China allows driverless taxis; first permits issued

China has given the go-head to driverless taxis on open roads.

The country’s Ministry of Transportation will encourage the use of autonomous vehicles as taxis in easily controlled scenarios in low traffic situations, according to draft regulations published on Monday.

The regulations will be up for public consultation.

Search engine specialist Baidu said on Monday it has obtained permits to operate the first fully driverless robotaxi services on open roads in two Chinese cities.  

The company said the permits awarded by the southwestern municipality of Chongqing and the central city of Wuhan marked a “turning point” in China’s policy-making towards autonomous driving.

The permits allow commercial robotaxis to offer rides to the public without human safety drivers in the car. 

They came into effect on Monday (8 August).

At first, Baidu will deploy a batch of five fee-charging robotaxis in each city, where they will be allowed to operate in designated areas from 9 am to 5 pm in Wuhan and 9:30 am to 4:30 pm in Chongqing, the company said in a statement.

The service areas span 30 square km in Chongqing’s Yongchuan District and 13 sq km in the Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone.

Baidu is also in talks with local governments in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen to secure licenses within a year to test fully-driverless and unpaid robotaxis in those cities, according to reports.