Waymo opens up driverless robotaxi service in downtown Phoenix to vetted passengers

Waymo, the autonomous vehicle developer under Alphabet, is opening up its driverless robotaxi service in downtown Phoenix to vetted local residents.

People who have been accepted to Waymo's "trusted tester" program are eligible to hail a driverless ride — meaning no human safety operator is behind the wheel — in a Jaguar I-Pace EV in downtown Phoenix. Waymo has branded these as "rider only" trips to denote that a human safety operator is not in the vehicle. Trusted testers sign non-disclosure agreements and cannot share their experiences on social media or with journalists.

In May, Waymo co-CEO Dmitri Dolgov said on stage at TC Sessions: Mobility that the company had started allowing employees to hail a driverless ride — sans human operator — in the downtown Phoenix area. Opening it up to trusted testers is the next step before a wider public release.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego posted a message (along with a video) on Twitter and Instagram marking the occasion.

Waymo has developed a playbook of sorts for how it tests, launches and expands a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles in the greater Phoenix area. The company initially tested autonomous Pacifica Chrysler Hybrid minivans with human safety operators behind the wheel in the suburbs east of metro Phoenix.

In 2017, Waymo opened up a ride-hailing service to vetted members of the public, which was dubbed the "early rider program" and has since been rebranded the "trusted tester" program. (Local residents can download the Waymo One app, create an account and express interest in joining the program.) Waymo then opened up the service, which still used a human safety operator behind the wheel, to members of the public.

The entire process repeated when Waymo pulled the human safety operator from behind the wheel and officially launched a driverless robotaxi service in those Phoenix suburbs. Today, the driverless service area in the East Valley includes portions of Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe.

Waymo is using this same playbook as it expands its service area into downtown Phoenix and begins to offer rides to the airport. For now, only Waymo employees can hail a ride to the airport. And those autonomous vehicles, all of which are Jaguar I-Pace EVs, have a human safety operator behind the wheel.

Waymo is also ramping up in San Francisco. Employees are able to use the Waymo One app to hail a driverless ride, while trusted testers can only access autonomous vehicles with a human safety operator in the driver's seat.

Waymo has more than 700 vehicles in its fleet, which includes a mix of Jaguar I-Pace EVs and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans as well as the Class 8 trucks. These vehicles, the bulk of which are located in Arizona, California and Texas, are used in testing and commercial operations.