According to NBC News’ earlier story, transportation officials in San Francisco want Waymo and Cruise to limit the rollout of their robotaxi services owing to safety concerns. The Transportation Authority of San Francisco County wrote two letters to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) arguing that expanding either service “is unreasonable.” The letters cite recent incidents of stopped driverless vehicles blocking traffic and obstructing emergency responders as evidence.
Only two firms, Cruise (supported by General Motors) and Waymo (owned by Alphabet), are authorised to provide autonomous transportation to customers in San Francisco at this time. Cruise was granted permission to start charging for trips in its AVs between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. ET in June, while Waymo was granted permission to begin offering completely driverless rides a few months later. Waymo, unlike Cruise, must wait for an extra authorization from the CPUC before it can begin charging for driverless rides.
We are beginning to witness the response — or lack thereof— of the completely autonomous vehicles now that both firms have had them on San Francisco streets for many months.
Driverless Cruise vehicles caused traffic delays in July and September when they suddenly ceased functioning. Meanwhile, earlier this month an autonomous Waymo car halted in the middle of a junction in San Francisco, causing a backup of vehicles. Concerned that Cruise cars may obstruct traffic and cause rear-end incidents due to sudden stops, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an inquiry against the company in December.
In order to gain public trust and ensure the continued success of the automation sector in San Francisco and abroad, the letter suggests “a series of constrained deployments with gradual increases” rather than “unrestricted authorizations.”
“They cracked a front glass of the automobile,” the firefighters said of the Cruise vehicle they had to stop from racing over the hose.
City authorities, meanwhile, are worried about how autonomous cars will interact with ambulances and fire trucks. An automated Cruise car, according to authorities, blocked traffic in April, preventing a San Francisco Fire Department truck from reaching a 3-alarm blaze.
Another Cruise AV “went over a fire hose that was in operation at an active fire scene” a few months later, and just last month, another Cruise vehicle came close to doing the same thing at a firefighting situation. According to the firefighters, “they cracked a front glass” to prevent the automobile from running over the hose. On three different occasions, Cruise has called 911 regarding “unresponsive” passengers, only to have emergency personnel arrive to find that the rider had just fallen asleep.
A Cruise representative, Aaron Mclear, tells The Verge, “Cruise’s safety record is publicly disclosed,” which includes millions of kilometres driven in a “very complicated metropolitan environment” with no serious injuries or fatalities.
The SFMTA is in favour of expanding autonomous technology but wants more openness and safety precautions taken. Companies operating autonomous vehicles should be forced to collect more data on the operation of the vehicles, according to government officials. In addition, it wants to prevent AV businesses from operating on “downtown core streets” in San Francisco during peak traffic times unless they can demonstrate that they can do so reliably “without considerable disturbance to street operations and transit services.”
However, the Cruise team hopes to run their San Francisco robotaxi service around the clock for a fee. The California Department of Motor Vehicles gave the corporation the go-ahead in December, but the CPUC has yet to give it the OK. Cruise expanded their robotaxi service to Austin, Texas, joining the other two businesses that currently offer trips in Phoenix, Arizona.
Waymo spokeswoman Katherine Barna tells The Verge that “these letters are a regular part of the regulatory process,” and that the company has “always enjoyed a robust communication” with local authorities and government organisations in California. Our response to the CPUC is due next week, at which time Waymo will have a chance to respond.
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