Earlier today, Waymo began offering fully autonomous car service for “select members of the public” in Santa Monica and Los Angeles. According to a press statement the service will include. For the first couple of weeks, rides will be free while Waymo is waiting for its final approval to offer taxi-style service from the California Public Utilities commission.

This is the first time a commercial fully autonomous vehicle service has operated in Los Angeles or Santa Monica.

Waymo services have proven controversial with the local teamsters union protesting the Santa Monica soft-launch in October 2023 citing safety concerns.

After similar concerns dominated the discussion in the Bay Area, Waymo CEO Tekedra Mawakana flipped the argument, writing “Our roads are deadly. S.F. can’t ignore technology that can make them safer” in an op/ed in the San Francisco Chronicle. In a rebuttal, Streetsblog San Francisco editor Roger Rudick fumed, “Waymo and Cruise are Driven by Money, Not Safety…AV execs need to stop co-opting Vision Zero.

But that hasn’t stopped the growing enthusiasm for Waymo from many in Los Angeles’ westside and Santa Monica. More than 50,000 people have signed up for their L.A. area waitlist and over 15,000 free, early-access rides have been given out in the area.

Some of those free rides were given to Juan Matute, who wrote about the experience at Santa Monica Next in October. Matute wrote that he found Waymo to be safer for both pedestrians and people riding in the car:

“If you’re unsure about Waymo’s safety, I encourage you to try it out and watch the Waymo driver. Because it sees more than most drivers do. Especially the 1 in 4 drivers I see actively using their phones while driving around Santa Monica. It doesn’t exceed the posted speed limit and slows down when the condition caused by other drivers is less safe.”

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