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Cruise and Waymo’s San Francisco robotaxi operations delayed by state regulator

A Waymo driverless taxi stops on a street in San Francisco for several minutes because the back door was not completely shut while traffic backs up behind it on Feb. 15, 2023. | Source: AP Photo/Terry Chea

Cruise and Waymo robotaxis’ regulatory approvals in San Francisco have been driven back by at least a month by the state regulator. 

Cruise were set to get the green light to deploy their driverless vehicles 24/7 in the city at a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) meeting this Thursday, but Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma pulled the agenda items pending further review. Shiroma’s chief of staff, Cheryl Wynn, declined to comment on the move when asked by The Standard on Monday. The commission hearing will now be held Aug. 10.

Waymo was set to get approval to begin charging for rides. This decision will also be held back to Aug. 10.

This is the second time the autonomous driver companies have seen their expansion plans delayed since late June. 

City officials have recently raised the alarm about episodes where self-driving cars have interfered with emergency services or obstructed traffic and public transit. A Waymo car recently killed a dog on a San Francisco street, and a Cruise hit a woman’s dog at an intersection—the dog was not harmed, according to its owner. 

“Autonomous vehicles are used by thousands of California residents and have a strong safety record,” said Cruise spokesperson Drew Pusateri. “We should be doing everything possible to quickly and safely scale this technology and combat a horrific status quo. We’ll continue working closely with the CPUC and other regulators toward that goal.” 

“Every single day of delay in deploying this live-saving autonomous driving technology has critical impacts on road safety,” a Waymo spokesperson said. “We are disappointed by the CPUC’s continued delay on Waymo's deployment permit and look forward to its swift resolution.”

Three self-driving Cruise vehicles are disabled by orange cones placed on their hoods in San Francisco in July 2023. A cohort of activists against autonomous vehicles have taken to placing traffic cones on the hoods of Cruise and Waymo robotaxis to stop their forward progress. | Source: Courtesy Safe Street Rebel

However, city officials were reassured. "We’re relieved that the Commission has delayed its vote," the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said in a statement. "We look forward to working further with Commissioners and industry representatives to find the best way to move forward in the public interest."

Activist group Safe Street Rebel, which has taken to sabotaging the autonomous vehicles by placing orange traffic cones on their hoods, also welcomed Shiroma’s move to delay the hearings. 

“We applaud Commissioner Shiroma for doing the right thing by giving the commission more time to thoughtfully craft the detailed regulations the situation demands,” the group said in a statement. “We hope that this additional time will give regulators the opportunity to do more research, and to ensure their eventual decision is in alignment with the wishes of the people who will be affected.” 

Multiple law enforcement unions have written staunch letters to the commission against the extended approval of robotaxis, including the San Francisco police officer’s union, SF firefighters unions and the city’s deputy sheriff’s association.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Aug. 10 hearing would potentially allow Waymo to operate 24/7 throughout the whole city. Waymo is already permitted to operate throughout the whole city 24/7; the hearing is instead related to commercialization efforts that will allow the company to charge for rides.

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