June 3, 2023 was a day with two major milestones for Gabe Hagen, founder and owner of Brick Road Coffee in Tempe, Arizona. Gabe attended the inaugural Tempe Pride Party, and he rode there in a Waymo autonomous vehicle.
For Gabe, an LGBTQ+ identifying business owner, the celebration was particularly meaningful. Gabe founded Brick Road Coffee in 2021 after leaving his career in corporate banking with the vision to create a coffee shop where people who identify as LGBTQ+ would feel welcome and safe.
“I wanted to establish a gathering point, someplace where the community can get together,” Gabe recalled. “Kind of repair some of the woes our society may be facing with a little bit of human-to-human interaction.”
Waymo has operated an autonomous ride-hailing service called Waymo One in Metro Phoenix for several years, but, while he had seen the vehicles, Gabe had never personally had the chance to ride in one.
Gabe brought his husband, Jesse, a co-founder and co-owner of Brick Road Coffee, and their friend Melissa, owner of Drink Me Tea Room in south Tempe, on the Waymo ride from Brick Road Coffee to the Pride Party in downtown Tempe.
“I didn’t expect it to feel so comfortable,” Gabe said, recalling how he and his fellow riders were able to relax and take fun photos as they let the Waymo Driver do the driving. “It surprised me how, after the initial nervousness, autonomous driving normalized for us so quickly.”
Waymo One dropped Gabe’s party off by Tempe’s new PRIDE crosswalk, and the group got out of the car, took photos at the rainbow crosswalk, and arrived at the Pride Party with a few steps.
“They had a wonderful stage set up, a bunch of tables, lots of lights going on. And just a really fun festive environment,” Gabe recounted. “They had a fun silent disco, which I thought was really cool.”
Gabe said before his ride, he wondered about all the most common autonomous driving What Ifs, but they faded during the ride.
“Being able to kind of experience it really just kind of made me ten times more excited about it,” Gabe said.
For the owner of Tempe’s adored coffee shop, the ride represented the possibility of a safe, inclusive new transportation option for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Safety is a huge concern for our community,” Gabe emphasized. “You never know whenever you're getting into a car with somebody, what their beliefs or opinions may be.”
Safety is a huge concern for our community. You never know whenever you're getting into a car with somebody, what their beliefs or opinions may be.
Gabe said Waymo offers the community a safety blanket to get from point A to point B without having to worry about being harassed. Research shows that LGBT–identifying people are nine times more likely to be the victims of a violent hate crime, according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law and, according to a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) briefing released this year, threats against the LGBTQIA+ community are intensifying.
Gabe said LGBTQ+–identifying people are constantly assessing what level of risk strangers may pose to their personal safety and may hesitate to get in a car with a total stranger, who may judge them or wish to harm them.
“It’s a huge thing that our community has to face, especially those individuals who identify as gender non-conforming or trans,” Gabe emphasized. “Those individuals are constantly on high alert of every person around them.”
As part of its Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving partnership, Waymo partners with local nonprofits including advocates for the LGBTQ+ community, such as ONE Community, to continually explore how to ensure the technology is safe and inclusive for all.
In addition to offering the LGBTQ+ community an inclusive transportation option, Gabe said his experience felt like a win for road safety, with the vehicle deftly navigating a constantly changing environment.
Waymo’s fully autonomous driving technology is designed to be a conscientious driver which obeys road rules, follows speed limits and is constantly vigilant about everything and everyone around the vehicle to maximize road safety for all road users.
For those who may be uncertain about trying Waymo’s technology for themselves, Gabe had some advice.
“Give it a try. It's not as scary as you might make it out in your head,” Gabe emphasized. “Once you've gotten into the car, see everything that's in place, see how it's always telling you the route, see how it responds so quickly to things around you and how it takes such a safe approach to driving, all of those fears get wiped away.”
Once you've gotten into the car, see everything that's in place, see how it's always telling you the route, see how it responds so quickly to things around you and how it takes such a safe approach to driving, all of those fears get wiped away.
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