Waymo Adds Amenities To Attract Riders

Alphabet’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) self-driving car company Waymo is adding new amenities to entice riders to use its self-driving taxis. Since December, hundreds of the company’s identical, driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans have been carrying paying riders around a 100-square-mile territory around Phoenix in a wide-ranging trial of the service. More than 1,000 users are participating in the trial, the largest of its kind in the nation.

One of the things the company is testing is complimentary Wi-Fi in its robotaxis. Waymo declined to disclose when Wi-Fi testing began, its internet speeds or its providers, but did say that its network has no usage restrictions. Any data it collects from passengers through the Wi-Fi service is governed by its general privacy policy. Riders say they first noticed laminated fliers with Wi-Fi instructions in vans in April.

Waymo said all riders can play ad-free music through the minivan’s speakers without fees. Riders can select among eight playlists on seatback touchscreens or tap “I’m feeling lucky” to hear a different collection of songs. In late April, Waymo launched ad-free music streaming for passengers through Google Play Music. That give passengers the ability to listen to playlists that they have created.

The identical set-up of each van, which can seat three adults and two kids, has proved appealing to passengers. Waymo has installed a child car seat in the back row in every minivan and a booster seat is nearby if needed. The company also ensures vehicles arrive cooled to a precise 72 degrees. As one rider participating in the trial said, “When I push the Waymo button, I know exactly the product I’m buying.”

Waymo’s challenge is to prove that hospitality and connectivity can generate profits in a money-losing industry. The company currently charges rates comparable to Uber and Lyft. Wall Street investment analysts have estimated Waymo’s current value at more than $100 billion.