There’s no love lost between human rideshare drivers and the self-driving car companies that hope to replace them, but the rideshare drivers are quick to point out that the robotaxis are nowhere near up to the task yet.
It’s hardly a shock that Lyft and Uber drivers despise the fleets of self-driving robotaxis in San Francisco, considering that the self-driving car companies’ specific, stated goal is to put those human drivers out of work. But those human rideshare drivers encounter the robotaxis far more than most of us do on the road. And a new report in the Chronicle details what Uber and Lyft drivers say are the most frequent mistakes self-driving cars make on the streets of San Francisco, as the drivers echo the sentiment of the SF Fire Department Chief who says the robot cars are "not ready for prime time."
They Just Plain Stop, Sometimes in Large Groups
We first became aware of this problem last summer, when a gaggle of these robot overlords blocked Gough Street “for a couple hours,” per TechCrunch. A week after that report, we learned that nearly 60 Cruise cars just up and halted on the road that evening.
Our Demands: The CPUC must delay any further authorization of AVs in SF, rollback previous authorizations while their impact on VMT, climate change and public safety are studied by an independent body, and demand that AV companies share unredacted incident data publicly. pic.twitter.com/okCF14gmwj— Safe Street Rebel (@SafeStreetRebel) August 3, 2023
It’s Not Just Orange Cones That Can Stop Them
We all had a good laugh when pranksters figured out that placing orange cones on the hood of a robotaxi could bring them to a complete halt. But Uber and Lyft drivers seen that far smaller, lighter, everyday objects can have the same halting effect on these robocars.
Uber driver James Wilson told the Chronicle a robotaxi “which he estimated was traveling about 50 mph, slam on its brakes and screech to a sudden halt when the wind carried a discarded plastic bag across its windshield.”
They Let Off Riders in the Middle of the Street, Not the Curb
The Chronicle covered this in a previous column by Danielle Echeverria last week. At the end of that writer's Waymo ride, Echeverria notes that “instead of pulling into an empty spot on the curb to drop me off, it stopped in the middle of the street, blocking the car behind.”
Had a @Cruise at Pierce/Waller on Waller in SF stall behind a fire truck responding to an alarm, obstruct traffic and then not move out of the way when a second truck arrived. If this had been a fire, it could have put real humans at risk. pic.twitter.com/0Uu5DKyXdS— Peter Van Dyke @SF (@pvandyke) August 7, 2023
They Don’t Understand Emergencies or Unusual Situations
This is why police and firefighters are most displeased with these robotaxis. Taxi drivers can see why.
“Human drivers make mistakes, as these (autonomous vehicle) companies are quick to point out,” Green Cab of San Francisco co-owner Mark Gruberg told the Chronicle. “But let’s say I, as a human, make a mistake and drive into an active fire scene. I, as a human driver, can correct that error, and drive out of the area. For an AV, you have to wait 20 minutes for someone to get it out of there.”
Spotted: Three robo cars stalled in the same intersection in San Francisco. This time, it’s @Cruise cars jamming the intersection of Valencia/21 St. in the Mission.— Dustin Gardiner (@dustingardiner) August 20, 2023
Parking enforcement guy banging on windows trying to communicate w/ Cruise. Traffic backed up for blocks. pic.twitter.com/ShcYYv8XEl
They're Still Terrible at Left Turns
Just last weekend, three Cruise vehicles made themselves a laughingstock with their inability to make a proper left turn at 21st and Valencia streets, as NBC Bay Area reports. One one hand, yes, they’re showing an abundance of caution. On the other hand, they cannot assess the external risks that abundance of caution may pose.
“It’s like being in the car with my daughter just after she had turned 16 and was learning to drive,” New York Times writer Cade Metz said on a recent podcast. “She is so careful when she drives she would stop several feet before she got to the intersection. But that’s what these driverless cars are like. They drive at the pace and with the care of a particularly conscientious 16-year-old driver.”
Image: @SafeStreetRebel via Twitter