California OKs Driverless Rides for GM's Cruise

Cruise and Waymo, the self-driving subsidiaries of General Motors and Alphabet, Inc., have received permission from the State of California to offer driverless rides to passengers. (GM Cruise)

Cruise and Waymo, the self-driving arms of General Motors and Alphabet, respectively, have been permitted to operate their autonomous electric vehicles (EVs) as ride-hailing conveyances on some California streets. The companies were also given the green light to charge fees for their autonomous ride services, provided they also get authorization from the California Public Utilities Commission. Alphabet is the company that owns Google.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles awarded the permits this week; each company has a different set of rules by which to play. Together, though, they represent the first permits that will allow self-driving cars to carry passengers in the state. Waymo has been offering driverless rides in the metro Phoenix, AZ, area through its fully autonomous Waymo One service.

Waymo has been testing its vehicles (with safety drivers) in California since 2014 and will now expand its service in San Francisco to include offering rides. The California DMV's permit will allow Waymo vehicles to operate if there is a safety driver in the driver's seat. The DMV said Waymo would be allowed to use its autonomous cars, modified Jaguar I-Pace SUVs, on public roads in parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties provided those vehicles stay in areas with speed limits of no more than 65 mph.

Waymo hopes to offer completely driverless rides through its expansion of Waymo One to San Francisco and is asking interested riders to sign up for its Trusted Tester program in the Waymo One app. For now, Waymo said its "autonomous specialists" are in the car to "monitor our autonomous driving technology and share important feedback to help us improve the Waymo One experience."

Cruise's DMV permit, on the other hand, will allow the company to offer rides without any safety driver on board, but the areas where it may operate are much more limited than where Waymo can go. Cruise, which uses modified Chevy Bolt EVs as its platform, will offer rides without a safety driver on board. However, the vehicles can only operate on public roads in parts of San Francisco between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and they can travel at a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour. In other words, driverless Cruise rides will only be available when the streets are relatively empty and at very low speeds.

Cruise says its vehicles have driven over two million autonomous miles in California since its founding in 2013. The company operates more than 300 all-electric autonomous vehicles in San Francisco and Phoenix.

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