The SFMTA says that dangerous incidents with self-driving robotaxis have increased exponentially in recent months, while Cruise, Waymo, and their associated venture capitalist types excoriate SF for not adequately loving the buggy self-driving cars.

The image above of a self-driving Cruise robotaxi, tangled in both yellow caution tape and a road hazard sandwich board, is from this past March. On a stormy night with several downed trees and power lines, the robotaxi got snagged by a low-lying Muni wire. It dragged that wire down the block, and eventually also snagged with the caution tape and the sandwich board, before coming to a halt. We only know about this because of SF Fire Department reports, as Cruise and the Google-owned Waymo are under no obligation to report such things publicly.  

According to the Chronicle, in that month of March, dangerous self-driving car incidents increased more than 300% over the previous month (30 such incidents in February, 96 in March). But even that data is not official or complete. The Chronicle admits that it’s “incomplete data is based on 911 and 311 calls, social media and transit cameras.” The only quasi-official number they have is that "The Fire Department has tallied 44 incidents so far this year in which robotaxis entered active fire scenes, ran over fire hoses or blocked fire trucks from responding to emergency calls.” And again, Cruise and Waymo don’t report this stuff to the city, and only make remarks to sweep it under the rug when reporters come asking about incidents posted to Reddit and such.

But when the official SF Fire Department Twitter account is tweeting “SF fire chief rips Cruise, Waymo ahead of possible expansion,” that tells you where public safety officials stand. “It really, really concerns me that something is going to go horribly wrong,” the department’s chief Jeanine Nicholson told the Chronicle.

“Right now, they can, and do, impact our response times, and, frankly, our ability to respond to emergencies,” added. “They’re just not ready for primetime.”

But in that same article, Cruise spokesperson Hannah Lindow shot back. “Last year was San Francisco’s deadliest for road fatalities in over a decade,” she said in a statement to the Chron. “The need to make our roads safer is urgent, and is poorly served by publicly mischaracterizing AV companies’ safety data and record of outreach to city officials in an attempt to block innovation.”

But are SF city officials “publicly mischaracterizing” data they do not even have? The rub here appears to be “incidents” versus “collisions.” That is, public officials are concerned with blocked traffic, first responders being obstructed, or other road hazards. Cruise and Waymo would prefer we only consider collisions between two vehicles.

Reuters reporter Anna Tong noted in late June that a “New letter from CA state accuses SF officials of data manipulation.” The full 23-page letter from the California Public Utilities Commission does not actually ever use the term “data manipulation,” though it does say that the methodology that the SF County Transportation Authority used in their complaints is “problematic.”

That CPUC letter notes that the collisions reported were not the fault of the Waymo vehicles (though uses the language “according to Waymo’s account"), and also disputes how the Transportation Authority extrapolated data to compare it to national averages.  

But now that same CPUC has again delayed on a decision on whether to give Cruise and Waymo more permits. So these companies — and the venture capitalists behind them — are doing a full court press of public relations in support of the self-driving cars.

In the latest episode of wealthy tech barons thinking they’re the most victimized community on earth, Y Combinator president Garry Tan has a new Youtube video excoriating SF for not adequately loving those buggy self-driving cars. It is hilarious that Tan utters the phrase “If you follow me on Twitter…,” considering the man is notorious for blocking everyone on Twitter. But his video tears into San Francisco in a meandering rant that ultimately turns into a 12-minute infomercial for the tech PAC GrowSF.

“Self-driving cars were born in San Francisco, companies like Cruise and Waymo are creating something that will literally save lives,” Tan says, before going into wide-eyed, finger-pointing mode with a Tucker Carlson syncopation. “But some San Francisco politicians hate technology so much, they’re literally willing to make up statistics, lying to the public to justify banning them.”

How out to lunch does Tan get on this rant? At one point he says, “There’s a reason why Star Trek placed Starfleet Command in San Francisco, and it’s because dreamers and doers are here to create things like self-driving cars.” I don’t know who needs to hear this, but Star Trek and Starfleet Command are fictional constructs that do not actually exist in reality.

Tan does not disclose in the video that his company Y Combinator absolutely has a financial stake in this game. Cruise received investments from  Y Combinator (then “graduated” from that startup incubator when GM acquired Cruise for a reported $1 billion, representing a handsome payday for Y Combinator).

A representative tells SFist that Y Combinator "does not own stock in Cruise.  (It did own stock in the past, but does not do so today)."

Y Combinator also has investments in a self-driving semi-truck company, self-driving radar systems, autonomous forklifts, autonomous shuttles, and other autonomous transit systems. So yes, Y Combinator would like to see lawmakers and regulators be absolute simps for the autonomous vehicle industry.

“Preston! Peskin! Chan! Walton! Melgar! Ronen! Your days are numbered!,” he shouts at the end. “Join us at Grow SF.” That does not sound like someone whose primary concern here is public safety.

Though as we noted, the CPUC is scheduled to vote on August 10 on whether to allow Cruise and Waymo to operate (and charge fares for) self-driving robotaxis 24/7, all over town, with no restrictions. That vote has now been delayed twice, which may have the robotaxi companies worried.

The above full page ad ran in the New York Times and the SF Chronicle print editions on Thursday. “People cause millions of accidents every year in the U.S.,” the ad says. “Cruise driverless cars are designed to save lives.”

You can debate whether they’re designed to save lives, or whether they’re designed to make investors rich. And some people are already debating that with their own parody versions of the ad.

Note: This post has been updated with comment from a representative on behalf of Y Combinator.

Related: Pranksters Claim They Can Stop Self-Driving Cars With Orange Cones, Waymo and Cruise Not Amused [SFist]

Image: SF Fire Department