- Published: 21 August 2023
California Public Utilities Commission agreed to allow Waymo and Cruise to expand its autonomous taxi service in San Francisco, allowing the vehicles to operate citywide — any time of day — and without safety drivers onboard.
Would you get into a driverless taxi zipping down the interstate at 65 mph? You could.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) agreed to allow Waymo and Cruise to expand their autonomous taxi operations in San Francisco. The move clears the way for Waymo to operate its autonomous vehicles with paying passengers, without a safety driver onboard, throughout San Francisco and parts of San Mateo County. The vehicles would be allowed to operate any time of day — in fog and rain — at interstate speeds up to 65 mph.
Cruise, meanwhile, will be allowed to operate its AV taxis across San Francisco any time of day, at speeds of up to 35 mph, without a safety operator. Those vehicles are not permitted to operate in inclement weather.
“This is an incremental approval. It builds on existing approvals, and it’s not the last action of the CPUC, or the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] will be taking in regulating these vehicles,” said Alice Reynolds, who serves as president of the CPUC.
The CPUC will revisit the resolution in three months to monitor the development of the expanded robotaxi service. Both companies have begun testing in other parts of the country.
“This is part of the ongoing process of oversight and testing of a new technology,” said Reynolds just prior to the commission’s vote of 3-1 giving the approval. Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma opposed the resolution, urging the commission to delay the vote until the AV companies can demonstrate an improved working relationship with first responders, among other concerns.
“The city and county of San Francisco are confronted with life-threatening situations in which first responders do not know how to communicate with this new mode of transportation,” said Shiroma in some of her comments.
“Passengers and the public should not be endangered. First responders should not be prevented from doing their job. The fact that an injury or fatality has not occurred yet is not the end of the inquiry,” she added.
Commissioner Karen Douglas was absent and did not vote.
The issue received no shortage of debate. The commission heard more than five hours of public comments, nearly evenly divided between allowing AVs to continue to operate and expand, and calls for pulling back on the technology.
“Fear of the new, untried and misunderstood has always been with us. When it comes to emerging technologies, there will always be those who, instead of embracing progress, choose to dig their heels in and stick their heads in the sand as if that can, or will, stop progress,” Lana Nieves, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco (ILRCSF), told the CPUC.
“For those of us who are part of the disability community, autonomous vehicle technology represents a future with greater independence, the ability to go where we want to go, when we want to go and to do so on our own without having to get into a car with a complete stranger,” she added.
Meanwhile, Ian Smith, who uses a wheelchair, urged the commission to vote down the expansion of AV operation.
“We don’t yet have an agreement on what accessible looks like for our community. We don’t yet have vehicles on the road, or even in pilot programs, that serve our community's needs,” said Smith, in some of his comments.
City officials have signaled a desire to pull back on the technology’s expansion across San Francisco streets, which are highly dynamic spaces, shared by cars, transit vehicles and cyclists.
“We conclude that this technology is still under development,” Julia Friedlander, senior manager for automated driving policy at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), speaking in April during a presentation at the Urbanism Next Conference in Portland, Ore. “We understand their ambition. But we are not seeing a technology that is ready for that, yet.”
Autor(en)/Author(s): Skip Descant
Quelle/Source: Government Technology - Future Structure, 11.08.2023