Anyone in San Francisco can now hail and ride a Waymo self-driving robotaxi, or rather, anyone in SF with the Waymo app and a working credit card, as the Google-owned autonomous company is opening its vehicles to SF’s masses.

Right up until this morning, those San Franciscans who’d ridden in a Google-owned Waymo self-driving robotaxi were members of a somewhat elite club. Waymo started offering driverless rides back in late 2022, but could not charge for them, and only offered them to a very limited number of screened passengers in limited parts of the city. Waymo (and self-driving rival Cruise) got permission to charge for rides 24/7 all over the San Francisco, though riders had to get on a waitlist, which was rumored to be hundreds of thousands of names long.

But as of Tuesday morning, the Chronicle reports that Waymo rides are now available to anyone in San Francisco. Of course, you need the Waymo One app on an iOS or Android device, and a working credit card.

“The wait is over,” Waymo announced in a Tuesday morning blog post. “Starting today, anyone can hail a ride with Waymo in San Francisco. Rain, shine, or Karl the Fog, just download the app, and ride.”

Oh, they just had to co-opt the name of a popular Twitter account to promote their product, didn’t they.

NBC Bay Area points out that Waymo has about 300 vehicles in their SF fleet, and some 700 nationwide. Per the Chronicle, the company started offering limited rides in Phoenix in 2020. Waymo is also in the process of expanding rides down the Peninsula, and into the Los Angeles market.  

But will Waymo be able to meet the new demand, or will the product decline in quality now that the investors are expecting immediate returns? It will be interesting to see if wait times become longer for ride-hailers now that the floodgates are open. (Please pipe up in the comments below if you’re a Waymo rider who’s noticed any changes!)

Waymo’s blog post claims they’re now doing “tens of thousands of weekly trips,” and confirms they had “nearly 300,000 people” on the waitlist prior to Tuesday morning’s announcement. These are corporate PR statements with no detailing of methodology.

But is Waymo ready for the unavoidable increase in drunks in their cars? Will this move somehow bring out the saboteurs? There are many unknowns that will come with the release of this kraken.

It has been posited that tourists love the novelty of self-driving cars, as visitors do not have these futuristic robot cars in their own towns. That may help our tourism and convention market. But as we know, tourists sometimes do stupid things too, and can be magnets for criminal activity. So the tourist factor comes with some unpredictable variables too.

Still, we have certainly crossed a historic rubicon with this Waymo announcement. It’s a small rollout, in just one high-profile city, but they are establishing the blueprint that they hope to take worldwide. Certainly Waymo will sell this as some great triumph for street safety, and whatever fig-leaf charitable causes they’ve partnered with, but this is all about declaring to the investor community that their investment might finally be paying off.

But remember that Waymo remains under federal investigation for about two dozen safety incidents. Also remember that self-driving robotaxi rival Cruise was riding high last September, yet within just a month, that company crashed both literally and figuratively.

Related: Waymo Now Under Federal Investigation For 22 Crash and Safety Violation Incidents [SFist]

Image: Joe Kukura, SFist