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Waymo officially sends driverless service into Phoenix area

(Screenshot)

PHOENIX — Waymo One, the driverless ride-hailing service long in the works, made its public debut Wednesday in metro Phoenix, the company said.

The Waymo team said in an online post that for the time being staffers would be behind the wheels to help riders feel more comfortable.

The project will begin on a small scale, with ridership limited to about 200, all of whom have been part of the driverless early rider program.

Rides will be sticking to the East Valley, where Waymo began to test self-driving in Chandler in spring 2017. The early rider program signed up 400 for the public trial.

The roughly 100-square-mile area will cover Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe.

“Today, we’re taking the next step in our journey with the introduction of our commercial self-driving service, Waymo One,” CEO John Krafcik said in a statement.

“Over time, we hope to make Waymo One available to even more members of the public as we add vehicles and drive in more places,” he said.

Riders must download an app that will help them arrange a pickup 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Estimated prices will be available before final booking.

(Waymo Photo)

The self-driving vehicles are still susceptible to glitches. An Associated Press reporter taking a ride in an autonomous minivan alongside Krafcik near company’s Mountain View, California, headquarters mid-October experienced that firsthand.

The minivan performed smoothly, even stopping for a jaywalker, before abruptly pulling to the right side of the road. Ahead was a left-turning FedEx delivery truck.

In a digital message to the two human backup drivers, the van said it “detected an issue” and it would connect to a rider-support agent. Rider support didn’t respond, so they switched to manual mode and returned to headquarters.

At that time, Krafcik conceded that the self-driving vehicles were still encountering occasional problems negotiating left-hand turns at complicated intersections.

“I think the things that humans have challenges with, we’re challenged with as well,” Krafcik said.

“So sometimes unprotected lefts are super challenging for a human, sometimes they’re super challenging for us.”

In March, a self-driving Uber minivan with a driver behind the wheel ran over and killed a woman in Tempe. Gov. Doug Ducey suspended testing. The company ended road testing in Arizona two months later.

Waymo began as a secretive project within Google in 2009.

Since then, its cars have robotically logged more 10 million miles on public roads in 25 cities in Arizona, California, Washington, Michigan and Georgia while getting into only a few minor accidents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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