Self-driving car company Zoox wins first permit to carry passengers in CA

For the very first time, a company will be allowed to transport passengers in self-driving cars in California.

Zoox was awarded authorization by the California Public Utilities Commission to carry passengers in its self-driving cars, the regulators revealed Friday afternoon.

Zoox, an autonomous vehicle maker, is not allowed to charge those passengers as part of its pilot. The company must have a driver present, ready to take over if needed, the commission said.

The CPUC approved its Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program in May, but Zoox is the first company issued a permit to operate within that framework.

Zoox has tested its autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, and in May the company revealed a successful autonomous drive from its garage at Stanford University up U.S. Interstate 280 to the company’s offices in San Francisco.

SEE RELATED: Driverless cars OK’d to carry passengers in CA — but companies can’t charge for the ride

The trip was “over an hour long drive with zero interventions, amazing work by the team,” the company wrote on its website in May.

CPUC Commissioner Liane Randolph led months of deliberations with ride-hail companies, self-driving automakers, and other interested groups to inform the commission’s pilot program. Though the California Department of Motor Vehicles cleared self-driving cars to test-drive without drivers in early 2018, the CPUC plays another regulatory role securing the safety of passengers in those vehicles.

Randolph and the commission pushed back against autonomous vehicle companies on both fronts, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported, ultimately ruling to make key safety data about driverless cars public, and stipulating that companies cannot charge for driverless car rides yet.

Commissioner Randolph reasoned that a fee-less program would “differentiate” the pilot program “from any final program we accept,” she wrote in her written decision.

The free rides will signal to the public that the pilot program is “different from ordinary transportation,” which will hopefully encourage the public to be “more mindful of their experiences and provide critical feedback to the Commission and the permit-holders,” Randolph wrote.

Autonomous vehicle data that the commission will make public include: collision reports, total vehicle miles traveled, miles traveled during passenger service, and the total number of rides accessible to the disability community, among other data.

Zoox posted this image of one of its vehicles driving on Lombard Street in San Francisco in October on Twitter. (Courtesy image)

joe@sfexaminer.com

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