- We spoke to two Waymo One early riders about their experience in the company’s self-driving taxis.
- Together, the pair have easily amassed more than 100 rides from the Alphabet subsidiary.
- The vans are surprisingly nice, both riders said, and disengagement is minimal. Still, there’s a lot more improvement needed before they ditch their personal vehicles.
The world’s most exclusive club might be in Chandler, Arizona.
For months, dozens of self-driving vans owned by the Alphabet subsidiary Waymo have been crisscrossing the Phoenix suburb on the first rollout of the company’s autonomous driving program.
Plenty of people have noticed them – but very few were allowed to take rides. And those “early riders,” as the company calls them, were subject to strict non-disclosure agreements.
Reid Beer and Shawn Metz were two of those lucky first riders.
In December, Waymo’s early rider program shifted into its first commercial service, now known as Waymo One.
Business Insider spoke to Beer and Metz, who both live in Chandler and are participating in the Waymo One program, about what it’s like to ride in the futuristic vehicles.
In total, the pair have easily taken more than 100 rides in Waymo’s cars – and they spoke candidly about how flawless the service already is, even with backup safety drivers still present in the driver’s seat. Here’s what they had to say:
Rides are easy to hail, and arrive within minutes
“It really works a lot like a lot of the other ride-hail services like Uber, Lyft and things like that,” Metz, a 30-year-old operations manager, told Business Insider. “You just tell it where you want it to pick you up and then tell it where your destination is.”
Both riders said that cars show up quickly, and that wait times have been constantly falling.
“It used to be quite a bit longer, but now it takes about four to six minutes on average,” Beer, a 22-year old insurance agent, told Business Insider. “I have waited ten or 12 minutes before, but only if it’s real late at night.”
That quick hail is key to making the service a regular part of his routines.
“I used to have to plan to call it and get a couple things done,” Beer said. “Now I just call it, go outside, and its there within a minute or two.”
The cars are surprisingly nice for minivans
“One of the things that really surprised us is how nice the cars are inside,” Metz said. “At first we were kind of neutral about it being a minivan – but actually, it’s completely leather upholstered and surprisingly nice inside.”
There’s a screen behind the front-seat headrest that’s not unlike the Waymo One app. It shows GPS-navigation, destination, and a current map.
On the ceiling, there’s a panel that’s similar to being in an airliner, that can get riders a direct connection to Waymo support or tell the car to pull over.
There are also phone chargers, which are a nice touch, the riders said.
Sometimes Waymo is even cheaper than Uber
Waymo One doesn’t have surge pricing. That’s huge on nights like New Year’s Eve, when rides can get expensive and drivers are in high-demand.
“I paid like 10 or 12 bucks for a ride when everyone else was charging $US20 to $US30,” Beer said.
Even on non-holidays, Waymo fares can be dirt cheap.
“It’s four or five miles to our regular grocery store, Trader Joe’s,” Metz said. “And it’s typically like $US5.99 to get there.”
Metz suspects $US4.99 might be the base fare, as he’s never had a ride cheaper than that amount.
The riders we talked to are mixed about the presence of safety drivers
Beer, the younger of the two drivers we spoke to, says he’s convinced the cars are ready to face the road on their own.
“In instances like the left turn, I understand why the safety drivers are there,” he said. “But I can tell it’s improving and I would personally be comfortable with [no driver.]”
Metz had a more measured response:
“Frankly, I currently appreciate having them in the vehicle,” Metz said. “With how new the technology is and how much visibility there is on it, I appreciate the fact that there’s still backups in the vehicle.”
Unlike Uber, there’s no conversing allowed here.
Other than a cordial “hello” or “goodbye,” Waymo safety drivers are there to make sure every ride goes safely and smoothly.
“We are not allowed to [have a conversation with them],” Beer said. “We can pretty much only say ‘hey how are you?’ and ‘have a good night.’ There’s very little interaction that we actually have with them.”
“I know that they’re there to do a job so I don’t usually bother them,” Metz said.
Luckily, the safety drivers don’t have to take over often
“I can literally count on my hands the number of minutes that the safety driver has been driving,” Beer said.
Those situations usually occur in complex situations, like parking lots or unprotected left turns.
“We sat there for about one to two minutes and two cars were sitting there behind us,” Beer said. “At a certain point driver just are the safety driver took over and made the turn. It was a little awkward.”
An expansion could be in the works soon
Both of the riders we spoke to have seen Waymo vans outside of the current service area – which they suspect could be a precursor to an expansion soon.
“I’ve seen them outside the geo-fenced area,” said Metz. “So it looks like they might be getting ready to expand because I know I saw a couple of them around Arizona State University which is north … and then friends of mine in Gilbert saw them further east of the boundary.”
But there’s still a lot to be done before riders could ditch their personal cars
For now, the only limiting factor for the riders we spoke to is how small the current service area is.
“We have two older vehicles,” Metz said of his family. “One of the big reasons I’ve been so enthusiastic about the program is I’d love to get to the point where we could eventually go to a one-vehicle household.”
But even with a bike, Phoenix is still largely a car-centric town where access to one is necessary.
“Phoenix is pretty difficult to get around without having some type of access to a car,” said Metz.
Beer is particularly excited about a possible expansion
“I have to drive because work is just a mile outside of the network,” he said. “I also have some family in the outskirts of Phoenix, but other than those I use [Waymo] for pretty much anything else.”
“It’s a solid 30 minutes to and from work,” Beer said. “And it’s stressful driving too, so I’d much rather have someone else do it for me.”