Autonomous driving pioneer Baidu has received approval from the Cangzhou government in the Hebei province to charge passengers for robotaxi rides, the company announced in a release on Monday. Baidu will be first in China to experiment with monetization mechanisms for these services, “marking a landmark step on Baidu Apollo’s road to commercialization,” it said.
“There are regulations on how taxis and ride-hailing service providers can charge passengers, but such code hasn’t been in place for robotaxis,” an industry insider told KrASIA. In Beijing, all taxi rides within three kilometers cost RMB 13 (USD 2), and beyond that, drivers can charge another RMB 2.3 for each kilometer. The expert added that other autonomous driving firms are also seeking approval.
A total of 35 robotaxis will start charging initially. Baidu Apollo, which kicked off its free service in the city last August, may also offer discounts.
“For paid rides, passengers will demand to get exactly where they want to go,” Zhang Xiang, an auto analyst with a government-affiliated think tank told KrASIA. Currently, robotaxis only operate in designated zones and passengers have to get on and off at specific locations.
“We have probably still 10 years until robotaxis can operate at large scale,” Zhang predicted, taking into account the various barriers such as price. Self-driving taxis cost about ten times more than traditional ones at about RMB 100,000 (USD 15,390).
“There is a transitional period from running with an operator to driving all on themselves,” said Zhang. It will also take time for the 5G network to expand and the V2X (vehicle to everything) road infrastructure to be built, he explained.
In addition to the commercialization license, Baidu Apollo also gained permits for 10 vehicles to conduct fully driverless tests in Cangzhou. Changsha and Beijing already allowed the unit to do that last year.