The service is limited for now, but I suspect it will expand soon enough.
A driverless ride hailing service is launching operations Thursday in Houston, where residents in select locations can start catching autonomous rides at 9 p.m.
Cruise driverless cars will operate daily from 9 p.m.-6 a.m. in downtown, east downtown, Midtown, Montrose, Hyde Park and River Oaks, according to the company, which is a California-based subsidiary of General Motors.
“To give Houstonians a warm welcome, we’re offering $5 flat fares for all trips for a limited time,” Cruise spokeswoman Elizabeth Conway said Thursday.
Cruise’s driverless cars have driven more than 5 million miles in the U.S. and more than 1 million miles in Texas, offering select rides to Cruise employees in Houston since August.
The launch comes a few weeks after reports that the self-driving cars were causing a backup on a busy Montrose roadway triggered by malfunctioning traffic lights. In September, some of those autonomous cars caused another major traffic jam in Austin.
Cruise recalled all of its vehicles earlier this year for a software update in late March after one rear-ended a city bus in San Francisco. The crash caused no injuries and the autonomous car was traveling about 10 mph at the time, according to Cruise.
And while the service will offer quick rides, regulating those driverless vehicles could pose a challenge for city officials. A senate bill was written into law in 2017 that prohibits cities in Texas from regulating driverless vehicles.
Authority over autonomous vehicles is handled at the state level, said Jesse Bounds, director of innovation and performance in the Houston mayor’s office.
Conway said the company is in its early days of service, and the self-driving cars will pull over to the side of the road if they “don’t know what to do.”
See here for more on that Montrose incident. I’m curious why the service is so limited at this time, and also curious as to how they are defining “east downtown”. Just a guess, but the sensible answer to that is “whatever you want to call the area in between downtown and Montrose”, which might include places like Freedmen’s Town and Westmoreland, although I guess the latter is more “east Midtown”. Be that as it may, this is your chance to ride in a robotaxi for almost free. Anyone out there gonna try it? It’s on my to-do list eventually, but not till its geographic reach is a little broader. TechCrunch and InnovationMap have more.