Firefighters complain “it is not our job to babysit their vehicles” as Cruise and Waymo road glitches are on the uptick ahead of Thursday’s CPUC vote on whether to allow more robotaxis in SF. Oh, and Willie Brown is now a lobbyist for Cruise.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is the authority with jurisdiction over those Cruise and Waymo self-driving cars all over San Francisco. And they were going to vote on whether to allow these robotaxis unlimited, 24-7 access to SF streets in late June, but they delayed the vote to July. Then in July, they delayed it again, amidst a drumbeat of police and firefighters complaining of self-driving cars blocking first responders. Cruise and Waymo have been waging an aggressive PR campaign ahead of the twice-delayed CPUC vote, now scheduled for Thursday.
On the eve of Thursday's big vote to lift restrictions on driverless cars in San Francisco, cops and firefighters had a message: "It is not our job to babysit their vehicles."— Mission Local (@MLNow) August 8, 2023
From @Yujie_ZZ https://t.co/AhX5dmqrsh
And it’s fair to assess that the CPUC has been delaying this vote because of these complaints from firefighters and police. And so on Monday, the CPUC held an “all-party meeting” that included first responders, and allowed them to air their concerns.
San Francisco Fire Department Chief Jeanine Nicholson noted examples of firefighters having to tend to disoriented robotaxis that have held up their emergency operations for sometimes up to a half-hour. “That’s just unacceptable,” Nicholson told the commission. “I will reiterate, it is not our job to babysit their vehicles.”
As driverless taxis ramp up operations in San Francisco, their disruption and close calls have increased in frequency and severity, officials say. https://t.co/IQDxKiFcGC— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) July 14, 2023
Nicholson said there have been 55 “Unusual Occurrence” incidents in the last year-plus where self-driving taxis have interfered with firefighters’ duties. And as the Chronicle noted last month, the frequency of these incidents has risen since March 2023.
Robotaxis are set to come to a critical intersection in San Francisco this week. On Thursday, the CPUC is set to vote on authorizing Cruise and Waymo to deploy paid public taxi service across the entire city at all hours of the day. https://t.co/KHJvAtUxIK— ABC7 News (@abc7newsbayarea) August 8, 2023
And it sure raises eyebrows, as the SF Standard reported last month, that CPUC commissioner John Reynolds used to be an attorney for Cruise, and now gets to vote on whether the company can expand service. But there’s also one hell of a tidbit in the above KGO report on Monday’s CPUC meeting that may also raise eyebrows, but it's perhaps not surprising: former SF Mayor Willie Brown is now lobbying for Cruise, or rather, he's a “Cruise advisor.” SFGate reports he’s been working for them since 2020.
Former San Francisco mayor and longtime pundit Willie Brown has strong feelings against SFMTA's anti-Cruise and Waymo stance. He has been a paid Cruise advisor since 2020. https://t.co/IDFcTOzmRF— SFGATE (@SFGate) August 8, 2023
In Brown’s ‘advisor’ capacity, he told KGO, "The police department and the fire department know clearly how to access you or I if we are in need of them no matter what the traffic situation is and they ought to live with that."
Cruise and Waymo both volunteered on Monday that they would provide training and guidance for first responders to “familiarize themselves” with autonomous vehicles and how to disable them themselves. But police call bullshit on that, as there are so many companies trying to get into this game, all with different proprietary protocols.
“We want to be able to deal with emergency situations quickly and effectively,” SF police commander Nicole Jones told the commission, according to Mission Local. “If there are 41 different protocols that have to be followed, 41 different phone numbers that have to be called, it’s just a lot.”
And naturally, taxi drivers are fuming over these self-driving cars too. "If there is no limit on robotaxis, I'm afraid we won't be able to get through this," taxi driver Matthew Sutter told KGO.
The CPUC vote on whether to grant Cruise and Waymo permission for paid robotaxi rides all over San Francisco at any hour is currently scheduled for this Thursday, August 10, at 11 a.m. The meeting will be broadcast online.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist