Lawmakers in L.A. etc., are also currently trying to heavily regulate robotaxi operations
Robotaxi company operations across California were struck by a series of setbacks on Tuesday, with protests erupting against them in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Legal action ending Cruise’s operation in San Francisco, and a Los Angeles City Councilwoman putting forth legislation to heavily regulate robotaxi companies.
This article was written by Evan Symon and originally published by The California Globe.
For several years, California has been a battle ground for self-driving cars and robotaxi services. Robotaxi rollouts in San Francisco by Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise have faced the most challenges. While the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) slowly expanded the limits of the robotaxis in the city following introduction in 2020, reports of blocked traffic, blocked emergency workers, blocked mass transit, and other similar issues became commonplace in the city. The San Francisco Police Department, San Francisco Fire Department and other emergency service agencies addressed just how much these companies should expand by, given the many kinks to be worked out.
In August, CPUC voted to expand operations in San Francisco, despite dozens of incidents caused by autonomous cars and the majority of residents opposing them. However, the rapid expansion led to even more incidents – 10 Cruise robotaxis stalled and caused a major backup. Another taxi careened into a construction site and got stuck in wet concrete. A Cruise vehicle even caused a passenger injury when it crashed into a firetruck. These, as well as dozens of other incidents reported in the months before the CPUC vote, robotaxis were reduced in number there in August, with Cruise alone reducing the number of robotaxis there by 50%
Despite all the action taken against them, robotaxis saw more major victories, including Governor Newsom vetoing a law that would have required AI trucks to have a human operator in them at all times and robotaxis expanding into Santa Monica and Los Angeles. These advances invigorated opponents, and on Tuesday, they proceeded to strike back at robotaxis across the state.
One such action was protests. On Tuesday, Teamsters, labor leaders, public safety officials and political allies from both parties held protests in San Francisco and Los Angeles over safety concerns with robotaxis. In San Francisco, Cruise was protested at their headquarters with leaders such as San Francisco Supervisors Shamann Walton and Connie Chan in attendance. Concurrently in Los Angeles, Waymo was protested at Google Venice headquarters with leaders such as L.A County Federation of Labor head Yvonne Wheeler and Los Angeles City Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez attending.
Both protests happened at the same time as the Q3 sales call of General Motors and Alphabet, with speakers at both events denouncing the companies over their robotaxi safety records.
“Robotaxi safety incidents, which include crashes and congestion, are becoming the norm across the country. It’s happened in San Francisco, Austin, Nashville, Houston and now we have it here in Los Angeles. Waymo’s parent company Alphabet tries to portray itself as being one of the good guys but we know all too well that Big Tech has a hard time being good to public safety and working people,” said Teamsters Vice President Lindsay Dougherty. “Anybody who knows Los Angeles, knows that the freeways are not the place to bring these reckless robotaxis.”
Wheeler also added that “We’re saying hell no to driverless vehicles on our streets. Autonomous vehicles, like the ones that Waymo wants to unleash in our communities, have been wreaking havoc wherever they go. From blocking fire trucks on call, to emergencies, to crashes into buses, running over animals, running through construction sites and ruining freshly poured concrete, it’s clear this technology is not ready to be introduced into our roads and our city.”
In addition, Soto-Martinez also said that “These machines won’t just put millions of good-paying, union jobs at risk – they pose a serious threat to pedestrian safety. We need actual regulations on robot taxis, and we should not be putting lives at risk by allowing our city to be a test subject for the tech industry.”
While the protests were occurring, the California Department of Motor Vehicles announced that deployment and testing permits for Cruise’s autonomous vehicles, including robotaxis, would be suspended immediately. The announcement effectively leaves only a handful of robotaxis being allowed to operate in San Francisco during certain times.
“When there is an unreasonable risk to public safety, the DMV can immediately suspend or revoke permits,” said the California DMV in a statement. “The decision is based on several factors, including four regulations that allow suspension in the event that the Department determines the manufacturer’s vehicles are not safe for the public’s operation. The manufacturer has also misrepresented information related to safety of the autonomous technology of its vehicles.”
With the federal government also investigating Cruise following their growing number of accidents, Cruise is now crippled for at least the short-term in the robotaxi race in California. However, other companies such as Waymo could receive similar treatment should their number of accidents continue to climb as well.
Discontent against robotaxi companies continues across California
Finally, Councilman Soto-Martinez announced that he will soon put forth a new motion urging officials in the state to address public safety concerns around autonomous vehicles and reign in the expansion of robotaxis in Los Angeles. While not much else is currently known about the proposed motion, besides it to be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, many experts noted that it could lead to a similar situation in San Francisco, with robotaxi operations being paused as a result incidents involving their cars.
Robotaxi companies, inundated by the multiple actions as well as their parent companies bring forth Q3 news, were slow to react on Tuesday. However, press statements slowly came out throughout Tuesday, including one from Cruise confirming that they would be complying with the DMV’s permit suspension order.
“We learned today at 10:30 am PT of the California DMV’s suspension of our driverless permits,” said Cruise spokeswoman Hannah Lindow on Tuesday. “As a result, we will be pausing operations of our driverless AVs in San Francisco.”
Experts told the Globe on Tuesday that the recent wave of backlash would likely continue, as the majority of Californians don’t want robotaxis on their streets, especially when they are only in their testing phase.
“More and more people are coming out against robotaxis here,” said Sebastian Jordan, a mass transit advisor who has worked with multiple agencies in California in the past. “At first it was a union thing, then it became something of a statement against Newsom’s ties with Silicon Valley companies. But after more and more robotaxi-caused accidents occurred, including some where people were injured? You just knew that they couldn’t really defend themselves anymore so easily.
“And we’ve been saying that AI cars are the future more and more. But we’re starting to see more and more people against it too. Maybe self-driving cars aren’t the only way to go. Maybe this isn’t the future. Maybe people should have the option now. And while that is fine for your own personal car, robotaxis don’t give you that choice. That’s where a lot of frustration is coming from.
“But most of it? The worsening safety records of these robotaxis. And all these things happening on Tuesday has just decimated them. San Francisco has just been largely gutted by them, more people are coming out against the robotaxi companies, and cities want to put major limits in place now, if not outright ban them. Cruise isn’t even allowed to use their cars in the city they are headquartered in now. And the crazy thing is that we are only going to see this grow.”
More actions against robotaxi and AI automobile companies are expected to be announced soon.