PHOENIX – A company called Waymo, part of the Google family, is operating a fleet of 600 driverless ride-share minivans, and the experience is mind-blowing.
Right now, the only place in the world for the public to catch a ride with Waymo One is in the 50-square-mile territory outside of Phoenix that includes, Tempe.
KPRC 2 Investigates tried the service both with and without a Waymo company chaperone and found it to be both reliable and efficient.
In fact, the entire experience is very similar to Uber. Anyone and everyone is welcome to use the service as long as they are in the service territory and have downloaded the free phone app.
Why Phoenix? Why not Houston?
According to Sam Kansara, senior product manager for Waymo, the Phoenix area provides wide roads, reasonable traffic, great weather and a favorable regulatory environment.
The KPRC 2 crew visited Waymo during the morning and the Waymo fleet was staffed by professional drivers, who manually piloted the cars on their rideshare trips. The company routinely does this when rain and thunderstorms pass through the area.
Waymo does not autonomously operate in inclement weather, and Houston has a fair share of heavy rain.
“When is Waymo One coming to Houston?” KPRC 2 investigator Joel Eisenbaum asked.
“Unknown,” Kansara responded. “We hope one day soon, but we don’t have a precise timeline to share just yet.”
Houston does play a role in another Waymo venture.
Waymo Via is the commercial-trucking arm of the company. The company operates traditional 18-wheelers that can also operate autonomously. At this point, the trucks are still staffed by professionals to monitor operations.
One of the main routes where Waymo is deploying its fleet of rigs is on Interstate 45 between Houston and Dallas.