Waymo starts fully autonomous rides in LA tomorrow; Austin later this year

Waymo has announced that it will start offering fully autonomous ride-hailing services to the general public in Los Angeles starting tomorrow, March 14th, and that Austin, Texas will open up “later this year.”

Waymo has been testing its Level 4 autonomous ride-hailing service in Los Angeles since late 2022, and is now finally ready to open up the service officially.

Level 4 is one of the SAE driving automation levels, signaling that the car drives itself with no human driver input, but is limited to certain circumstances – most driver assist systems on cars today (e.g. Autopilot, Super Cruise, etc.) count as Level 2, with only Mercedes offering a Level 3 system in the US. In this case, Waymo’s limitation means it’s geofenced to a particular service area.

Waymo has spent the last few months hosting its “Waymo Tour,” where it bounced around small parts of town to offer free rides to locals in various neighborhoods one-by-one (we experienced it on a chaotic weekend day in Venice Beach). Now, Waymo is ready to open up to all the regions its tour previously covered, spanning from Santa Monica to downtown LA, and will operate 24/7 in the stated coverage area.

The LA service area covers a somewhat odd geographical area, encompassing Santa Monica, Century City, K-Town and Downtown, with parts of West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Culver City. It seems to stop at Santa Monica Blvd on the north end, signaling that Waymo would rather deal with traffic than with tight, twisty, one-lane hill streets (where lots of people street park and give you no room to drive).

In total, the area covers approximately 63 square miles – a larger area than Waymo’s 47mi² San Francisco service area, but much smaller than the 180mi² area that Waymo operates in in Phoenix. Waymo says that it wants to “scale its operations over time,” and cover a larger area than this, but doesn’t give a timeline for doing so.

And these rides don’t start some time in the distant future – they start tomorrow. So if you’re interested, you better hop on the waitlist quick – or find a time machine, because it already has 50,000 Angelenos on it, so if you join today you might be waiting for a while.

In the beginning, Waymo plans to offer these services for free, but “in the coming weeks” it will transition to a paid model thanks to recent approval from the California Public Utilities Commission. This is part of why Waymo started the “tour” in LA months ago, because CPUC requires a certain timeline of operation before transitioning to paid services.

Waymo will also start offering rides in Austin, Texas soon, but hasn’t given a specific timeline for when that will happen, only stating today that it would happen “later this year.” Waymo’s coverage area in Austin is 43 square miles, and it has already started testing autonomous, but for Waymo employees only.

If you want to sign up and get on the waitlist for Waymo’s LA (or Austin) service, download the Waymo One app and it will add you to the waitlist for whatever coverage area you’re close to.

Electrek’s Take

Waymo touts that its LA tour went quite well, claiming that it earned an average 4.7/5.0 star drive rating across 15,000 rides (which is hard to compare, given the uniqueness of its service). It shared a video of one of its vehicles correctly interpreting a police officer’s hand signals in a complicated LA intersection, which is quite impressive.

When we rode in a Waymo in LA, we were mostly impressed as well. While the vehicle had difficulty in a few ways (getting stuck and having to phone home on 2 separate occasions, one of which was a complex intersection, and one of which was just a tight cul-de-sac that a human-driven car wrongly led it down), it mostly handled an extremely chaotic driving situation very well.

It recognized and reacted to pedestrians early – in fact much quicker than I would have as a human driver – and confidently handled a complicated moment with closed lanes, difficult visibility, cones in the road, tree work ahead and oncoming traffic all at once.

If you want to read more about it, you can read our long writeup of the drive here: We tested Waymo’s driverless taxi in LA in the perfect chaos of Venice Beach.

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