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SF transit bosses slam Cruise self-driving cars for blocking streets. Cruise wants to deploy more

A Cruise vehicle near the Castro district in San Francisco in April 2021. Courtesy Cruise | Source: Cruise

Two of San Francisco’s top transit bosses ripped into self-driving car company Cruise in a 39-page letter this week. 

They tore into the firm’s myriad safety hazards and traffic problems that its autonomous vehicles have caused in the city recently, including a June 3 crash that led to a recall of 80 of its cars.

In a written comment to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Jeffrey Tumlin and Tilly Chang, the directors of the city and county’s transportation agencies, expressed major concerns. The letter was first reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

It comes as a new application by Cruise’s parent company, General Motors, has been submitted to the NHTSA to begin building a new type of fully electric self-driving car—the Cruise Origin.

The pair worry that if new technology doesn’t fix problems with existing Cruise cars, the new cars “could quickly exhaust emergency response resources and could undermine public confidence in all automated driving technology.”

The letter from Tumlin and Chang analyzes 28 formal complaints and 20 incidents posted to social media about Cruise cars the city received between May and September of this year. 

The agency assumes those reported are just a fraction of the actual incidents Cruise is causing. 

Most of the reported incidents were about Cruise cars blocking lanes and causing traffic jams on some of the city’s most dangerous roads—known as the High Injury Network. The network accounts for 13% of San Francisco streets where 75% of traffic injuries happen. 

Some of the incidents have shot to infamy on social media, including a 13-car stoppage on Gough Street in June—where Reddit users quipped: “Oh no, they’re plotting.”

GM has agreed to provide some safety data and answer other questions from the federal agency. In a statement to The Standard, Cruise said it would continue working with NHTSA but did not immediately respond to questions about safety changes the company may make to its new Origin cars.

"We’ll continue working closely with NHTSA through their review process to ensure the safe and responsible deployment of this technology,” the statement says.

Most of the other comments posted in response to the application are in support of the Origin’s application or offer feedback, including from groups like Disability Rights California. 

Tumlin and Chang’s comment provides a laundry list of recommendations, including calling on the federal government to require Cruise to submit regular incident and safety reporting, limit where the cars can drive in San Francisco and consider allowing first responders to power off the cars when needed.

On Friday, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí weighed in on the agency heads’ comment, saying San Francisco “should be embracing and encouraging this homegrown business.”