SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Two tech companies, Cruise and Waymo, received thumbs up from the California Public Utilities Commission Thursday to expand robotaxi ride-hailing services in San Francisco and charge passengers for rides.
The CPUC’s vote “marks the true beginning of our commercial operations in San Francisco. We’re incredibly grateful for this vote of confidence from the CPUC,” said Tekedra Mawakana, co-CEO of Waymo.
The controversial vote means more Autonomous Vehicles — cars without drivers — will be navigating around the city with Cruise and Waymo collecting profits from passengers.
“While we do not yet have the data to judge AVs against the standard human drivers are setting, I do believe in the potential of this technology to increase safety on the roadway,” said CPUC Commissioner John Reynolds.
San Francisco’s transportation officials and supervisors said Cruise and Waymo have not been cooperative with providing data on traffic incidents involving its vehicles. “Cruise primarily, and Waymo secondarily have consistently refused to share data with the city,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said.
Some San Franciscans say they don’t need a spreadsheet with data points to make up their opinions on driverless cars. Frightening first-hand experiences and troubling traffic incidents were enough.
Andrew, who requested for his last name to be omitted, said he has been riding his motorcycle around San Francisco for more than a decade without a single accident. On a misty morning this week, a Cruise vehicle nearly collided into his motorcycle at the intersection of Fulton Street and 33rd Avenue, he said.
The motorcyclist rapidly maneuvered his bike to avoid being struck. He honked his horn before realizing there wasn’t a human inside the car. “I saw that it was a self-driving Cruise vehicle with no driver. (Cruise) acted practically worse than a drunk driver,” he said.
“It was truly a scary moment, and it enraged me to think I was almost just hit by a self driving car. What if I was killed? All for what? So we can have self driving cars that drive themselves around like half blind 80-year-old grandparents? Now I hate them with a passion. Does someone have to die before we can stop this experiment?” Andrew asked.
Andrew said all Cruise vehicles should be removed from the streets of San Francisco. “This experiment was a horrible idea. Take these obnoxious, dangerous, unneeded self driving cars off our street.”
San Francisco drivers have encountered and recorded many bizarre scenes of stalled out AV’s in 2023.
One of the most common AV technology problems is known as “bricking.” The SF Municipal Transportation Agency wrote about bricking, “When human drivers get confused or have engine trouble, they find a safe place to pull over and sort things out. When AVs get confused, they simply stop wherever they happen to be. In the middle of an intersection, on our train tracks, in front of a fire station. Most of the time, a human operator must then travel from somewhere else in the city to rescue the vehicle.”
SFMTA spokesperson Stephen Chun told KRON4 last month, “This technology is still in development and is simply not ready to operate 24/7 in the city. AVs are creating hazards in our streets.”
Cruise and Waymo stand by their technology, which promises to make roads safer, not more dangerous.
Prashanthi Raman of Cruise said the company’s around-the-clock driverless ridehailing service in will challenge a “unsafe, inaccessible transportation status quo.”
Raman said, “Offering a commercial, 24/7 driverless ridehail service across San Francisco is a historic industry milestone –– putting Cruise in a position to compete with traditional ridehail. We’re grateful to the CPUC for their leadership, and will continue to work closely with our regulators, first responders, and other key stakeholders as we expand our service to more people.”
The California Public Utilities Commission’s decision comes with limitations for how the tech companies can deploys vehicles. Cruise was authorized to offer fared passenger service in limited areas of San Francisco from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. without a driver present. Waymo was authorized to offer fared passenger service throughout San Francisco at any time with a driver present, as well as non-fared passenger service throughout San Francisco at any time without a driver present.