In what might seem like an unlikely pairing, autonomous car development company Waymo announced last week its partnership with Phoenix public transportation provider Valley Metro. Together, the two have devised a mutually beneficial plan to increase ridership for both entities.
A persistent challenge for public transportation providers like Valley Metro is how to overcome riders’ commutes to and from transportation systems. The partnership with Waymo seeks to solve this problem by having self-driving cars bring riders from their residences and workplaces to public transportation systems.
“We don’t see ourselves as disrupting public transportation, but [working to] enable it and improve the reach and the access to it that citizens here in Phoenix deserve,” said Shaun Stewart, head of business development at Waymo. “That technology has allowed us to enable and focus on ways we can improve not only transportation point-to-point but accessing different public transportation infrastructure and services like the light rail.”
Public transportation in Arizona hosts 250,000 people a day. With more than 200 people moving here every day, Arizona can expect another million residents in the Valley in the next 15 years, many of whom will not own cars. Greater access to public transportation is an important part of supporting Arizona’s population growth, and the solution could be right around the corner.
By the end of the year, Waymo expects to unveil the world’s first fully self-driving vehicle in the Valley. The development of Waymo’s automated technology has been an extensive process with an emphasis on safety.
It began in 2009 as Google’s self-driving car project with the mission to, “make our roads safer, free up people’s time, and improve mobility for everyone.” Now its own entity and still in the Google family, last year, Waymo launched its early rider program in Phoenix to 400 volunteer residents. Since 2009, Waymo’s automated cars have driven more than 8 million miles, including 2.7 billion miles in simulation in 2017 alone.
Waymo’s self-driving cars are working to become the world’s “most experienced driver,” according to Stewart. The vehicles have the most advanced sensors and software to detect pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles, road work, and more with its 360 degree “vision” that can see objects as far as three football fields away.
“It’s safe, reliable, and it’s going to be the difference in this whole Valley,” commented Phoenix Mayor Thelma Williams.
This year, Waymo is in the process of building 20,000 self-driving Jaguar I – PACEs that will be able to drive a million trips in a typical day. Very soon, we can expect Waymo’s technology to provide Arizona residents efficiency, convenience, and greater access to the Valley.