Robotaxis from the Google subsidiary Waymo will begin offering free rides in Los Angeles on Thursday, March 21. The driverless taxis have already been authorized to charge for rides in San Francisco, despite concerns from local officials.

Approximately 50,000 people have signed up to get free rides from Waymo taxis around L.A. The free rides will be offered in a 63-square-mile area from Santa Monica to Downtown. The launch comes two weeks after the California Public Utilities Commission approved the expansion, despite opposition from city transportation officials. Concerns about driverless vehicles include them coming to sudden stops, blocking traffic, and jeopardizing the lives of their passengers and other drivers on the road. 

These fears came to a head after an incident in San Francisco, a city that has allowed several robotaxi initiatives to test their products. Last October, a vehicle operated by Cruise, a driverless ride-share service owned by General Motors, dragged a pedestrian who had been hit by a different car (with a human driver) for 20 feet at roughly 7 miles per hour before coming to a stop. California regulators suspended Cruise’s state license following the disturbing incident.

However, none of Waymo’s vehicles have been involved in accidents thus far. The company’s vehicles were authorized to charge for rides around San Francisco seven months ago, and no incidents like the one involving the Cruise vehicle have occurred. The highly anticipated expansion into Los Angeles is free for now, but Waymo hopes to begin charging for rides within the next few weeks, according to the company’s blog.

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Waymo was started as a secret project within Google fifteen years ago. The brand’s robotaxis successfully began charging for rides in Phoenix, Arizona in 2020, and a planned expansion into Austin, Texas later this year will mark the fourth major city where Waymo offers commercial service. Austin was the site of the company’s first successful ride with a member of the public as a passenger. Waymo is currently re-testing their vehicles in the area by driving staff members across the 43 miles of the city before opening up the service to the public later this year.

The Los Angeles project began last fall when Waymo offered free rides to a waitlist of people who were eager to test out the new service. During this trial period, 15,000 rides were successfully completed, with passengers reportedly giving the service an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars. As the second largest city in the United States, Los Angeles presents a unique challenge for the company.

Residents are likely to welcome the new service with open arms. Los Angeles is notorious for its terrible traffic and high gas prices. Those who are sick of driving everywhere themselves or need a change from high Uber prices will be excited to try out Waymo. If efforts to commercialize service in L.A. are successful, Los Angeles will become the third city to offer rides with Waymo One, after Phoenix and San Francisco, and ahead of Austin.