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Waymo's Autonomous Ride-Hailing Service Expands to Austin Amid Strategy Shift To Public Transport

Alphabet's self-driving car unit, Waymo, has officially announced its expansion into Austin, Texas, marking the city as the latest addition to its ride-hailing pilot program, as revealed on Wednesday. Austin is now the fourth major city, following Metro Phoenix, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, to embrace Waymo's autonomous taxi service.

The "initial phase of operations" in Austin is scheduled to commence this fall with a full deployment of autonomous vehicles. However, Waymo plans to delay providing services to the general public until a few months after this initial rollout. The company had already begun preliminary tests in Austin since March of this year.

Chris Bonelli, Waymo's product communications manager, recently said the company's market entry strategy in Austin will follow a similar trajectory as previous launches, including manual testing, supervised testing, fully autonomous testing, and eventually public service. However, these stages won't start until the fall, and will progressively unfold from there.

Bonelli also mentioned that Waymo's self-driving ride-hailing service would be available around the clock in several regions of Austin, including downtown, Barton Hills, East Austin, Hyde Park, and Riverside, as detailed in a company blog post. The rapidly growing economy of Austin and its population density, with close to 2.5 million residents in the metro area, were crucial factors in Waymo's decision to expand into the city. Bonelli did not disclose the number of vehicles that will constitute Waymo's Austin fleet.

Since its inception as an independent entity under Alphabet in 2016, Waymo has garnered at least $5.5 billion in funding. In 2021, it raised $2.5 billion from investors such as Alphabet and Andreessen Horowitz to further its technology and team expansion.

Despite significant advances, Waymo and other players in the self-driving market have faced challenges in securing widespread adoption. These challenges stem from safety concerns among consumers, regulatory hurdles in different cities, and the need for more human safety drivers.

Nearly three years post-launch of Waymo One, the company's fully autonomous service, it remains one of the only two services of its kind operating commercially in the U.S. This is due to a host of issues faced by autonomous taxi companies, including the need for favorable local leadership, accommodating regulations, and a certain mix of characteristics like road infrastructure, climate, and population.

In a shift in focus, Waymo recently announced in late July that it would delay its autonomous semi-truck development to concentrate on its autonomous ride-hailing services. This decision included a yet-to-be-disclosed number of layoffs.


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