Self-driving systems don’t get distracted from the road ahead — they also don’t get sick or spread germs.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Waymo said Tuesday it will pause its Waymo One commercial ride-hailing service that’s underpinned by human safety drivers. But a driverless research program that carries passengers within Waymo One will continue.
“Removing the human driver holds great promise for not only for making our roads safer, but for helping our riders stay healthy in these uncertain times,” the company said in a written statement.
Waymo has not divulged specific details on the number of self-driving rides it provides in Phoenix that operate without human safety drivers. Last October, CEO John Krafcik said the scope of those driverless operations had expanded.
Those rides remain available only for members of the company’s Early Rider Program, a research-focused subset of its broader Waymo One service.
Waymo’s human safety drivers are contracted through Transdev, a multinational transit operator. A spokesperson for Transdev couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but Waymo says it will provide money to help safety drivers through the health crisis.
“We’re committed to working with our staffing partners and vendors to help ensure their employees have the support they need as COVID-19 continues to develop,” a Waymo spokeswoman said. “For that reason, Waymo has committed to providing funds to enable our partners to compensate staff assigned to work at Waymo for their normal working hours if they have symptoms of COVID-19, can’t come into work because they’re quarantined or if our service is suspended.”
Further, Waymo has paused its testing in California per local guidance.