San Francisco’s Robotaxis Back In The News Again And It’s Not All Good

We reported on the challenges facing San Francisco’s self-driving robotaxis recently—and thought we’d better revisit that story. Why? Because those robotaxis are in the news again. 

In fact, robotaxis have been implicated in several incidents in the weeks after California regulators approved round-the-clock commercial service for GM’s Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo in San Francisco. One Cruise vehicle got stuck in wet concrete, while two others were involved in car accidents, including one with a fire truck.

This matters because a poor rollout in San Francisco could fuel robotaxi skepticism elsewhere, complicating expansion plans. The California Department of Motor Vehicles asked Cruise to halve its vehicle fleet size as it investigates the situation.

In response, Cruise agreed to reduce its San Francisco fleet and work with the DMV “to make any improvements and provide any data they need to reinforce the safety and efficiency of our fleet,” spokesperson Drew Pusateri said.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco city officials are urging the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to reconsider its August 10 decision allowing Cruise and Waymo to begin 24/7 commercial robotaxi service.

Waymo says it will “continue to work with the city in constructive ways while providing safe and accessible mobility to San Franciscans.”

The self-driving company said it will also watch the status of the pending appeal and “in the meantime, we will continue to work with authorities in constructive ways while providing safe and accessible mobility to San Franciscans.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) reported nearly 600 known incidents involving driverless vehicles in San Francisco since June 2022. These incidents include a variety of driving behaviors, like stopping unexpectedly and in compromising traffic conditions, collisions, near misses, and more.

It will be interesting to see whether the CPUC approves the request when San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin officially appeals the CPUC’s decision. In addition, we are waiting to see whether the DMV suspends or revokes any of Cruise’s permits following its investigation.

OUR THOUGHTS

If some 600 accidents have actually been reported, then we can guesstimate that well over 1,000 incidents have occurred since the early August announcement, because we’d suspect that thousands of incidents are either ignored or toned down due to people’s tight schedules and the need to quickly move on after small skirmishes. But then again, the only way this system will improve is to work through the imperfections and try to create a safer traffic environment.

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