GM’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary Cruise, also backed by the SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has secured a permit that will allow the company to shuttle passengers to its test vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel .
The permit, issued by the California Public Utilities Commission as part of its driverless pilot program, is one of several regulatory requirements that autonomous vehicle companies must meet before they can be commercially deployed. This permit is important—and Cruise is the first to land this special—but it doesn’t allow the company to charge passengers for any rides in Test AV.
“To begin a commercial service for passengers here in the state of California, you need both the California DMV and the California PUC to issue a deployment permit. Today we are using the Driverless Autonomous Service Permit to test the transportation of passengers from the California PUC Honored to be the first to receive it,” Prashanti Raman, Cruise’s Director of Government Affairs, said in an emailed statement to ClearTips.
There are two regulatory bodies, the CPUC and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, that determine the testing and final deployment of autonomous vehicles. The California DMV regulates the testing of autonomous vehicles with and without safety operators. About 55 companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver. The driverless test permit, in which a human operator is not behind the wheel, has become a new milestone and a necessary step for companies that want to start a commercial robotic taxi or delivery service in the state. AutoX, Baidu, Cruise, Nuro, Pony.ai, Waymo, WeRide and Zoox all have driverless permits with DMVs.
The final step with the DMV, which only Nuro has achieved, is a deployment permit. This permit allows Nuro to be deployed on a commercial scale. Nuro’s vehicles cannot hold passengers, only cargo, which allows the company to bypass the CPUC permission process.
In the CPUC, there are “drive” and “driverless” permits, which allow companies to ride in their autonomous vehicles. Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Deeproute.ai, Pony, Voyage (which was acquired by Cruise), Waymo and Zoox all have “drive” permits. Cruise is the first to crack down on a driverless permit.
Any company that eventually wants to shuttle and charge passengers for rides in their robotaxis must secure all of these permits from the DMV and CPUC.
“The issuance of this first driverless permit is a significant milestone for CPUC’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot Programs. By addressing the needs of individual mobility in autonomous vehicles, improving road safety, and delivering cargo across the state continuously and efficiently By moving we have the potential to transform our transportation systems and communities,” Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma said in the statement. “Effective deployment of autonomous vehicles can also transform the vehicle manufacturing, maintenance and service business model to create new jobs and industries for California’s workforce.”
Last year, CPUC Approved two new programs to allow permitted companies to provide and charge shared rides in autonomous vehicles, as long as they can navigate the lengthy regulatory process. The decision comes after months of lobbying by the AV industry The CPUC will consider a rule change that would allow operators to charge fares and offer shared rides in driverless vehicles.
The CPUC said Cruise, along with any other company that ultimately participates in the pilot, must submit quarterly reports about the operation of its vehicles providing driverless AV passenger service. Companies must also submit a Passenger Safety Plan that outlines their plans to protect passenger safety for driverless operations.