Lots of transportation companies were grounded due to the Coronavirus pandemic Waymo is said to be planning on resuming back to its autonomous car testing in Arizona on May 11th which will mark almost two months of pausing its operations as the pandemic required “non-essential” companies to pause operations. Even though it Waymo wants to resume back to its testings, its backup drivers are worried that the resumption might be too soon.
The company made it known in a blog post that it was taking a “tiered approach” to return to testing of its vehicles. The company said it had redesigned its vehicle depots in Arizona in order to conform with the social distancing obligations as well as limiting the number of people who will be allowed inside at any given time. Employees will receive personal protective gear, like face masks and gloves. And the facilities and the company’s fleet of autonomous vehicles will be cleaned multiple times a day.
Aside that, temperature checks is said to be done on employees upon their arrival at the station each day and those who are at high risk of the illness or those that have child care issues can opt to work from home. Each vehicle will only feature one backup driver during testing to comply with social distancing guidelines but the company won’t be fully functional as well as its hailing service, Waymo One will also remain on pause. And Waymo says it won’t resume testing in other cities like San Francisco, Detroit, and Los Angeles until the company is convinced it’s safe.
“WE’RE TAKING A THOUGHTFUL AND MEASURED APPROACH TOWARDS BRINGING OUR DRIVING OPERATIONS BACK ON THE ROAD”
“We’re taking a thoughtful and measured approach towards bringing our driving operations back on the road,” the company said in a blog post.
Even with all the safety guidelines the company had listed out, its operation team which is comprised of employees from a third-party company, Transdev North America, a French transit company is reportedly not convinced of Waymo’s commitment to safety of its workers because there are nearly 10,000 cases of Coronavirus in Arizona with 450 deaths according to AZ Central. Also the governor of the state, Doug Ducey had recently announced a phase reopening of the state’s businesses which includes salons, restaurants and cafes.
“The measures they’re taking seem above and beyond on paper,” said one Arizona-based backup driver. “But at the same time, Arizona hasn’t seen 14 days of new case decline yet either.”
One member of Waymo’s operations team, who is based at the company’s Mountain View, California headquarters, expressed concern that Waymo will try to resume testing too early. Most the test rides in California are done with two employees in the vehicle. Unlike Arizona, very few of the company’s California ops team is trained to ride in the company’s autonomous vehicles by themselves.
“BUT AT THE SAME TIME, ARIZONA HASN’T SEEN 14 DAYS OF NEW CASE DECLINE YET EITHER”
“It feels like they’re using [Arizona] as a control group to decide if they can push us back in,” said the driver. “Arizona has always gotten test policies and whatnot first, but this seems like way too large of a risk since the number of deaths and cases is still increasing.” (A Waymo spokesperson noted that driving operations first resumed at the company’s closed testing site in Central California two weeks ago.)
Meanwhile there have been reports about a high tension between Waymo and its operations staff since the companies both engaged in a contract agreement last year. Things like vacation time cut, unimproved health insurance and other workplace safety issues were left unattended according to a number of staffs. With this, drivers said they were increasingly nervous about picking up passengers amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic, and that the outbreak is exposing divisions between drivers and full-time employees at the Google spinoff.
Even though there have been about two months of Waymo being nonoperational, the company still paid its staffs for those two months even though other companies are said to have reduced the number of their operations staff. But the good news is that the company is said to be attentive to its staffs worries over acting too soon about resuming its operations.
“[Waymo One] was a huge sticking point with drivers at the beginning of this,” the driver said, “so hopefully they got the message and don’t even consider it until we are at whatever our new normal is.”