Barely 24 hours after getting state approval to run their self-driving cars at all hours in SF, Cruise robotaxis froze up en masse in North Beach Friday night. Now SF City Hall is urging a state commission to go into reverse on that approval.
This weekend was supposed to be the big coming out party for the often-troubled self-driving Waymo and Cruise robotaxis. After a tense Thursday meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), that commission granted Cruise and Waymo permission to use all SF roads at all hours and collect fares 24/7.
And so this weekend’s Outside Lands festival was shaping up to be Cruise and Waymo’s triumphant debut, as the Examiner reported. “Both autonomous vehicle giants will be operating at Outside Lands for all three days of the ultra-popular music festival.” (Though Cruise was still only operating after 9 p.m. for whatever reason.)
In case you missed it, the video below shows just how not-triumphantly the first night went.
😬 @Cruise self-driving operations had a complete meltdown earlier in North Beach. We overheard on the scanner that all Cruise vehicle agents were tied up at the time (not literally) and so North Beach was going to get a delayed response. But wow, WTF!pic.twitter.com/D89xrSxAdu— FriscoLive415 (@friscolive415) August 12, 2023
Cruise said in a statement that “A large festival posed wireless bandwidth constraints causing delayed connectivity to our vehicles” (they’re obviously referring to Outside Lands). That indicates these networks have… no connectivity back-up systems? If a music festival can disable a fleet, imagine what could happen in earthquakes, heavy storms or emergencies.
San Francisco City Hall is certainly considering these troubling scenarios, and the Chronicle reports SF officials will be asking the CPUC to reconsider the approval they granted last week.
“The take-home is a scary revelation in that if cell phone coverage goes out, they can’t communicate with their cars at the same time the city would be trying to maintain order,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who has North Beach in his district, told the Chronicle. “If you have an earthquake, they will be sitting like bricks on your street and there is no way to communicate with them at the precise moment you need them."
This is not just Peskin complaining. The Chronicle reports that “Peskin said the mayor’s office, Board of Supervisors, Fire Department, Municipal Transportation Agency and County Transportation Authority would join together” in requesting some regulatory pullback. Note the words “Peskin said,” none of the other parties have commented on the record. But if we take Peskin at face value, he does have fire department and other agency buy-in on this.
The problem? Neither the fire department or any of these city agencies have any say in this matter. Regulating Cruise and Waymo robotaxis is entirely the jurisdiction of the CPUC and the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Image:@friscolive415 via Twitter