo’s cars would have the added challenge of navigating Phoenix’s light rail, as well as potentially exacerbated traffic congestion on the way to the airport.

When asked if Waymo had considered offering robotaxi rides to other airports, like San Francisco’s, Nalavade said the company is testing its Driver on U.S. Route 101 and Interstate 280, two highways that run from SF’s downtown area to its airport.

Waymo’s autonomous trucking counterpart, Waymo Via, uses the same AV stack as its robotaxi, which the company has said in the past would allow it to be more scaleable because it solves for both highway and city driving.

A previous version of this article misspelled Aman Nalavade’s first name. We regret the error.