Aug 22, 2023 - Transit

Robotaxis face challenges amid expansion in San Francisco

A Cruise autonomous vehicle in San Francisco this month. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Self-driving car companies Waymo and Cruise got the expansion they sought when a state regulatory approved their respective permits for full commercialization this month, but complications have already arisen.

Why it matters: Recent incidents involving Cruise vehicles, including two car accidents, have led to increased scrutiny around the already-controversial approval of robotaxis in San Francisco.

Catch up quick: On Aug. 10, the California Public Utilities Commission granted permits to allow both Cruise and Waymo to charge for rides around the clock in San Francisco.

  • Since then, a Cruise vehicle got stuck in wet concrete and two separate Cruise vehicles were in car accidents, including one that involved a fire truck.
  • In response to the crashes, on Friday the California Department of Motor Vehicles asked Cruise to cut its vehicle fleet size in half as the department conducts an investigation, the DMV said in a statement to Axios via email.
  • Cruise spokesperson Drew Pusateri told Axios via email that the company, which agreed to reduce its fleet size in San Francisco, will work with the DMV "to make any improvements and provide any data they need to reinforce the safety and efficiency of our fleet."

Meanwhile, San Francisco city officials are urging the CPUC to reconsider its most recent decision that granted Cruise and Waymo the expanded permits.

What they're saying: "San Francisco will suffer serious harms from this unfettered expansion, which outweigh whatever impacts AV companies may experience from a minimal pause in commercial deployment," San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said in a press release last week, in which he said the "technology is not yet ready."

  • The CPUC said it can't comment on pending issues.

The other side: "We fully support the CPUC's carefully considered decision to authorize Waymo to charge fares for driverless rides," Waymo spokesperson Julia Ilina told Axios via email.

  • Waymo said it will watch the status of the pending appeal and "in the meantime, we will continue to work with the city of San Francisco in constructive ways while providing safe and accessible mobility to San Franciscans."

By the numbers: The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) reported nearly 600 known incidents involving driverless vehicles in San Francisco since June 2022.

  • These incidents include a variety of driving behaviors, like stopping unexpectedly, collisions and more.

What to watch: When San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin officially appeals the CPUC's decision, and whether the CPUC approves the request.

  • Plus, whether the DMV suspends or revokes any of Cruise's permits following its investigation.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios San Francisco.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More San Francisco stories

No stories could be found

San Franciscopostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios San Francisco.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more