Jun 11, 2024 - News

Cruise eases back into Houston

A Cruise driverless car in downtown Houston

Driverless Cruise vehicles could soon return to Houston. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

Cruise plans to once again operate a small fleet of driver-monitored autonomous vehicles on Houston streets in the coming weeks.

Why it matters: Houston is one of three testing grounds nationwide for the embattled ride-hailing service to calibrate its "elevated" autonomous operations and whet the public's appetite for sharing the road with a robot.

Meanwhile, the General Motors subsidiary remains under federal investigation over how it handled an October incident in San Francisco in which a woman was dragged 20 feet underneath one of its robotaxis.

Catch up quick: Cruise briefly offered autonomous ride-hailing services to a select group of Houstonians in fall 2023.

  • After the San Francisco incident and others across California, the state's Department of Motor Vehicles revoked Cruise's operating permits. The company then pulled its autonomous fleet from streets across the country, including Houston.

Driving the news: The company announced Tuesday it was immediately restarting human-operated test drives in the Bayou City.

  • Only three cars will hit the streets during this initial phase, according to Cruise spokesperson Tiffany Testo. The vehicles will be outfitted with autonomous equipment, but the systems will not be engaged for now, Testo says.
  • "The fleet will stay pretty small and will gradually expand, as will the areas we're driving and testing in," Testo tells Axios. "Our ethos is slow and steady."

From there, the company will evolve to "supervised autonomous driving," in which the autonomous features will be operational but with a human in the driver's seat who can take over the controls if needed.

  • That stage will help the company validate the system's autonomous capabilities, Testo says.

Flashback: Cruise's autonomous vehicles were involved in at least four roadway incidents during their initial stint on Houston streets.

  • Three other incidents include times when other drivers crashed into a Cruise vehicle, according to information provided to Axios by the city in October. No injuries were reported.

Of note: Mayor John Whitmire's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

  • Former Mayor Sylvester Turner was supportive of Cruise's operations as a means to reduce congestion, roadway deaths and pollution.
  • Testo says Cruise has been in close communication with city officials and community leaders over how it plans to operate in Houston.

State of play: Cruise isn't the only autonomous vehicle company operating in Houston.

What's next: Testo says supervised autonomous driving will begin in the coming weeks, but the company does not have a solid time frame.

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