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San Francisco residents say they can’t sleep due to circling robotaxis

The Standard tried out Cruise's robotaxi service in November, riding around San Francisco in an autonomous vehicle named Funnel Cake. | Source: Mike Kuba/The Standard

Melanie Mandich has heard Cruise cars circling her block through the night since early May, with mechanical noises echoing off retaining walls in the upscale Dolores Heights neighborhood.

But despite repeated requests to the driverless car operator over the past three months, the Cruise robot cars' demented doom loops have continued to disturb her and her neighbors' sleep for six straight weeks.

In emails shared with The Standard, Mandich told Cruise about a night when she documented three or four cars that appeared to be using the block outside her home as a "quasi-testing ground," circling Church, Liberty and 20th streets from 11 p.m. May 23 until at least 3 a.m. May 24.

"The whirring noise from these vehicles was really intrusive; it was like trying to sleep at a traffic light," she told Cruise's customer service in a May 24 email at 6:58 a.m.

"Question: Why is Cruise sending these cars around this block endlessly? To what purpose? This is not a proving ground; it is a neighborhood! Please advise."

A Cruise car whirrs past a San Francisco home in the Dolores Heights neighborhood.

Cruise and Waymo robotaxis’ were set to be given the green light to operate 24/7 in San Francisco on Thursday. But state regulators pushed the hearing back by a month to Aug. 10, pending further review of the policy change. This is the second time the autonomous vehicle companies have seen their robotaxi expansion plans delayed since late June. 

Follow-up emails from Mandich after a circling episode in the first week of June lay out the issues to Cruise: steep grades and retaining walls along the 300 block of Liberty and 700 block of Sanchez streets amplify the vehicles' repetitive braking and acceleration sounds, amplifying the vehicle’s noises around the alleged training ground. 

"So if your AI is 'learning' this route, or 'learning' how to nav on a hill/blind corner, it should have 'learned' all pertinent info by now," she noted in one of several missives to the company between May and July.

‘Unleashed a Software Nightmare’

A Cruise car whirrs past a San Francisco home in the Dolores Heights neighborhood at night.

In comments to The Standard on Tuesday, Mandich said she believes city government and advisors must understand the vehicles’ dangers. 

“These cars present hazards with different nuances, not just first-responder vehicles. It’s the fact that we’ve unleashed a software nightmare. It’s not correcting at this point; it’s stopped learning. It’s a repetitive instance of the same behavior from these cars. Obviously, its machine learning is not working.”

Another neighbor, Joe Vincent, grew incensed enough after noticing the same car circle the block multiple times that he went out and stood in front of one, and then another one that arrived soon after.

"As long as it takes, folks ... I will interfere with your cars that continually circle this block," Vincent wrote in an email to Cruise. "The first car today almost ran into a pedestrian who was walking their dog. Your cars are dangerous."

A Cruise representative wrote back to Vincent, thanking him for reaching out: "This issue is being escalated to the appropriate team to be looked into further."

Cruise did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

George Kelly can be reached at