Automakers and tech companies are scrambling toward perfecting autonomous vehicles even as consumer trust in the technology wanes. Earlier this week, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who owns a Chevy Bolt EV, espoused his doubts about the viability of the technology in the near future. However, that hasn’t stopped companies from making bold promises about our future mobility. General Motors’ plan to launch GM Cruise next year — proclaimed as its autonomous vehicle ride-sharing company — is running into unforeseen roadblocks. According to reports, Waymo, Alphabet’s own autonomous vehicle company, plans to launch an AV ride-sharing program as soon as next month. However, we’re skeptical about the accelerated timeline.
According to Apple Insider, the program will have small launch open to a few hundred or dozens of “authorized” users, likely selected from the 400 volunteer families from Waymo’s Early Rider Program. The launch would be so small that necessary apps to access Waymo’s driverless cars won’t even show up in the iOS or Google Play app stores. Riders will have to pay for the first time, too; however, they will have the ability to discuss their riding experience and bring along anyone they want.
Initially, some of Waymo’s ride-sharing vehicles will have backup drivers, which will make pricing similar to that of Uber and Lyft. Once Waymo pulls the backup drivers, prices to ride should drop. The launch will also be relegated to 100 square miles around Phoenix, Arizona.
If the program launch is successful in Arizona, the company will expand to other U.S, cities—or at least that’s the plan. Right now, the country has a patchwork of autonomous vehicle laws and regulations, which could make starting new programs in new states difficult if those laws and regulations differ significantly. There’s bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Congress to help fix that; however, the U.S. Senate has to vote on it, and it must be reconciled with the U.S. House version before the end of the year when a new U.S. Congress takes office. Failure to pass this legislation could delay future programs’ rollout.
If Waymo is successful in launching next month, it’ll beat GM and other rivals to market by nearly a year or more.