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Waymo goes dark except for fully driverless rides

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
REUTERS/Caitlin O’Hara

Waymo is joining Uber and Lyft in curtailing its ride services to limit the spread of COVID-19, with a notable exception. The Alphabet-owned company has paused both Waymo One service with human overseers in Phoenix as well as its California self-driving tests in order to protect the "health and safety" of passengers and the community. However, it planned to continue its fully driverless service in Phoenix as well as its UPS delivery services and truck testing, at least "for now." The company believed it could respect local and CDC health guidelines on social isolation with no human drivers involved.

The freeze is taking effect in the context of not only widespread closures and shutdowns to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, but also hesitation within Waymo's ranks. One backup driver for Waymo One refused to pick up a passenger at Intel's Chandler, Arizona office after hearing reports of a COVID-19 case at the company.

It's not clear when Waymo's full efforts will resume. That will likely depend on the development of the pandemic and when officials deem it safe to resume close contact. However, its ability to keep truly some service active could make a case for self-driving cars in the future -- it may be the only way to greatly reduce health risks for ride hailing services.