City Attorney David Chiu is ramping up the pushback against Waymo and Cruise self-driving robotaxis in SF, filing a motion with the state to reverse their approval of unlimited robotaxis on San Francisco streets.
It was just last Thursday when the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the unlimited expansion of self-driving Cruise and Waymo robotaxis to operate and charge fares, on any street at any hour in San Francisco. But it did not inspire confidence when barely 24 hours later, self-driving Cruise cars caused a robotaxi traffic jam Friday night in North Beach, in another example of the cars freezing and blocking traffic. And it inspires even less confidence, as we noted this morning, that Cruise is now changing their story on why this happened; first they blamed cellular reception issues caused by Outside Lands crowds, now they’re saying a pedestrian intentionally interfered with one of their cars. (With an orange cone perhaps?)
Now San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu is trying to stop that approved expansion, not with an orange cone, but with a motion filed Wednesday with the CPUC. The Chronicle reports Chiu has filed a motion asking to to reverse last week’s approval, saying the robo-cars’ blocking of traffic and first responders would only get much worse if the companies expand their service.
SCOOP: San Francisco filed motions Wednesday with the CPUC asking it to halt approval of expanded Cruise & Waymo robotaxi service.— Ricardo Cano (@ByRicardoCano) August 17, 2023
S.F. officials project more disruptive AV incidents during daytime hours & invoke CEQA in their argument.https://t.co/hFH1INRtzF via @sfchronicle
The Chronicle has obtained the full 85-page motion, 59 pages of which are “Unusual Occurrence” reports from the SF Fire Department (58 incidents total). These include one incident where a robotaxi blocked fire trucks from leaving their station for longer than eight minutes.
“San Francisco will suffer serious harms from this expansion of driverless AV (autonomous vehicle) operations that will outweigh any potential harms from a minimal delay in commercial deployment Cruise may experience,” the letter says. “The continual occurrence of driverless AV street interference incidents shows that the technical issues that have caused these incidents have not been resolved and are likely to increase as AV companies scale their operations.”
The letter adds that the 24/7 service expansion makes the robotaxi glitches “significantly more likely to happen in the middle of a busy downtown arterial road at peak travel hours, snarling traffic for hours,”
And in true San Francisco fashion, the appeal attempt invokes the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a legal method often used to stymie large housing and development projects.
Cruise, naturally, strongly opposes Chiu’s motion.
“The CPUC's decision was the result of a months-long process that saw public input and support from accessibility groups, labor unions and community advocates,” Cruise spokesperson Drew Pusateri told the Chronicle in a statement. “It's unfortunate to see the city use public resources to bypass that decision and restrict a technology with an excellent safety record used by tens of thousands of San Francisco residents.”
As the Chronicle reported last week, there are currently nearly 600 self-driving robotaxis operating in San Francisco, between Waymo and Cruise combined. KTVU points out how at the moment, rides are only available to those with invite codes. But KTVU also adds that “reports suggest that Waymo intends to start offering paid rides on Monday.”
Chiu’s motion is not a lawsuit, it’s just a motion filed to the CPUC urging them to reconsider their decision. They are under no obligation to do so, they don’t even have to respond. And the CPUC has previously been unmoved by complaints from firefighters and police about the cars blocking them, as they heard hours worth of such grievances at a special Monday meeting days before last Thursday’s vote, and they still approved the expansion.
So we could see a battle brewing between San Francisco and the state of California on this. And SF will have to battle harder, because the state has more regulatory power here.
Image via Waymo