Waymo robotaxi to begin driverless services for employees in Austin

FILE PHOTO: Rear window of a Waymo Chrysler Pacifica robotaxi is seen while parked in Tempe

(Reuters) -Alphabet's Waymo said on Tuesday it will begin driverless passenger services for its employees in Austin, Texas starting Wednesday.

Waymo is pulling ahead with its expansion plans at a time when its key rival Cruise, owned by General Motors, has suspended U.S. operations in the wake of a pedestrian-dragging accident.

The company said the services would be available across 43 square miles of the city, including downtown Austin, Barton Hills, Riverside, East Austin and Hyde Park.

Waymo said it will open its ride-hailing program, Waymo One, to the public in Austin at a later date, adding that this will make Austin the fourth ride-hailing city after San Francisco, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

"Our disciplined deployment in Texas' capital brings us one step closer to safely delivering the benefits of fully autonomous driving to many more people," Waymo product chief Saswat Panigrahi said.

The company received approval to begin its fared completely driverless robotaxi services in Los Angeles and some cities near San Francisco, by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

Waymo and Cruise have faced hostility towards their self driving services following collisions with the public.

A Waymo robotaxi was attacked and set on fire in February as it stopped amid Chinese New Year celebrations in San Francisco's Chinatown, followed an incident in which another Waymo car struck a bicyclist at a city intersection.

(Reporting by Harshita Mary Varghese; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)