Waymo gets approval to deploy its robotaxi service in Los Angeles

The CPUC has approved Waymo's expansion plans even though it suspended the company in February.

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has given Waymo permission to expand its robotaxi operations to Los Angeles and more locations in the San Francisco Peninsula despite opposition from local groups and government agencies. "Waymo may begin fared driverless passenger service operations in the specified areas of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Peninsula, effective today," the regulator wrote in its decision (PDF). As CNBC notes, Waymo has been testing its driverless vehicles in those locations for a while now, but this decision will allow it to charge passengers for their robotaxi rides.

In the CPUC's decision, it admitted that it received letters of protests regarding Waymo's expansion from the City of South San Francisco, the County of San Mateo, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance. And, it received those letters before the agency suspended Waymo's expansion efforts in February for up to 120 days following the Alphabet-owned company's revelation that it had issued a recall for its vehicles. Waymo reported back then that two of its robotaxis collided with a backwards-facing pickup truck that was being towed in December 2023 because its software predicted the truck's movements incorrectly. The company had to develop and deploy a fix to its fleet.

LA Mayor Karen Bass previously sent a letter to the CPUC (PDF), stating her concerns about the regulator's decision to allow autonomous vehicles to operate in her city. "To date, local jurisdictions like Los Angeles have had little to no input in AV deployment and are already seeing significant harm and disruption," she wrote. David Canepa, vice president for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, also said in a statement regarding this recent development: "I'm confused and a bit suspicious that the CPUC took only 11 days to change its mind on the suspension. I find this to be egregious and disingenuous. We have had no talks to address our concerns and it says to me that neither Waymo nor the CPUC care about local concerns the public safety of our residents."

Waymo spokesperson Julia Ilina, however, assures the public in a statement to Wired that the company will take an "incremental approach" when it comes to deploying the service in LA. It also has "no immediate plans" to expand its service in San Francisco. In addition, she said Waymo will continue to "work closely with city officials, local communities, and [its] partners." Ilina has also noted that while the CPUC did get letters of protest, it also received letters of support for Waymo's expansion from 81 organizations and individuals. They include letters from various groups for the elderly and people with disabilities, local community councils, as well as transportation advocates.

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