Waymo has announced a soft launch of their robo-taxi service in Los Angeles this fall. The six-stop “tour” will allow interested Los Angeles residents to briefly use Waymo’s self-driving cars in different areas around the city.

The six stops refer to certain areas of the city where the robot taxis will be available. The robo-taxis will be available in Santa Monica and Venice Beach from October 11th through November 18th; in Century City from November 20th to December 17th; in West Hollywood from December 17th through January 7th; in Mid City from January 8th to the 23rd; Koreatown from January 24th to February 8th; and in Downtown Los Angeles from February 9th through March 3rd. Those unfamiliar with Los Angeles may be confused about why each neighborhood is designated with its dates. The districts covered in the tour add up to an area larger than the entire city of San Francisco. Waymo covered smaller city sections one at a time to ensure safety and collect data.

Los Angeles natives are encouraged to buy tickets or join the waitlist to use the robo-taxi service for free in their neighborhoods between the designated dates. Once a ticket is purchased, the customer can use the service as much or as little as they like for no additional charge.

Waymo has been mapping the city since 2019. Los Angeles is a challenging city to drive in, self-driving car or not. Some difficulties mapping the town include the multitude of freeways, narrow backroads, unprotected left turns, and the city’s infamous traffic and distracted drivers. Waymo’s vehicles have been tested many times with a safety driver sitting in the front seat to ensure the car works correctly. During the upcoming tour, there will be no safety driver present.

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Los Angeles is the first city where Waymo opted to try the tour strategy before launching a complete commercial service. The company faced backlash from city officials in San Francisco due to issues with blocked intersections and obstructed emergency vehicles. Waymo hopes to make a good impression on locals and community organizers before expanding to commercial service.

Self-driving cars have made great strides over the past few years. Waymo is locked in a tight race with competitor Cruise to get autonomous vehicles on the streets. While Los Angeles is a challenging city to conquer, it also represents a thriving market of over 13 million people. Waymo previously estimated that a commercial service in Los Angeles could potentially bring in $2 billion in revenue. The city is entirely reliant on cars as transportation. The sprawling metropolis and lack of functional public transportation make Los Angeles nearly impossible to navigate without a vehicle. Uber and Lyft thrive in this environment, marking it a potentially lucrative market for Waymo and other AV companies. 

A robo-taxi service would undoubtedly change the taxi landscape in Los Angeles. Waymo seeks to gain loyal customers through its tour of the city. Whether the Los Angeles communities will embrace self-driving taxis remains to be seen.