Cruise and Waymo close to approval to charge for 24/7 robotic taxis in San Francisco

Autonomous vehicle companies Waymo and Cruise are nearing final approval to charge fares for fully autonomous robotaxi rides throughout the city of San Francisco at all hours of the day or night.

Amid growing resistance to the presence of autonomous vehicles in the city, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) published two draft resolutions late last week, that would give Cruise and Waymo the ability to extend the hours of operation and service areas of their now-limited robotaxi services.

The drafts are scheduled for a June 29 hearing and there is still room for public comment, which is due May 31. According to language drafted by the CPUC, many of the protests raised by the city of San Francisco have already been rejected.

City agencies have denounced the series of (mostly) Cruise vehicles misfiring and stopping in the middle of intersections or even on light rail lines, disrupting traffic flow and obstructing both public transportation 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.

With these examples, the city has urged the CPUC to exercise caution, set up workshops, collect more data, prohibit the deployment of robotic taxis downtown and during rush hour, and limit the expansion of fleet sizes.

Robotic taxis have already caused problems in the city from both a traffic flow and safety standpoint, something that will only be exacerbated once unlimited 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 “Waymo One”-branded fully autonomous service areas.

“San Francisco expresses concern about the expansion of commercial service at peak times of the day, as stops and delays are likely to significantly impact more ridership on both affected transit lines and throughout the system,” it reads. in the CPUC’s summary of the objections raised by San Francisco. the Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA), the SF County Transportation Authority (SFCTA), and the Mayor’s Office on Disability.

“In addition, San Francisco describes unplanned stops and unsafe maneuvers by Cruise AVs that have affected emergency services. These include incidents where a Cruise AV obstructed a fire department vehicle traveling to an emergency, ran over a fire hose, or improperly entered an emergency scene.”

The CPUC has responded that San Francisco’s arguments are not “within the grounds for a proper protest” because it “would require relitigation of a prior Commission order” and because a protest cannot be based “purely on policy objections.” The Commission has also noted that the California Department of Motor Vehicles, not the CPUC, has authority over Cruise’s and Waymo’s approved operational design domains, which include service areas and hours of operation.

In San Francisco, Cruise and Waymo have had to obtain a series of permits from city agencies to put the robotic taxis on the road. The DMV approves applications to test and deploy autonomous vehicles, and the CPUC grants permission to collect fees from passengers.

Cruise’s current permits allow it to offer fare passenger service in limited areas of San Francisco from 10 pm to 6 am, as well as free citywide passenger service any time of day, both without the presence of a police officer. safety driver. As of the end of April, Cruise has only opened the fully autonomous city-wide service for employees.

Waymo’s paid service, which is available throughout San Francisco at any hour of the day, requires the presence of a human safety driver. The company’s fully autonomous (meaning no security driver) robotaxi service that operates throughout the city remains free. Waymo also offers a free service with a security driver present in parts of Los Angeles and in and around Mountain View.

As long as the CPUC authorizes the two competitors to start charging riders for self-drive rides, Waymo and Cruise will be on equal footing in the city. At least from a regulatory perspective.

Receiving the authorization does not mean that Waymo and Cruise will begin operating large-scale commercial operations immediately in San Francisco.

A Waymo spokesman said the company intends to “expand carefully and with safety as our top priority.”

Cruise did not provide any comment.


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