Deep Dives

Robotaxis greenlit for 24/7 operations in San Francisco

August 11, 2023
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San Francisco has approved unlimited self-driving robotaxis, paving the way for companies like Cruise and Waymo to operate driverless cars in the city. Despite concerns from officials and residents, the decision has significant implications for the future of transportation and the tech industry.

Approval and Opposition:
  • California Public Utilities Commission approved all-day paid robotaxi service in San Francisco.
  • Cruise (supported by General Motors) and Waymo (an Alphabet subsidiary) were the main companies pushing for approval.
  • The decision came after a lengthy six-hour public comment session where many opposed the expansion, citing safety concerns.

  • Performance of Driverless Cars:
  • While some in San Francisco have had positive experiences with driverless cars, there have been issues.
  • These vehicles have occasionally caused traffic jams and struggled in certain traffic conditions.
  • There have been reports of these cars obstructing public services like transit and construction.

  • Company Reactions:
  • Cruise and Waymo defend the cars' performance, attributing stops to safe handling of unusual situations.
  • San Francisco wanted more specific data from these companies regarding the cars' activities.
  • This controversy led to a two-month delay in the vote as more information was collected.

  • Significance for the Tech Industry:
  • The approval is crucial for Cruise and Waymo, indicating potential profitability after significant investments.
  • General Motors reported significant losses on Cruise in 2022 but is hopeful for the future.
  • Waymo can now operate at speeds up to 65 mph, while Cruise is capped at 35 mph.

  • Future Plans and Responsibilities:
  • There is no limit set on the number of robotaxis each company can operate, but the exact numbers are not yet revealed.
  • Waymo plans to gradually roll out its service to over 100,000 people on a waiting list.
  • CPUC commissioner Darcie Houck emphasized the importance of safety and announced the possibility of permit adjustments in the future.
  • She proposed a three-month review involving all stakeholders.

  • Role of the CPUC:
  • The CPUC, traditionally known for regulating public services, has the authority to decide on the robotaxi initiative due to a unique state law.
  • It also has jurisdiction over taxi and ride-hail services, granting it the power to determine the fate of Waymo and Cruise's business models for self-driving cars.

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