The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has announced two pilot programmes that authorise transportation companies to provide free autonomous vehicle test rides to members of the public.

Under the first pilot programme, companies can provide a passenger service using autonomous vehicles with a trained driver in the vehicle.

The second programme allows transportation companies to use driverless vehicles that meet the standards set by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), including requirements to remotely monitor the status and operation of the vehicle.

However, companies participating in the pilot programmes are not allowed to charge passengers for their rides.

The DMV’s rule to test driverless vehicles on roads has been effective since 2 April.

“Permit-holders can provide autonomous vehicle service to customers as long as a driver is also in the vehicle.”

CPUC commissioner Liane M Randolph said: “I am pleased to launch these pilot programmes as part of the evolution of the passenger transportation system in California.

“Our state is home to world-class innovative companies and I look forward to these services being offered with the high level of safety that we expect from our passenger service providers.”

CPUC’s latest decision is designed to work in tandem with the DMV’s regulations and authorises transportation charter-party (TCP) carrier permit-holders to use and test autonomous vehicles for passengers.

TCP permit-holders can provide the service only if they hold an ‘autonomous vehicle tester programme manufacturer’s testing permit’ issued by the DMV.

Permit-holders can provide autonomous vehicle service to customers as long as a driver is also in the vehicle.

Additionally, companies participating in the pilot programme are not allowed to operate around airports, must limit the use of the vehicle to one chartering party at any given time, and must ensure that the service can only be chartered by adults 18 years and older.

The pilot programmes will provide a platform for CPUC to deploy autonomous vehicle passenger service, with an anticipated proposed decision in the first quarter of the next year.