SAN FRANCISCO - California regulators on Thursday approved an expansion of citywide robotaxi service in San Francisco, despite reservations from city officials and residents after incidents in which unmanned vehicles have blocked traffic, including the path of emergency vehicles.
The state’s Public Utilities Commission voted to approve rival services from Cruise and Waymo to operate around-the-clock service. It will make San Francisco the first major U.S. city with two fleets of driverless vehicles competing for passengers against ride-hailing and taxi services dependent on humans to operate the cars.
It’s a distinction San Francisco officials didn’t want, largely because of the headaches that Cruise and Waymo have been causing in the city while testing their robotaxis on a restricted basis during the past year.
"This is an incremental approval. It builds on existing approvals, and it’s not the last action the CPUC or the DMV will be taking in regulating these vehicles," said Alice Reynolds, a CA Public Utilities Commissioner.
Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma was the only person to vote against expanding driverless car rides, siting opposition from first responders who have expressed safety concerns. First responders say self-driving cars have interfered with their jobs nearly 70 times since 2022. One woman says she doesn’t believe self-driving technology has advanced enough for more use on busy streets.
"The greater problem is that the cars don’t recognize unusual situations. Like a lot of people said today, they’re still learning," said Evelyn Engel, who opposes expanding driverless rides.
Still, supporters believe driverless car rides will create more safety on the roads and even save lives. One group who supports driverless rides, wore these yellow t-shirts that said, "Safer Roads for All". This San Francisco resident who spoke at the meeting, says she too believes driverless cars will make streets safer.
"Human drivers are terrible. I ride a bike almost everywhere and it’s intimidating. Drivers lose their patience, and it doesn’t feel good," said Stacey Randecker, a San Francisco resident who supports driverless taxi rides.
The Teamsters union also came out against this vote, saying they will support Assembly Bill 316, which will require a trained person to operate autonomous vehicles over 10,000 lbs.
As for public safety concerns commissioners urged the companies to address problems raised by San Francisco officials and residents about AVs blocking roads, causing traffic jams, and impeding emergency vehicles. If there are further reports of incidents, the CPUC could vote to limit the number of vehicles allowed on the road or revoke the companies’ permits altogether
Associated Press contributed to this report.