Self-driving vehicle companies Waymo and Cruise are close to receiving final approval to collect fares for fully autonomous robotaxi rides throughout the city of San Francisco at any time of the day or night.
Faced with growing opposition to the presence of AVs in the city, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) published two draft resolutions This would give Cruise and Waymo an opportunity late last week to extend the operating hours and service areas of their now-limited Robotaxi services.
The draft hearing is dated June 29 and there is still room for public comment due May 31. Based on the wording of the CPUC draft, many of the protests raised by the City of San Francisco have already been rejected.
City authorities have alerted a number of (mainly) cruise ships that have malfunctioned and stopped in the middle of intersections or even light rail lines, disrupting traffic flow and hampering both public transport and emergency services. The series of incidents, documented on social media and online forums, has led to an investigation into Cruise by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.
In light of these examples, the city has urged the CPUC to tread carefully, establish workshops, collect more data, ban the use of robotaxi in downtown and peak hours, and limit fleet size expansion.
Robotaxis have already caused both traffic flow and safety problems in the city, which will only get worse when an unlimited number of AVs flood the city, the city argues. Neither Cruise nor Waymo would share exactly how many AVs they currently have in San Francisco. A Waymo spokesman said the company has “a couple hundred cars” in each of its fully autonomous “Waymo One” branded service areas.
“San Francisco has expressed concerns about extending commercial service into the peak hours of the day, as cancellations and delays are likely to affect significantly more passengers both on affected transit lines and throughout the system,” the San Francisco summary said Objections from the CPUC Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA), the SF County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) and the Mayor’s Office of Disability.
“Additionally, San Francisco describes unplanned stops and unsafe maneuvers by Cruise AVs that have impacted responders. This includes incidents where a Cruise AV interfered with a fire engine en route to an emergency, ran over a fire hose, or improperly entered an emergency location.”
The CPUC has countered that San Francisco’s arguments are not “within the grounds for a proper protest” because it “would require reconsideration of a prior commission order” and because a protest is not “just based on political objections”. could support. The commission also found that the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and not the CPUC, has authority over Cruise and Waymo’s approved operational design areas, which include service areas and hours of operation.
In San Francisco, Cruise and Waymo had to obtain a series of permits from city officials to put robotic taxis on the streets. The DMV approves applications to test and deploy autonomous vehicles, and the CPUC grants permission to bill passengers for fares.
Cruise’s current permits allow it to offer paid passenger service in limited areas of San Francisco from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., as well as free passenger service citywide anytime of the day – both without the presence of a security driver. Cruise has only been open since the end of April fully autonomous city-wide service for employees.
Waymo’s paid service, available 24/7 throughout San Francisco, requires a human security driver to be present. The company’s fully autonomous (that is, driving without a safety driver) robotaxi service, which operates throughout the city, will continue to be free. Waymo also offers complimentary safety driver service in parts of Los Angeles and in and around Mountain View.
If the CPUC allows the two competitors to charge passengers for driverless rides, Waymo and Cruise will have equal rights in the city. At least from a regulatory point of view.
Receipt of approval does not mean that Waymo and Cruise will immediately begin full-scale commercial operations in San Francisco.
A Waymo spokesperson said the company intends to “expand prudently, with safety as its top priority.”
Cruise did not comment.