Dec 14, 2022 - News

Exclusive: Free robo-rides for USF students

Cruise car

Driverless Cruise car. Photo: Courtesy of Cruise

When you go to college in the tech capital of the world, getting home from parties is just … different.

What's happening: Autonomous vehicle company Cruise told Axios this week it partnered with the University of San Francisco to offer free robotaxi rides to the school's more than 8,500 undergrad and graduate students through May 2023.

  • Cruise says this program is the first-ever to provide completely autonomous rides (with no human driver) to college students.

What they're saying: "Our students are eager for affordable and safe transportation alternatives … in the course of their studies, internships, jobs and of course, socialization," USF's chief information officer Opinder Bawa told Axios. "There's a cool factor here too. [Students] feel like they’re part of the future."

Why it matters: Given the "reputation" of traditional rideshare companies like Uber forcing their way into cities, Megan Prichard, vice president of Cruise's ridehail department, told Axios that her firm wanted to do things differently and form partnerships from the start.

  • "Working with a flagship institution like USF, that's very core to the community here, made a lot of sense for us," Prichard said.
  • Giving thousands of college students the chance to use the service, provide feedback and tell their friends about the experience presented upsides as well.

How it works: USF students recently received an email to sign up and already, hundreds of rides have been completed.

  • Prichard said the service will be available to all students who opted-in "pretty soon in the new year."
  • It's free, and students can hail a ride from almost anywhere in the city between 9pm and 5:30am.

Of note: While some people may be nervous to hop in a driverless car for the first time, Prichard said often riders find them to be a "better [experience] within the first few minutes."

  • Bawa said he isn't aware of any objections from students or parents about the program.

What's next: If successful at USF, Cruise will consider partnering with other universities in the future.

  • The company also intends to offer its commercial robotaxis 24/7 throughout all of San Francisco, expanding from its current late-night service that's limited to certain parts of the city.
  • Cruise has plans to move into new cities as well with its eyes set on launching in Austin, Texas by the end of this month.
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