Pony.ai claims to be the first self-driving company to obtain a taxi license in China

Self-driving startup Pony.ai may collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities from Sunday.

Handout Pony.ai

BEIJING — Autonomous start-up Pony.ai announced on Sunday that it had received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in Nansha district in the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese startup, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from the city of Beijing late last year to charge a fee to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban area of ​​the city. It is not the same as a taxi license.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license requires 24 months of self-driving tests in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in active-fault traffic accidents, among other factors.

The startup said it plans to launch robotaxi business ventures in two other major Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California.

Robotaxis in China currently has a human driver present for safety.

CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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