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What’s a Driverless Waymo Taxi Ride Like in San Francisco?

“Hello, Trip,” came a woman’s voice through the speaker of a driverless taxi that was about to collect fares near colorful Victorian homes known as Painted Ladies.

The voice said, “This experience may seem like the future.” “Please do not touch the steering wheel or pedals while riding. For any questions, you can find information in the Waymo app, such as how we keep our cars safe or clean.

For several years, the hilly and congested streets of San Francisco have doubled as test tracks for hundreds of driverless cars. Waymo, an autonomous vehicle company owned by Alphabet, the parent company of GoogleAnd Cruise owned by General Motors,

The New York Times sent three reporters across town to test Waymo’s robot taxis. I started at Alamo Square, the famous place House of the Painted Ladies, Yiwen Lu starts his ride Marina Greenalong San Francisco’s North Shore, and Mike Issac begins his ride near the historic Mission Dolores Basilica,

Our destination: Beach Chalet Restaurant, where San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park meets the Pacific Ocean. Waymo is only offering a limited number of rides in the downtown area of ​​San Francisco, so we tried to replicate the experience a tourist would have traveling around the city in a driverless taxi.

Trips of about five miles were two parts”driving miss daisyand a part NASCAR, Two riders carefully avoided congestion, and one embraced it.

Waymo’s robot taxi rides began when tensions over driverless cars escalated in San Francisco. City officials and activists are urging state officials to reverse or slow down the plan For Waymo and Cruise to start charging passengers for round-the-clock rides throughout the city.

Last week, a cruise driverless car collided with a fire truck responding to an emergency. another cruise vehicle Stuck in wet cement. A week ago, several cruise cars blocked traffic in the city’s North Beach neighborhood. On Friday, state regulators asked Cruise to cut the number of vehicles in half. It is powered.

Waymo has had to deal with less headline-grabbing troubles. in may, a Its cars hit a small dog, killing it, a few years ago, A driverless Waymo car with a human safety driver behind the wheel struck a pedestrian who needed to be taken to the hospital. The company has been collecting fares in the Phoenix area for several years and now has a fleet covering nearly 200 miles across the region, including airport transfers.

Waymo’s app, Waymo One, looks and works a lot like Uber. Riders enter their destination and get an estimated wait time for the ride. Once you submit your request, the company dispatches its fleet of 250 white Jaguar vehicles throughout the city. cars are very expensiveEquipped with high-tech sensors and cameras, and can cost up to $200,000.

Each of us waited for five to 10 minutes for a ride.

The Waymo experience can be confusing for first-timers. When the car stopped next to the Painted Ladies, I reached for the door handle. But the handles were adjacent to the door and would not open. I needed to press an “unlock” button on the app. When I did this, the handles popped out of the door and I was able to climb in.

My commute was so smooth, the novelty began to wear off, turning future travel into just another trip across town. The car was built with precision and thoughtfulness, even if it didn’t have the flexibility or interaction that a human driver would have. It stopped for pedestrians and proceeded for emergency vehicles.

Like my ride, Yiwen’s trip was downright sleepy. The car was very accurate. It never exceeded the speed limit, used its turn signal before changing lanes, and gave way to pedestrians in crosswalks that speeding drivers could ignore.

However, Mike’s robot taxi was more aggressive. It rocketed off the starting line faster than he expected. He was amazed by the way the car went through several tightly packed areas before heading towards the beach.

When my Waymo approached a construction project blocking the right lane, it slowed from 30 mph to 20 mph and flipped on its turn signal to move into the left lane. Moments later, the car was at a stop signal when a fire engine with lights flashing approached. Wemo hesitated. A short description appeared on a touch screen: “Way to emergency vehicle.” It waited until the fire engine had speeded through the intersection.

The steering wheel turned and began to spin by itself. I wondered what would happen if I touched the wheel, so I grabbed it as the Waymo merged from lane to lane. The car ignored me and moved on.

Yiwen’s ride began with a complication: an accident next to the parking lot at Marina Green that didn’t involve Waymo. Police cars were blocking a section of the road so the Waymo car quickly changed course. Instead of going onto the main road, the Waymo car went onto a nearby residential street and went around the accident.

All the cars were reacting immediately to the pedestrians. My ride waited patiently at intersections and crosswalks while people walked their dogs, drank coffee, and rode their bikes toward Golden Gate Park.

But at the top of a hill, Mike’s car detects a man crossing the road at a designated crosswalk, but she continues to drive slowly and wait for him to cross to the other side. The pedestrian looked at the car and Mike angrily.

The cars offer more bells and whistles than Uber or taxicabs. The rear seats have a touch screen button to turn on the music. There’s a range of playlists to choose from, including jazz, classical, rock and hip-hop.

mike wanted to hear for a punk band called armed and tried to find the group’s music on the Waymo app. But to do so, he has to download an app called Google Assistant and request a specific song by speaking into his phone’s mic. His first attempt brought up the wrong band and his second attempt brought up the live version of the song he requested.

Instead of taking the most direct route through the congested road to the beach, my Waymo crossed Golden Gate Park and drove onto a less congested road, but that took a few minutes longer for the trip. It traveled most of the way at 29 mph—one mile under the speed limit—and deferred to other drivers. At one point, it sat behind a car for a few minutes waiting to turn left instead of merging into the right lane to go around that vehicle.

My Waymo arrived at the parking lot six minutes later than initially estimated. It drove through the parking lot to a small, empty lot where a circle appeared on the map on the touch screen. Once he was in the circle, he stopped.

“You are here,” said the woman. “Please make sure it’s clear before exiting.”

As I stepped out of the car, it was filled with meditative electronic music that greeted me at the start of the drive. Mike arrived shortly after me.

Yiwen’s car was less straightforward. At the start of her trip, he told her that it would be a two-minute walk from her drop-off point to the restaurant. The car reminded her of this as soon as it arrived and encouraged her to use the app to guide her as she walked towards the beach chalet.

Waymo rides were cheap, ranging from $18 to $21, roughly the same as Uber. It will take years — if not decades — for Waymo to recoup the billions of dollars invested in its service. Although there are no drivers, each ride is supported by Waymo on-site staff who can be called in case of car trouble.

But that’s Wemo’s problem. It’s easy for the rest of us to forget that there’s no one driving the robot taxis. The only reminder comes when you start thanking the driver before getting out of the car. A glimpse at the empty front seat reminds you that you’re all alone.

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