Waymo is cleared to launch robotaxi service in Los Angeles, sparking new protests

A white Waymo self-driving vehicle outside an airport
A Waymo self-driving vehicle sits curbside at the Sky Harbor International Airport Sky Train facility in Phoenix in December 2022.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

California regulators have given the green light for Waymo to expand into Los Angeles County, clearing the way for the driverless taxi service to launch into a new massive market in the coming months.

But the move is sparking protests from local leaders, who have safety concerns after a rocky rollout in San Francisco.

Exactly when Waymo services will be available in Los Angeles is still to be determined, but the decision by the California Public Utilities Commission will open the streets of America’s second-largest city to a fleet of autonomous vehicles — even as self-driving cars continue to be the subject of safety concerns and some public criticism.


Waymo, formerly known as the Google self-driving car project, is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and already operates in parts of San Francisco.

Waymo’s driverless taxi launch in Santa Monica attracted both excited enthusiasts and concerned critics.

Oct. 11, 2023

The company is allowed to operate fully autonomous vehicles and carry public passengers as part of its testing and promotion, and has been testing its driverless white Jaguars in Los Angeles for more than a year. An invitation-only period rolled out in Los Angeles County last year, giving some a chance to experience the service firsthand.

“As always, we’ll take a careful and incremental approach to expansion by continuing to work closely with city officials, local communities and our partners to ensure we’re offering a service that’s safe, accessible and valuable to our riders,” Waymo spokesperson Julia Ilina said in a statement.

Waymo’s expansion has been met with some skepticism — and the vehicles have at times been targets of vandalism. Last month, a crowd burned an empty Waymo car in San Francisco’s Chinatown, though the motive for that attack was unclear.

Los Angeles officials have expressed concern over the deployment of the driverless vehicles, and some have backed legislation introduced by state Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San José) that would give local officials more power to regulate them.

L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn called the CPUC’s approval “a dangerous decision.”

“These robotaxis are far too untested and Angelenos shouldn’t be Big Tech’s guinea pigs. Decisions like this one should be informed by cities, not made over city objections,” Hahn said in a statement.


San Mateo County and others want a say in regulating the operations of companies that deploy driverless cars.

Feb. 21, 2024

Peter Finn — president of the Teamsters Joint Council 7, a union that represents freight and delivery truck drivers — said the commission’s decision comes less than a month after Waymo issued a recall because of a software issue. That recall was prompted by incidents in Phoenix in December, when two Waymo vehicles struck the same pickup truck minutes apart as it was being towed.

“The fact that this permit is being granted following such a fiasco raises a lot of questions about the due diligence conducted during this process and how forthcoming Waymo is with both regulators and the general public,” Finn said in a statement.

In addition to L.A., state officials Friday also approved Waymo for San Mateo County.

Currently, local jurisdictions have no say in the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles. The CPUC cleared the expansion of Waymo’s operations despite letters of opposition from officials in South San Francisco, San Mateo and Los Angeles counties, and multiple transportation agencies.

In a protest letter to the commission, the L.A. Department of Transportation argued that there needs to be standardization of disengagement protocols and increased oversight of the automated vehicles before they are deployed.

“Any expansion by Waymo will set a precedent for these companies and those looking to enter the marketplace to deploy without any rules or safeguards in place that were promulgated without meaningful coordination with local jurisdictions,” the letter said.

L.A. Mayor Karen Bass asked regulators in November to increase their scrutiny of autonomous vehicles and said the city should have a say in how they are regulated.


With robotaxis being tested in Los Angeles, Mayor Karen Bass called on the state to increase scrutiny of the driverless vehicles before fully permitting them. She points to problems with the cars in San Francisco.

Nov. 3, 2023

At the time, she pointed to one of the Waymo driverless cars operating in Los Angeles that had failed to initially stop for a traffic officer at Beaudry Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard on Aug. 3, 2023. The officer had been signaling east- and westbound traffic to come to a stop.

Groups submitting letters of support for the Waymo expansion included United Way Bay Area, the California Chamber of Commerce, the Epilepsy Foundation of Northern California and the Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living.

Before the commission’s approval, San Mateo County Atty. John D. Nibbelin protested, saying the county didn’t have enough information on the expansion plans or enough engagement with Waymo.

“The ‘quick and simplified’ advice letter review process ... is insufficient to develop the evidence necessary to fully understand the potential impacts and issues Waymo’s expansion into San Mateo County will create, including accounting for the differing needs and hurdles Waymo will face operating in San Mateo County,” Nibbelin’s letter to the commission stated.