Waymo's application to expand California robotaxi operations paused by regulators

A Waymo autonomous vehicle operating on a tree-lined street in Santa Monica.

Waymo's application to expand its robotaxi service in Los Angeles and San Mateo counties has been suspended for 120 days by the California Public Utilities Commission’s Consumer Protection and Enforcement Division (CPED).

The decision doesn't change Waymo's ability to commercially operate driverless vehicles in San Francisco. However, it does put an abrupt halt to the company's aspirations to expand where it can operate — at least until June 2024.

The CPED said on its website that the application has been suspended for further staff review. The “suspension” of an advice letter is a procedural part of the CPUC’s standard and robust review process, according to Waymo.

A CPUC spokesperson told TechCrunch in an email that Waymo's "Advice Letter was suspended to consider our staff review. Such a suspension is not an uncommon practice."

San Mateo County Board of Supervisors vice president David J. Canepa took a different stance, however.

“Since Waymo has stalled any meaningful discussions on its expansion plans into Silicon Valley, the CPUC has put the brakes on its application to test robotaxi service virtually unfettered both in San Mateo and Los Angeles counties,” Canepa said. “This will provide the opportunity to fully engage the autonomous vehicle maker on our very real public safety concerns that have caused all kinds of dangerous situations for firefighters and police in neighboring San Francisco.”

Waymo noted that it has reached out to two dozen government and business organizations as part of its outreach effort, including officials in cities throughout San Mateo County such as Burlingame, Daly City and Foster City, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office and local chambers of commerce.

Waymo operates a commercial service 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout San Francisco. Waymo is also allowed to give people free driverless rides in parts of Los Angeles. The company kicked off robotaxi ride testing with employees in Santa Monica around March 2023 and has since opened it up to some members of the public, but is still not able to charge for those rides.

The company filed a document in January with the Commission's Consumer Protection and Enforcement Division seeking review and approval of its updated safety plan and an expansion of its "operational design domain (ODD)," an industry term that means where its driverless vehicles can operate. Waymo is seeking approval to expand operations in portions of the Los Angeles area and additional areas of the San Francisco Peninsula, namely in San Mateo County. That expansion is particularly important because it would include access to the San Francisco International Airport.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles, which also regulates the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles, approved the expanded ODD in January. The city of South San Francisco, Los Angeles County Department of Transportation, San Francisco County Transportation Authority, San Mateo County Office of the County Attorney and the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance have sent letters opposing the expansion.