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Vote on SF’s Controversial Self-Driving Taxi Plan Set for Tomorrow

By Jake Beardslee · August 9, 2023

In brief…

  • San Francisco's first responders and taxi drivers have join forces against self-driving taxis.
  • California Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow on whether to permit Cruise and Waymo self-driving taxis on the streets of San Francisco 24/7.
  • Concerns over the cabs include interference with emergency services and the potential of putting human taxi drivers out of business.
  • There have been 55 cases this year of self-driving taxis getting in the way of firefighters.
Waymo's self-driving taxi.  Grendelkhan/Wikimedia

San Francisco’s first responders and taxi drivers have organized to stop the city from allowing more self-driving taxis on city streets.

“At a time when they’ve proven to be not up to the task’ permitting more self-driving taxis “would be a grave, grave mistake,” Mark Gruberg of the San Francisco Taxi Worker Alliance told ABC News.

The California Public Utilities Commission plans to vote tomorrow on permitting two companies, Cruise and Waymo, to operate self-driving taxis in San Francisco on a round-the-clock basis. Many San Franciscans, however, are not happy with the self-driving taxis currently operating in the city.

“They’re still not ready for prime time because of how they have impacted our operations,” said Chief Jeanine Nicholson of the San Francisco Fire Department in public testimony.

Nicholson said there have been 55 cases this year of self-driving taxis blocking firefighters doing their jobs. “This includes not just unexpected stops in front of our fire stations, but not allowing our vehicles to respond to incidents,” she said.

The Commission vote has already been postponed twice.

Representatives from Cruise and Waymo have promised the city they will train first responders on how to interact with the self-driving vehicles. “We’re working to ensure that our vehicles stay out of the way of active emergency vehicles whenever possible,” said Rob Patrick of Waymo, during his testimony.

Taxi drivers like Matthew Sutter, who scraped by financially during the pandemic, are worried they could go out of business if self-driving robo-taxis go into wide operation. “There’s no limit on robo-taxis. I’m afraid we won’t be able to get through this,” he told ABC.

Cruise is also testing its driverless taxis in Atlanta, while Waymo taxis will soon begin operation in Austin, Texas.