State OKs Pilot Program to Test Driverless Rides

Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) announced it had authorized San Francisco-based Cruise, LLC to participate in the state’s first pilot program to provide driverless passenger services to the public.

Cruise is the first company to enter the CPUC’s Driverless AV Passenger Service pilot program, in which passengers can ride in a test autonomous vehicle (AV) that operates without a driver in the vehicle. Cruise may not charge passengers for any rides in test AVs, which still must maintain a communication link between passengers and a remote safety operator.

The California Chamber of Commerce supports the development of AV technology for passenger and commercial operations.

A study by the Boston Consulting Group estimates that by the end of the next decade, 20% to 25% of U.S. rides will be logged by Level 5 (fully automated) AVs operated by ride-sharing services.


Cruise was founded in 2013 and acquired by General Motors in 2016, with subsequent additional investments from Softbank, Honda, T. Rowe Price, Microsoft and Walmart.

The Cruise website reports that Cruise autonomous vehicles have traveled more than 2 million miles on California roads. The company has more than 300 all-electric AVs operating in San Francisco and Phoenix.

The CPUC states that its pilot programs are intended to allow AV companies to develop their technologies on a test basis, while providing for the safety and consumer protection of passengers of commercial operators within the CPUC’s jurisdiction.

CPUC Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma described the issuance of the first driverless permit in the CPUC Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot Program as “a significant milestone.”

She said AVs “have the potential to transform our transportation system and communities by solving individual mobility needs, improving roadway safety, and moving goods throughout the state sustainably and efficiently. The effective deployment of autonomous vehicles can also transform vehicle manufacturing, maintenance, and service business models to create new jobs and industries for the California workforce.”


As required, Cruise has already obtained an Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program Manufacturer’s Testing Permit – Driverless Vehicles from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV permit is a necessary prerequisite for all AV testing, and is separate from the CPUC permit, which is an additional requirement only for carriers wishing to transport members of the public in AVs.

Companies participating in the pilot program must submit quarterly reports to the CPUC about the operation of their vehicles providing driverless AV passenger service. Companies also must submit a Passenger Safety Plan that outlines their plans for protecting passenger safety for driverless operations.

More information on the CPUC Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot Programs is available at

For background information on autonomous vehicles, see the CalChamber Business Issues and Legislative Guide article.

Staff Contact: Leah Silverthorn

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Leah B. Silverthorn served as a CalChamber policy advocate from May 2018 to February 2022. She specialized in climate change, air quality, energy, environmental justice, marijuana/cannabis, and transportation and infrastructure issues. She brought to the CalChamber more than a decade of legal experience in environmental, energy, and land use matters. Immediately before coming to CalChamber, she was the principal owner of Silverthorn Legal, based in Seattle, Washington. She focused on environmental litigation, contaminated property redevelopment, and environmental cost recovery and defense. She is an honors graduate of Indiana University-Bloomington, with a B.S. in public affairs and environmental management. She earned her J.D., with honors, at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where she was articles editor for the Indiana International and Comparative Law Review and a member of the Moot Court Board.