By Kayla Rutledge
AFN Staff Writer
Chandler city employees are hitching hands-free rides from Waymo to save time and be more efficient when traveling for work.
City officials are interested in seeing how much time and money can be saved if the city utilizes self-driving vehicles. The partnership is a test-run of sorts that started this week and will run until the end of next June.
Economic Development Director Micah Miranda said the pilot program will help the city determine the direction of city employee transportation.
“The big thing is we’re looking at this to evaluate human capital efficiencies, cost efficiencies and advancing our brand,” said Miranda.
The program serves three major purposes.
The most pressing, Miranda said, is giving employees the ability to work while on the road.
Currently, city policy requires employees to place any and all devices that could lead to distracted driving away while in a city vehicle.
Because some departments spend large amounts of time traveling, employees lose time to respond to emails, look over documents and essentially get work done for large portions of the day.
“Human capital efficiency is a major expense to the city,” Miranda said.
“We’ve opened [the pilot program] up to several dozen city employees. They range from parks and recreation employees to individuals in the city manager’s office. It is a wide spectrum,” he added.
The reason to test the program on such a variety of employee types is to receive diverse sets of data from each department.
After each ride, employees have to fill out a survey regarding their trip and turn in ride receipts online.
Rides are not discounted for city employees, and each trip must start and end at the designated pick-up and drop-off zone at City Hall. Destinations are limited to Waymo’s current service area in the East Valley.
The program will also serve to relieve stress from current city vehicle fleets.
While city vehicles will still be used, “we always have a crunch of vehicles that are in demand so this will take the pressure off from a scheduling perspective,” said Miranda.
Utilizing Waymo’s services, he added, will also keep city vehicles viable for a longer period of time.
The study is part of what Chandler is known for — being on the cutting-edge of technological advancements.
“From the economic development perspective, Chandler is known for innovation. We’re open to testing new technologies and that in and of itself is economic advancement from a business attraction perspective,” said Miranda.
Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke agreed, and said, “we’ve worked closely with Waymo for the past several years and it’s a natural progression to utilize their technology,” in a release.
Chandler has been the testing ground for Waymo’s self-driving vehicles since 2017 just after the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan was added to their fleet.
The minivans, now commonly seen around town in Chandler, were the company’s first mass-produced vehicle with a fully-integrated hardware suite.
“We’ve been driving in Chandler for more than three years and the City has been extremely supportive of our work to deploy self-driving technology to make our roads safer,” said Dezbah Hatathli, Waymo Local Policy and Community Manager.
“We’re thrilled that City employees will now be able to ride in Waymo vehicles to get around for work. Our hope is that this collaboration allows the City to realize its goal of reducing its vehicle fleet and lowering costs,” Hatathli added.