Self-driving cars have flooded San Francisco’s streets, and many of them don’t have safe drivers behind the wheel.
In August, two leading autonomous car companies, GM-owned Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo, were granted permission to expand their operations, allowing people to hail a self-driving car in the same way they hail an Uber. Users who are invited or granted access after signing up through a waitlist can request a robo-taxi in specific areas of the city for the typical ride-sharing cost.
But the launch ran into problems. Cars have driven into firefighting sites, caused construction delays, impeded ambulances, and even stumbled upon active crime scenes.
“There have been over 75 incidents,” San Francisco Fire Chief Janine Nicholson said. “It’s like playing Russian roulette. It affects public safety and that’s what we need to fix.”
“There are still some kinks to be ironed out,” San Francisco city attorney David Chiu said.
“And this is with only a few hundred vehicles,” Chiu said. “The idea of thousands of vehicles arriving on our streets in a short time is what concerns us.”
In October, the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Cruise’s permit to operate its driverless fleet in the state, citing an accident. Cruz’s car dragged a pedestrian about 20 feet after the collision.
Cruise had been rapidly expanding to other cities, including Phoenix, Austin, Dallas, Houston and Miami, but the company temporarily halted its driverless operations across the country after suspending service in California. Waymo still operates robotaxis in San Francisco.
Before Cruise’s permit was revoked, CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa took a tour of one of its self-driving vehicles. I also tried Waymo and provided a comparison of the two very different rides. I sat down with Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise, who was optimistic that the company can get past these latest hurdles.
“It will be very common for people in big cities to get around the city in a robotaxi over the next few years,” Vogt said.
Watch the video Let’s see how the rollout of robo-taxis has been in the city and what’s next.
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