Alphabet-owned Waymo is piloting a new use for its self-driving cars: dropping people off at the bus station.
The company just announced a new partnership with the Valley Metro transportation center in Phoenix to shuttle passengers to and from the station. The idea is to provide first- and last-mile transportation, instead of longer trips.
The move addresses the fear that ride-hailing services hurt public transportation systems overall. In 2017, public transit ridership dropped in 31 of 35 major U.S. metropolitan areas and new research shows that ride-hailing services compete with those systems, instead of with private cars.
Waymo has been testing its self-driving cars with 400 "early riders" in Phoenix for the last year. It plans to launch a public ride-hailing service before the end of 2018. Phase one of this new public transit partnership launches in August and will first bring Valley Metro employees to and from the center. From there, Waymo hopes to expand the test to include people who use Pheonix's RideChoice program, which offers subsidized taxi rates to people underserved by public transit. The transit center provided 65.96 million bus and light rail rides last year.
"This will form the basis of joint research to evaluate the adoption of Waymo technology, its impact, and its long-term potential to enable greater access to public transit," the company said in a blog post.
Waymo has said it has four focus areas for its self-driving tech — ride-hailing, personally owned vehicles, self-driving trucks for logistics and connecting people to public transportation. This move marks its first step toward that last pillar.