August 11, 2023
San Franciscans Fear Being Used As Cruise, Waymo’s ‘test dummies’

Cruise and Waymo are close to gaining complete access to Bay Area roadways while residents fear driverless cars aren’t there yet from a safety or technological perspective. The underlying concern is driverless cars have already caused hundreds of traffic incidents since their launch and more testing needs to happen.  There was a public forum on Aug. 7 conducted by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to “address safety issues” regarding autonomous vehicles (AV) that drew over 200 participants. These participants, mostly Bay Area residents lambasted driverless cars in public comments and described them as menacing, “creepy” and an existential threat to drivers and pedestrians.

In June 2022, the CPUC granted authorization to Cruise to release 30 autonomous vehicles for paying passengers in designated regions of San Francisco. Waymo was granted authorization provided they did not charge fares five months later. The two multibillion-dollar companies’ efforts to expand their ride-hailing services has many city officials strongly protesting. Possibly the loudest protests wwere from the executive director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and the director of the city’s planning department arguing that Cruise’s AVs have caused so many traffic violations that similar errors “would preclude any teenager from getting a California Driver’s License.”

A letter from the same officials in January that noted that there had been a surge of 911 calls about Cruise cars’ “erratic” driving in the previous months. Reports show AVs have interfered with firefighters on the job multiple times. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reported they’ve also obstructed Muni routes and stopped in the middle of the street without cause and placed drivers of traditional cars at risk. Some anti AV activists have placed orange traffic cones on the AV hoods to disable them.

The CPUC meeting revealed there have been almost 600 reported incidents involving AVs and officials suspect many more have flown under the radar. Neither Cruise or Waymo have voluntarily disclosed the number of times their vehicles have unexpectedly stopped and intruded on the city’s first responders. San Francisco Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson reported that AVs have intruded on emergency scenes in an “unsafe and unpredictable manner” multiple times. In 2023, the department logged about 50 incidents involving AVs nearly crashing into personnel, obstructed travel or blocked stations with five more reports written up over the weekend. “And you might say well, 55, that’s not a lot. Well, if it’s your family, it’s a lot,” said Nicholson.

“In the short term, we need AVs to demonstrate that they can operate on our streets without creating new hazards,” Stephen Chun, a spokesperson for the SFMTA, told SFGATE in June. “If they want us to believe things are getting better, they should give us data to demonstrate that, because that is not what we are seeing from calls to 911 and reports from SF Fire Department and Muni personnel.”

Darcie Bell claimed in a comment dated Aug. 7, the day of the CPUC meeting, that she’s seen AVs blow through stop signs and speed in school zones near children. “I did not vote for 100’s of these vehicles on the road. No one did. Invest in public transportation and labor, not automation,” she wrote. “Get these cars off our streets.”

“I’ve almost been hit by them crossing the street near GGP,” wrote Nick Monti the same day, referring to Golden Gate Park. “Disabled folks and children seem to be invisible to these death traps.”

San Francisco “is constantly used as a tech-bro playground,” Monti continued. “From the scooter takeover to allowing Elon [Musk] to do as he pleases, the people of San Francisco are tired of being treated as test subjects.” In a written statement Drew Pusateri, a Cruise spokesperson, said AVs have a strong safety record and Cruise will continue working with the CPUC. Waymo did not immediately respond to SFGATE’s request for comment at the time of publication.

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