Feb 28, 2023 - News

Battle of the robots: Waymo vs. Cruise

Waymo car on left; Cruise car on right. Photos by Megan Rose Dickey and Nick Bastone

With robotaxis becoming more of a reality in San Francisco, Megan and Nick decided to go for a ride themselves.

State of play: Waymo and Cruise are the two autonomous vehicle operators allowed to transport passengers in San Francisco without a human driver in the front seat.

  • They are limited to where and when they can offer rides in the city, though both companies have worked to expand their service areas in recent months.
  • Waymo is not yet allowed to charge for rides, while Cruise has been able since June to charge for late-night rides.

Nick here. Demand for a car with Cruise was pretty high on a Thursday night just after 10pm – when the service starts in San Francisco. It took around 10 minutes to secure a ride.

  • When the car arrived, I unlocked the doors with my phone and a customer service rep talked through the speakers to make sure everything was okay. (This interaction only happened on my first ride.)
  • It's spooky to see the steering wheel move on its own, but I felt totally secure as we drove.
  • The car navigated obstacles quite well, like a driver who didn't wait their turn at a four-way stop and another car that stopped in our lane with its hazards on.
  • The price per trip seemed comparable to a Lyft or Uber, even without a driver.

Megan here. I opted for Waymo and rode in a spacious, comfortable vehicle whose smooth operation made it easy to forget there was no one behind the wheel.

  • I went for a ride with a Waymo spokesperson, who used her phone to request and unlock the car.
  • It took about five minutes for our ride to show up. When it did, it double-parked in the middle of the street (granted, there was nowhere near the pickup spot for it to pull over) and when we got out of the car, it pulled over into an empty spot to let us out.
  • Of note: The car's social skills are definitely lacking, as it didn't respond when I said "Hello" and "Thank you." It also didn't acknowledge me with a light flicker or a honk when I waved at it. Granted, it's not supposed to do that.

Overall, we'd both ride in robotaxis again!

Yes, but: The San Francisco County Transportation Authority, along with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, recently filed complaints about both Waymo and Cruise, saying their expansion "is unreasonable" in light of incidents such as stopped vehicles blocking traffic.


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