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Waymo / Phoenix
A few weeks ago, Waymo (Google's driverless car and truck entity) and Phoenix expanded their testing area to include the airport. Luckily I was already on my way to Phoenix for warm weather, cactus, and hikes in South Mountain Park I was last in this neighborhood in spring 2021; more on that in a future post?
You can find and install the Waymo One app ahead of time. After landing at the airport, I opened up the app and it finished up my account by confirming my phone number and credit card.
Waymo currently has a service area downtown (which includes the airport) and in South Tempe (which does not include ASU or the airport). I picked a diner in downtown Phoenix, ate dinner, and later took a Lyft to my destination.
You cannot place items in the trunk. I wasn't sure, but it looks like you can have 3 passengers including the front passenger seat. Children are OK.
The Outer Rim: Way to Waymo
On the way out of the airport, when most car pickups went to the curb, I took a left and up an escalator into the PHX Sky Train. There was one poster ad featuring Waymo and a QR code, but the new Waymo pickup option is not immediately obvious to a casual. You take the Sky Train toward the 44th St. Metro / Employee Parking Lot. The few employees went their way and I was ALONE in a transit plaza. NO ONE was around.
Go to the north side of the plaza (Ride Share). If you want a photo with the Waymo Driverless Pickup sign, go to the far west corner, but my car drove right past and stopped near the center of the building with Uber / Lyft signs.
Calling the Robo-Taxi
The Waymo app works much like Uber or Lyft, except for the limited service area.
The car was 10-15 minutes away. As you wait and see the car moving, it shows a little bubble when the car sees a red light / stop sign / etc. to know it's stopping for traffic and not snacks or something.
Entering the Car
The app needs Bluetooth on to unlock the doors.
After the car drove past me, I hurried over. I tried frantically tapping the car on the map and eventually discovered I could scroll the whole page-thing to see more options and unlock the door or honk the horn.
Buckle up, then use the touchscreen or app to start the ride (I saw a video online where someone didn't use his seatbelt, and got called out by the service monitor).
Finally, the Drive
It's a smooth-driving electric vehicle. There is a screen where you can see little boxes for vehicles. A pedestrian appeared as a symbol/icon thing. Orange cones appeared bright on this map.
Though there are several Waymo vehicles driving around to test/survey the area, drivers in other cars would look over at us; it felt special.
During the drive you have options to pull over, call customer service, or get urgent help for emergencies. One thing that occurred to me only when seated in the vehicle was, if there was a collision, I could be the only person at the scene able to understand the situation and to provide help. There is remote monitoring, but I don't know the ratio of employees : vehicles.
Toward the end, we cut through a residential area with cars parked on both curbs. It was narrower than the usual Phoenix streetscape; we paused once for another car to go. Later, Waymo braked suddenly because it thought that a car parked on the right curb was too close for comfort. I gave the ride a 4/5 stars and reported this issue. Cost including airport tax was $16.16 (no tips for bots).