Waymo is “doubling down” on its autonomous rideshare program with an expansion to another city. The company’s fourth rideshare area will be Austin, Texas. The city is a hot spot of self-driving car activity, considering it’s already home to a bunch of other projects from Cruise, Volkswagen, and (formerly) Argo.
Waymo says it wants its Austin service “to be a truly useful service from the start, traversing a large portion of the city night and day. The Waymo Driver will travel to many popular locations, like the heart of downtown, Barton Hills, Riverside, East Austin, Hyde Park, and more.”
Waymo says it will “begin an initial phase of operations this fall, with fully autonomous deployment and our first rides with the public in the months following.” The company says it has been testing in Austin since March with its Jaguar I-Pace cars, but this isn’t the company’s first move in the city. Back in 2015, when Waymo had its goofy little “Firefly” cars with no steering wheels, the company was testing in Austin, where it famously let Steve Mahan, a legally blind person, go on the “world’s first” public driverless car ride.
Assuming this goes like previous Waymo announcements, the statement “first rides with the public” means Waymo will be carrying NDA-bound “trusted testers” chosen from a waitlist. As for when normal Austinites can actually hail a Waymo, it’s tricky. So far, of Waymo’s four announced cities, only one, Phoenix, is actually offering commercial rides to the public with no restrictions. San Francisco was announced as a Waymo One market two years ago and is still only doing commercial “testing.” (Waymo’s website description of “we’ll reach out when it’s your time to ride” stands in contrast to the “anyone can ride” description for Phoenix.) Los Angeles was announced one year ago and still isn’t taking rides yet.
Those interested in the testing program can sign up for the waitlist at waymo.com/waitlist.