Uber’s self-driving cars bid farewell to California.
It’s been a short, bumpy trip for the ride-hailing company and its autonomous vehicle program in the state. It took only one week for Uber to unleash its self-driving car pilot on California streets, have the state declare them illegal, and then have Uber pack up and move to Arizona.
Uber made it clear Thursday afternoon that the company would rather go to a place where it feels welcome than continue negotiations with California regulators.
“Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck,” an Uber spokeswoman wrote in an email. “We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Governor Ducey.”
Uber made its name by pairing passengers with drivers via a phone app. Over the past six years, it’s grown from a small startup to a multinational company with operations in more than 400 cities in 72 countries. Now Uber is going a step further, venturing into robotics and artificial intelligence with autonomous vehicles. In this arena, the company must first get the blessing of state officials, which is where it made missteps in California.
Uber started its self-driving car program in San Francisco last week. But within hours of the launch, the DMV told the company it was breaking the law and needed to halt the program until it got a permit. Uber refused to back down and announced it would keep the cars on the road.
California’s Office of the Attorney General then got involved, sending a letter to the company demanding it “immediately remove its self-driving vehicles from California public roadways until it obtains the appropriate permit.” If it didn’t, the attorney general would “seek injunctive and other appropriate relief.”
But Uber’s cars continued to drive city streets.
The DMV then announced Wednesday that it was revoking the registration of 16 of the company’s autonomous vehicles. And, again, the agency invited Uber to get a permit, just like 20 other companies working on self-driving technology in the state have already done, including Google, Tesla, Honda, BMW and Ford.
“This technology holds the promise of enhanced safety and mobility,” Jean Shiomoto, director of California’s DMV, wrote in a letter to Uber on Wednesday, “but must be tested responsibly.”
The pressure worked. Uber said Wednesday that it had stopped its self-driving car pilot in California. In one final development, however, Uber decided to abandon the state rather than get the permit.
Arizona is receiving Uber with open arms. When news hit that the company was halting its autonomous vehicle program in California, Arizona’s governor took to Twitter to say Uber was welcome in his state. He included hashtags like, #ditchcalifornia and #AZmeansBIZ.
“While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses,” Gov. Ducey said in a statement on Thursday after Uber announced it was moving its self-driving cars to Arizona. “California may not want you, but we do.”