San Francisco asks California regulators to halt or slow the rollout of driverless taxis

City officials want 'a series of limited deployments' rather than carte blanche authorizations.


San Francisco city officials have sent letters to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) asking to slow or halt the expansion of Cruise and Waymo robotaxi services in the city, NBC News has reported. San Francisco Transportation Authority (SFTA) officials wrote that unlimited expansion would be "unreasonable" in light of recent safety incidents in which vehicles blocked traffic and interfered with emergency vehicles.

Alphabet's Waymo and Cruise, owned by GM, both operate fully driverless services (without backup drivers) in the city. Last June, Cruise gained permission to charge for rides in set areas of the city between the hours of 10PM and 6AM. Waymo is allowed to give driverless vehicle rides but is waiting for another permit before it can charge for them.

“A series of limited deployments with incremental expansions — rather than unlimited authorizations — offer the best path toward public confidence in driving automation and industry success in San Francisco and beyond,” the letter reads.

The services have had their challenges. A small fleet of Cruise robotaxis in San Francisco suddenly stopped operating on a street in the city's Fillmore district, blocking traffic for several hours. Another Cruise vehicle was pulled over by confused cops and then promptly went on the lam. The NTSA recently opened a probe into Cruise's self-driving vehicles over hard braking, traffic blocking and other issues.

In one as yet unreported incident, Cruise vehicles also reportedly interfered with emergency responders. Firefighters had to smash the window one of the company's robotaxis to prevent it from running over a firehose, according to the letter.

However, Cruise pointed out that the service has been safe so far. "Cruise’s safety record is publicly reported and includes having driven millions of miles in an extremely complex urban environment with zero life-threatening injuries or fatalities,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

The letters may have been prompted by Cruise's stated plans to operate its robotaxi service 24 hours a day rather than just at night. It's been approved for that by the California DMV, but is waiting on permission from the CPUC. (Both companies also operate driverless ride services in Phoenix, and Cruise's self-driving taxis are available in Austin, Texas as well.)

The SFTA isn't against the 24/7 expansion, but has requested more data like how often and for how long Cruise's vehicles block traffic. It also wants robotaxis to stay off primary routes during rush hour until they prove they can operate "without significant interruption of street operations and transit services."