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It’s official: Waymo robotaxis are now free to use freeways and leave San Francisco

fleet of waymos
Waymo robotaxis were given the green light by regulators to use freeways and leave the city. | Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Robotaxi company Waymo can now officially leave the confines of San Francisco.

The self-driving car company owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc. has received approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to expand its 24/7 paid service into a wide swath of Los Angeles and San Mateo counties and use the freeways to ferry passengers, regulators said in a letter Friday.

According to filings with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Waymo’s Bay Area service area can now stretch down the Peninsula through Highway 101 and Interstate 280 into Sunnyvale.

map of waymo bay area
Waymo's planned expansion in the Bay Area would go down the Peninsula south from San Francisco to Sunnyvale. | Source: Courtesy Waymo

In Los Angeles, Waymo has approval to operate from Pacific Palisades in the northwest to Manhattan Beach in the southwest, Monterey Park in the northeast and Paramount in the southeast.

The company had previously received the green light from the DMV for the expansion. Waymo has been operating its commercial service in San Francisco since last August and said it offers tens of thousands of rides weekly.

“We’re grateful to the CPUC for this vote of confidence in our operations, which paves the way for the deployment of our commercial Waymo One service in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Peninsula,” Waymo spokesperson Julia Ilina said in a statement.

But the question of when exactly this expanded service will be offered to riders is still up in the air. The company said it has no “immediate plans” to expand its service to the Peninsula.

Regulators wrote in their decision letter that Waymo has enacted procedures to minimize risks to passengers. These include enhanced exterior lighting, new audio cues to help the vehicle communicate with pedestrians and first responders, and new partnerships with public safety agencies to help the vehicles avoid emergency scenes.

map of los angeles
Waymo's approved expansion in Los Angeles includes the majority of the city and a number of major freeways.  | Source: Courtesy Waymo

The feedback to Waymo’s request to expand was mostly positive. However, there were a few notable detractors, including San Mateo County, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

The approval takes place amid a backdrop of increasing scrutiny from lawmakers and government bodies around robotaxis.

In January, state Sen. David Cortese, who represents San Jose, introduced legislation that would give local governments the ability to establish autonomous vehicle caps, service hours and require a system for emergency responders to override vehicle controls.

Kevin Truong can be reached at