Special to AFN

After a year of seeing Google and then Waymo self-driving cars make their way around Ahwatukee and the rest of the East Valley, residents now have a chance to use one themselves.

Waymo is letting residents apply at waymo.com/apply to be “early riders” and start using their cars.

“During the time we’ve been in the East Valley, we’ve already experienced so much enthusiasm and support,” said Jennifer Haroon, head of business operations. “We’ve seen a lot of interest so far.”

Some families have already been using the self-driving cars. They are friends of Waymo employees.

“Now is the chance for anyone in Chandler and the surrounding cities to apply,” Haroon said.

The project started in 2009 in Mountain View, California. The program has since spread to Austin, Texas, and Kirkland, Washington. A fleet of self-driving cars started cruising Chandler streets in April 2016.

“Given that our goal is around learning, we are looking for a wide variety of people who have a wide variety of transportation needs,” Haroon said.

“This is part of our transition to really find out how people want to use self-driving cars, how they interface. Do they want longer, shorter, everything or only certain one-off trips?”

According to the Waymo website, one family currently in the early-rider program is using Waymo for all those and more.

Ted and Candace from Chandler, whose last names were not given, are using Waymo to get around with their four kids.

According to Waymo’s website, the family is using the cars to get to work, school “and juggle everything from the parents’ weekly date night to their children’s soccer practice.”

“They are excited about giving everyone in their home a greater sense of freedom and independence,” it says.

People chosen to participate in this next phase won’t actually be alone in the car or get to keep the car.

“For now, we will have our own test driver behind the wheel,” Haroon said. “I would think of it more like our early riders sharing the vehicles.”

One of the things Waymo hopes to find out is whether people prefer to schedule rides or whether they’d like to summon them when ready. They’ve built a mobile app for early riders to do both.

The early riders might get to use a Fiat-Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan, which were recently added to the East Valley program, joining the hybrid Lexus SUVs that the project started with. Haroon says an additional 500 minivans will be delivered over time.

With all those numbers, the Waymo vehicles have become a common sight in the East Valley, particularly Chandler, where the company’s operations center is located. That’s how Waymo wants it.

“It’s so important for us,” Haroon said. “Not that the cars are a fabric of the East Valley, but that Waymo itself is an engaged member.”

Although the early-rider program is limited, Haroon said it’s a special thank you to the East Valley.
“We do want to make sure we’re thanking everybody for their enthusiasm.”

– Contact Ralph Zubiate at 480-898-6825 or rzubiate@timespublications.com.

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