The hearing on expanding autonomous-vehicle taxi service in San Francisco has gotten underway at the California Public Utilities Commission — and a long line of attendees and possible speakers during the public-comment portion was visible at Van Ness and McAllister on Thursday morning.
It could be quite a while before the votes on two resolutions take place that would broadly expand the ability of Cruise and Waymo to take paid passengers on driverless taxi rides around the city. As the SF Standard reported Thursday afternoon, at least 150 people had signed up to speak in person at the committee hearing, with another 80 signed up to make comment remotely.
That could amount to hours of public comment, the likes of which the SF Board of Supervisors knows all too well.
Of the signed-up speakers, we don't know approximately how many will be speaking on behalf of the self-driving technology — we already know there's a contingent of tech folk and investors who want very much for everyone to love these autonomous vehicles and for SF to embrace the fact that it's a testing ground for something much bigger and unavoidable. Nor do we know how many people are there to oppose the whole business.
The backdrop to the meeting is that, three days ago, dozens of members of the San Francisco Police and Fire departments were part of a special hearing with the CA PUC to discuss their many documented incidents of the autonomous taxis disrupting or otherwise frustrating their public-safety work.
These incidents included ones in which the vehicles drove willy-nilly into active firefighting areas, and in which they inadvertently blocked fire engines from getting out of their stations — and critical minutes passed in some cases before the companies could resolve the situation.
Meanwhile, on an earnings call last month, the CEO of Cruise discussed a potential tenfold increase of the number of Cruise vehicles on SF's streets, if they are allowed.
We'll update you once we know the results of the vote.
Update: The vote was taken after hours of public comment, and it was 3-1 in favor of approving the expansion of paid robotaxi services citywide.