China’s capital city, Beijing, is paving the way for the growth of robotaxi businesses. The suburban city district of Yizhuang officially permitted local robotaxi operators, primarily Baidu and startup Pony.ai, to charge fares for fully autonomous taxis with no human staff on board. This move eliminates the need for a driver, reducing costs and making autonomous rides more accessible. Beijing’s Yizhuang district, home to companies like JD.com, is located about half an hour’s drive from downtown Beijing.
Ning Zhang, Vice President at Pony.ai, expressed high confidence that their full driverless vehicles would be running throughout Beijing city within three years. Zhang noted that conversations with Beijing’s mayor indicated the city’s aim to expand robotaxi testing to areas such as Daxing International Airport and one train station by the end of the year.
The city of Beijing has been actively supporting the development of connected cars, artificial intelligence, and advanced technologies in the transportation sector. In a meeting with Alibaba, Xiaomi, and Pony.ai, Beijing Mayor Yin Yong encouraged their work in these areas. Beijing has also announced plans to expand the testing area for robotaxis.
Currently, out of the more than 200 robotaxis operated by Pony.ai in the region, only about ten are fully driverless. However, Zhang expects that fully autonomous robotaxi services could be available around Daxing Airport by next year. Baidu, another major player in the autonomous vehicle market, did not disclose the number of fully driverless robotaxis it could operate.
In terms of safety, Pony.ai claims to have the best safety record in the world. While Zhang did not share details about other robotaxi operators in China, he mentioned that competitors have had accidents. Building a strong safety track record is crucial for obtaining further government permits for robotaxi operations, and companies like Pony.ai have strict data privacy measures in place.
Overall, Beijing’s decision to allow robotaxi operators to charge fares for fully autonomous rides demonstrates the city’s commitment to creating a favorable environment for the growth of autonomous vehicle technology in China.