Major Taxi Disruption on Horizon: California Driverless Cars by April

Driverless cars, with no person in the vehicle, may come to California as soon as April if rules are approved Monday.

California is way behind Arizona when it comes to driverless cars but the state wants to catch up. The DMV seeks rules changes, and if approved, Driverless Cars Without Standby Human Assistance may happen in April.

Regulations have been under review since Jan. 11. If they are approved, the DMV must post a public notice and 30 days later could issue permits to any of the 50 companies that are testing such vehicles right now. By April 2, then, autonomous vehicles could curve down San Francisco’s crooked Lombard Street without a driver behind the wheel.

The proposed regulations require companies to notify local authorities if they plan to test vehicles in a city, and a “communication link” must be maintained between the vehicle and a remote operators. The companies must also certify the vehicle is capable of operating without the presence of a driver and notify California Highway Patrol of a “law enforcement interaction plan” that will be available for first responders.

“Under driverless testing, a permit holder can’t charge a rider,” Gonzalez told the San Francisco Examiner by email Wednesday.

California DMV has issued 50 permits to test autonomous vehicles, with drivers, to companies including Uber, BMW, Ford, Subaru, Lyft, Apple inc., Toyota Research Institute and Waymo, among others.

Major Taxi Disruption Coming Up

In Arizona, Waymo was Approved for Level-4 Paid Taxi Service in direct competition with Uber. Waymo's driverless, paid ride, vehicles will operate later this year.

These first steps will soon escalate.

Four years from now, the taxi industry will not look like what it does today, especially at airports where an operator can easily assist reluctant passengers.

By the way, these short-haul taxi vehicles will increasingly be electric.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (8)
No. 1-8

Makes me think about a recent after-dinner taxi ride with 3 companions. Original request to the driver was to take us all to destination X. Following discussion along the way, we change our minds and told the driver to change course for destination Y. Then one of the group got an urgent phone call and we diverted to destination Z to drop that person off. Following that change in group balance, the rest of us altered course to destination A. And this was all without the complication of, say, being Chinese-speaking people in a French-speaking country. Really, it would make a lot more sense to put autonomous vehicles on cross-country trucking business, rather than inner-city taxi driving. I remember what an Economics professor told us years ago -- whenever you see something happening that does not make sense, you can bet there is a government regulation somewhere in the background.


They "cant charge a rider"? Not going to be much of a business.


Actually it does make a ton of sense economically. Long haul truck drivers are pretty cheap when it comes to moving things around. Only thing cheaper is rail, but it isn't anywhere near as flexible (which probably is due to regulation at least in the US). Air travel is fantastically inexpensive yet pilots are some of the highest paid "drivers" in the sector. Taxis are extremely expensive, and not just because of the regulation. They don't have the efficiency advantages due to stop and go traffic, they have to capitalize for peak use even though that's only (guessing) an average of a few hours a week and the vehicles used don't usually have much carrying capacity. So you have to have a lot of low-productive employees who don't necessarily care about route optimization or capacity planning (if they get better tips and more rides from hanging out at the airport they're going to resist going elsewhere). Take away the driver and it starts to make a little more sense to pre-stage vehicles and optimize routing.
This is the same problem that happens in wide area networks. Fiber optic cables are really cheap. The expensive part is the labor to install them. That's gotten better in "greenfield" areas like new developments above a certain size or estimated lot value, but to abandon existing infrastructure like cable TV or copper phone lines means your payback might take decades if ever. But to upgrade inter-city links is supper cheap and happens all the time despite the bottom line capital outlay. The technicians who work on fiber to the home projects are paid far less than the techs who do similar work on inter-city lines only because a FTTH tech might activate a single or maybe a few customers a day while the inter-city tech could easily affect millions of customers in a few hours of work.


Fair points, ReadyKilowatt -- but it is hard to see how autonomous taxis could compete with Uber-like systems, where the capital cost of the driver-owned vehicle is not fully recovered from the rider. Pre-Uber, some of the former Soviet States had an informal system where drivers would pick up people from the roadside who were going their way, for a small charge. That certainly took care of the issue of peak demand during commute hours. Of course, there were no government regulations to block this common-sense solution, mutually beneficial to the driver and the passenger.