Regulators give green light to driverless taxis in San Francisco


California regulators approved two competing robotaxi companies on Thursday. Cruise And Come onDrive driverless cars around San Francisco 24/7 and charge passengers for their services.

The much-anticipated vote came amid clashes between robotaxi companies and some residents of the hilly city, following nearly six hours of public opinion polls for and against driverless taxis. San Francisco first responders, city transportation leaders and local activists were among those who shared concerns about the technology.

The California Public Utilities Commission regulates self-driving cars in the state and voted 3-to-1 in favor of Waymo and Cruise expanding their operations.

That means San Francisco residents and visitors will be able to pay for a ride in a driverless taxi, sparking new automated competition for cab and ridehail drivers.

“Today’s approval marks the true start of our business operations in San Francisco,” said Tekedra Mawakana, Waymo’s co-CEO. Press release.

In a statement to CNN, Cruise spokesman Drew Pusateri said the 24/7 driverless service is a “historic industry milestone” that will position Cruise to “challenge the status quo of unsafe, inaccessible transportation to compete with traditional ride-hailing.”

Until Thursday’s vote, Cruz and Waymo could offer limited service to San Francisco residents.

Cruise – Subsidiary General Motors – Charges can be made only for night rides occurring between 10 pm to 6 am in selected areas of the city. Waymo is owned by Google’s parent company lettersA vehicle can only be charged for riding with a human driver.

Now, Cruise and Waymo can charge for their driverless rides and have 24/7 access to San Francisco streets.

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Cruz officials told state commissioners at a recent public hearing that it parks about 300 vehicles at night and 100 during the day, while Waymo officials said 100 of its 250 vehicles are on the road at any given time.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

San Francisco taxi driver Matthew Sutter holds a sign and his taxi license plate during a protest outside the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on August 7, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Autonomous ride-hailing services from Cruise and Waymo allow users to request a ride like Uber or Lyft. There’s one difference, of course: the car doesn’t have a driver.

Members of the public packed the commission’s San Francisco headquarters to share their thoughts with state commissioners in one-minute increments during the meeting. Critics pointed to driverless cars freezing up in traffic and impeding first responders, while advocates said the cars drove more defensively than human drivers.

Although the decision ultimately rested in the hands of state regulators, who twice delayed the vote, local officials also voiced their opposition.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association, San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs Association and San Francisco Firefighters Local 798 wrote letters to the CPUC in the week leading up to the June 29 vote originally scheduled. Each expressed concern that autonomous vehicles could disrupt emergencies. Respondents.

“The amount of time it takes for an officer or any other public safety worker to interact and communicate with an autonomous vehicle is frustrating under the best of circumstances. Stopped in the middle of the road blocking emergency response units, and then it escalates to another level of danger,” San Francisco Police Officers Association President Tracy McRae wrote in June, “and that’s unacceptable.”

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The San Francisco Fire Department has reported 55 incidents of driverless vehicles interfering with their emergency responses as of Wednesday, 2023, the department confirmed to CNN.

In one incident reported by the department on Saturday, a Waymo vehicle came between a car that caught fire and a fire engine trying to put it out.

Other incidents include robotaxis driving through yellow tape at the scene of a shooting, blocking firefighting lanes, forcing firefighters to reroute, says Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson.

“It shouldn’t be my people’s responsibility to move their vehicle out of the way while we’re responding to one of our 160,000 calls,” Nicholson told CNN in June.

Robotaxis companies often advertise their safety records. In 3 million driverless miles, a cruise car has not been involved in a single fatality or life-threatening injury, the company said. In its February review of its first million driverless miles, Waymo said Their cars caused no injuries and 55% of all contact incidents were the result of a human driver hitting a stationary Waymo vehicle.

It was 2022 Worst year on record Traffic deaths in San Francisco since 2014, according to city data. When benchmarked against human drivers in comparable driving situations, Cruise said its vehicles were involved in 54% fewer collisions overall.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said at a California Public Utilities Commission meeting Monday that it has recorded nearly 600 incidents involving autonomous vehicles since the technology was first introduced in San Francisco. The company said they believe this is “a fraction” of the actual incidents due to what they allege is a lack of data transparency.

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Dissenting in the 3-1 vote, Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma recommended the commission delay the vote until it has a “better understanding of the safety implications” of the vehicles.

“First responders should not be prevented from doing their job. The fact that an injury or loss of life has not yet occurred is not a conclusion of the investigation,” Shiroma said. “The Commission needs a better explanation as to why these events are occurring.”

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