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Waymo highlights rider gripes from Phoenix pilot program

by Justin King

The company has learned that riders may be frustrated to leave a store and have to walk across the parking lot to get to their waiting Waymo van.

Waymo has shed light on its early rider program, highlighting a few important lessons learned from a group of 400 Phoenix-area residents over the span of a year.

The company received 20,000 online applications and eventually narrowed the list down to a diverse group that represents children, elders, people living with disabilities or those without a driver's license.

"Our early riders go everywhere under the Arizona sun: on daily trips to work and school, on rides to doctors and dentists, on shopping trips to the local Chandler Fashion Center Mall," the company wrote on its blog. "They hop in Waymo vehicles to visit restaurants and bars or catch a movie at the AMC Ahwatukee. Along the way they do homework, catch up on emails, read books, or even just daydream and check out the local scenery."

Riders were asked to provide feedback to help Waymo refine its service ahead of a wider rollout. Some voiced frustration with distant pick-up parking at stores, requiring a long walk across a hot Arizona parking lot.

The company says it is improving its operations to address such unforeseen issues and riders will be able to tap a button in the vehicle or on a mobile app to get assistance at any time. Early riders have already used the link to recover forgotten belongings, ask how to play music in the car or inquire about service animals.

Owned by Google parent Alphabet, Waymo appears to have cemented a wide lead in the race to bring truly driverless taxis to market. The company is nearly ready to begin giving rides to the general public, starting with select cities but quickly expanding to new markets.

The company has ordered tens of thousands of additional Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to support wider rollout. Riders will eventually be able to select from a variety of different vehicles to suit particular trips, including Jaguar's electric I-Pace SUV that serves as a more exciting option than a Pacifica to shuttle friends around for a night on the town.