Waymo, the driverless ride-hailing company, has unveiled its intentions to extend its testing operations to Los Angeles, marking a significant expansion beyond its current testing grounds in San Francisco and Phoenix, Arizona. However, a recently introduced bill by Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) poses a potential challenge to Waymo's plans if passed.
Senator Cortese introduced SB 915, known as the Autonomous Vehicle Service Deployment and Data Transparency Act, which aims to grant local communities the authority to dictate regulations and requirements regarding the operation of autonomous vehicles (AVs) within their jurisdictions. This shift would deviate from the current practice where such permissions are primarily determined by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
In a statement, Senator Cortese emphasized the importance of empowering local communities in shaping regulations, stating, “City councils and county boards of supervisors adopt ordinances on any given week, nimbly and with local accountability. SB 915 returns control to the local communities who know their streets best.”
The bill's introduction follows heightened scrutiny surrounding driverless vehicles, particularly in San Francisco, where concerns were raised after incidents involving autonomous vehicles. Notably, Cruise, a company owned by General Motors, faced backlash and had its permit to operate driverless vehicles revoked after a pedestrian accident involving one of its robotaxis.
Critics of SB 915 argue that the bill could impede innovation by requiring companies like Waymo to navigate a complex web of approvals from numerous municipalities before expanding their operations. Grayson Brulte, head of insights firm Road to Autonomy, likened Waymo's influence to that of Standard Oil in the autonomous driving sector and expressed concerns about the potential stifling effect of the proposed legislation on California's innovation economy.
Discussions on SB 915 are expected to commence in the Senate following the upcoming Friday, although a vote on the legislation is not anticipated until later in the year. Meanwhile, Waymo awaits a decision from the CPUC by February 20 regarding its expansion plans, with potential implications for the company's future endeavors in Los Angeles.