Robotaxi permit gets Arizona’s OK; Waymo will start service in 2018

Enlarge / You’ll know it’s a Waymo Pacifica Hybrid by the roof bar covered in sensors.

On Friday, we discovered that Waymo, the self-driving Google spinoff, has been granted a permit to operate as a Transportation Network Company in the state of Arizona. This means that it can launch an official ride-hailing service and start charging customers for their journeys. It also confirms the findings of a recent report that put Waymo at the front of the autonomous vehicle pack, meaning my colleague Tim Lee was right when he said the launch of a commercial operation by Waymo in Arizona was imminent.

Arizona has become a popular state for autonomous vehicle programs. It has rather permissive testing oversight compared to California, for example. That, plus well-maintained roads and little harsh weather, has encouraged both Uber and Waymo to expand their presence in Phoenix.

In recent months, self-driving cars have become commonplace in the city. Since November 2017, Waymo has been running a pilot program that lets people hail rides in its cars; evidently that hasn’t thrown up any red flags to prevent this expansion.

“As we continue to test drive our fleet of vehicles in greater Phoenix, we’re taking all the steps necessary to launch our commercial service this year,” a spokesperson for Waymo told Ars.

Among those steps are adding more vehicles to the fleet and figuring out how to take care of them all. To that end, Waymo has ordered “thousands” of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, and it has partnered with Avis to handle the fleet maintenance.

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