Waymo is ready to tackle the chaos of airport drop-offs and pickups in Phoenix. The Alphabet company says it is the first autonomous vehicle company to include a busy metropolitan airport in its service area. The company had previously only offered airport trips to its employees with safety drivers behind the wheel.
Expanding its service area to include Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport represents a potential moneymaking opportunity for Waymo, with the company noting that airport trips account for an estimated 20 percent of manually driven ride-hail cars. AV companies are under intense pressure to begin generating revenue as the industry shrinks, tech stocks plummet, and economic forecasts look gloomier.
AV companies are under intense pressure to begin generating revenue
Waymo has been operating its vehicles in several suburban towns outside of Phoenix since early 2017, including Chandler, Mesa, Tempe, and Gilbert. It also runs a commercial ride-hailing service called Waymo One using a mix of vehicles with and without safety drivers. The company expanded its service area to include downtown Phoenix earlier this year.
Last year, the company launched its Trusted Tester program, which is basically a rebranding of the Early Rider program it ran in suburban Phoenix. Customers interested in using Waymo’s robotaxis join a wait list and, once approved, sign nondisclosure agreements to get access to the company’s early technology and new service areas.
Eventually, the company opens up those vehicles and service areas to regular paying customers who aren’t barred by NDAs from sharing about their trips. Some of those trips will take place in Waymo’s fully autonomous “rider only” vehicles, though a spokesperson wouldn’t say when.
Airport trips can be notoriously messy for human-operated vehicles, so Waymo will certainly have work to do before introducing its Level 4 autonomous vehicles to the mix. As airport traffic steadily increases in the wake of the covid pandemic, Waymo either stands to start generating a lot of cash for Alphabet or become the subject of embarrassing headlines if its vehicles get confused and cause traffic headaches (like it has done already).