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California DMV Approves Commercial AV Deployments in Bay Area

Cruise and Waymo received “deployment” permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles for their autonomous vehicle operations in the Bay Area, clearing another hurdle to for-hire commercial AV service.

Downtown San Francisco.
San Francisco, Calif.
Shutterstock/Sopotnicki
California approved two autonomous vehicle companies for commercial operations. The Department of Motor Vehicles issued “deployment” permits to Cruise and Waymo, allowing the companies to begin charging for services in parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

Cruise, which has been testing its vehicles in San Francisco, is one step closer to beginning its for-hire ride-hailing operations. The company still needs approval by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The approval by the DMV on Thursday “brings us one step closer to achieving our mission to make transportation safer, better, and more affordable in cities with our fleet of all-electric, self-driving and shared vehicles,” said Rob Grant, senior vice-president for government affairs and social impact at Cruise, in a statement to Government Technology.

The permit issued by the California DMV allows Cruise to operate its fleet in parts of San Francisco from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at speeds up to 30 mph, without a driver. The company has been testing its driverless fleet since October 2020.

“Today’s approval from the California DMV makes Cruise the first and only autonomous ride-hail company to receive a driverless deployment permit in the state,” said Grant.

Waymo, meanwhile, has been approved to deploy its vehicles in parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties at speeds up to 65 mph, with a safety driver. The company received its driverless testing permit in California in 2018. The DMV approval Thursday allows the company to begin charging a fee to pick up passengers, with a safety driver on board.

It’s not yet clear how Waymo intends to deploy AVs in California. The company declined to outline its plans for the future. Like Cruise, Waymo would need approval from the public utilities commission to deploy an autonomous fleet-for-hire onto California public roadways.

Waymo was the first AV company to provide driverless rides to the paying public, deploying a fully autonomous fleet in Chandler, Ariz.

It’s not entirely clear how the public’s experience with shared AVs will differ from a ride today in a conventional ride-hailed vehicle from Uber. However, Cruise is developing the Origin, an electric, fully autonomous, six-passenger, shared-ride vehicle.

Other companies like EasyMile have seen their similarly sized, low-speed, autonomous shuttles deployed across a number of cities and operations.

In the Bay Area alone, there are some 1,200 AVs testing on public roadways, accumulating some 8.5 million miles, said Miguel D. Acosta, chief of autonomous vehicles at California DMV, during a recent panel discussion organized by Veloz, an electric vehicle advocacy group, to discuss the evolution of AVs.

“I think that as we move forward, we’re going to continue to work with the manufacturers, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds,” said Acosta.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.