Technology

Cruise set to start driverless ride-hailing service in Houston

Rides costing $5 will be available starting at 9 p.m. Thursday in select parts of Houston, which is the fourth U.S. city to offer Cruise’s autonomous ride-hailing services.

Cruise, a California-based subsidiary of General Motors, plans to launch a driverless ride-hailing service in Houston in 2023.
Cruise
Cruise, a California-based subsidiary of General Motors, plans to launch a driverless ride-hailing service in Houston in 2023.

A driverless ride hailing service is launching operations Thursday in Houston, where residents in select locations can start catching autonomous rides at 9 p.m.

Cruise driverless cars will operate daily from 9 p.m.-6 a.m. in downtown, east downtown, Midtown, Montrose, Hyde Park and River Oaks, according to the company, which is a California-based subsidiary of General Motors.

“To give Houstonians a warm welcome, we’re offering $5 flat fares for all trips for a limited time,” Cruise spokeswoman Elizabeth Conway said Thursday.

Cruise’s driverless cars have driven more than 5 million miles in the U.S. and more than 1 million miles in Texas, offering select rides to Cruise employees in Houston since August.

The launch comes a few weeks after reports that the self-driving cars were causing a backup on a busy Montrose roadway triggered by malfunctioning traffic lights. In September, some of those autonomous cars caused another major traffic jam in Austin.

Conway said the company is in its early days of service, and the self-driving cars will pull over to the side of the road if they “don’t know what to do.”

Cruise has a fleet of around 400 vehicles across the country, offering full ride-hailing services in San Francisco, Phoenix and Austin, and testing its vehicles in 10 other large metropolitans in the U.S. Some of those vehicles landed in Houston earlier this year but weren’t autonomously testing until September.

The company, founded in 2013, has raised upward of $10 billion in capital funds from companies like GM, Honda, Microsoft and Walmart. The company aims to improve road safety, reduce emissions and reduce congestion, Tiffany Testo, a Cruise spokesperson, told Houston Public Media earlier this year. Its fleet of vehicles is fully powered by renewable energy.

Cruise recalled all of its vehicles earlier this year for a software update in late March after one rear-ended a city bus in San Francisco. The crash caused no injuries and the autonomous car was traveling about 10 mph at the time, according to Cruise.

And while the service will offer quick rides, regulating those driverless vehicles could pose a challenge for city officials. A senate bill was written into law in 2017 that prohibits cities in Texas from regulating driverless vehicles.

Authority over autonomous vehicles is handled at the state level, said Jesse Bounds, director of innovation and performance in the Houston mayor’s office.

Rides can be hailed by Cruise’s app or at getcruise.com/rides.