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Politics & Policy

San Francisco robotaxis: Petition to re-do expansion vote filed

A car without a driver is seen in the road by a building as a man uses a crosswalk nearby
A pedestrian crosses Division Street as a driverless Cruise approaches them on Aug. 15, 2023 | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

San Francisco formally filed its request to redo a decision made in August by state regulators greenlighting a major robotaxi expansion. 

On behalf of city transit and planning officials, the City Attorney’s Office this week applied for a rehearing on the California Public Utilities Commission vote granting Waymo and Cruise unlimited expansion of its autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. Days after the Aug. 10 vote, the office also asked the regulatory commission to pause the effects of the decision

READ MORE: San Francisco Robotaxis: How Do Police, Firefighters Take Control of Vehicles?

“The CPUC utilized a flawed approval process and ignored the public safety hazards and potential environmental impacts of AVs [autonomous vehicles], and they should reconsider their decision,” City Attorney David Chiu said. “AV technology has a place in San Francisco, but we’re concerned it is not yet capable of safely operating in our complex transportation environment.”

Ahead of the twice-delayed vote, city officials warned against unchecked expansion due to the numerous instances of the vehicles interfering with first responders, public transit and general traffic. The CPUC approved the expansion with no requirements for data reporting, benchmarks, geography or fleet size, the city noted. 

READ MORE: Video: San Francisco Cruise Robotaxi Attacked With Hammer

Since the vote in August, numerous high-profile incidents involving autonomous vehicles occurred. A Cruise vehicle collided with a fire truck and injured a passenger, leading the company to halve its fleet at the request of the California Department of Motor Vehicles until an investigation is complete. 

Last week, a Cruise vehicle allegedly blocked an ambulance transporting a man injured by a Muni bus. He later died of his injuries. 

Cruise strongly denied the fire department’s account of what happened, and defended the CPUC vote. 

“The CPUC’s decision was the result of a months-long process that saw public input and support from accessibility groups, labor unions and community advocates—culminating in a six-hour public comment period where the majority supported expanded AV access,” the company wrote in response to the re-hearing request. “It’s unfortunate to see the city use public resources to bypass that decision and restrict a technology with an excellent safety record used by tens of thousands of SF residents.”

READ MORE: Robotaxis in San Francisco: How To Make the Most of Your Ride

The city argued that a rehearing is necessary to fulfill the CPUC’s legal obligation to promote passenger and public safety, and that the decision is subject to environmental review. 

The CPUC has not responded to the city’s earlier petition and is not required to, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

The city’s applications for a rehearing will ultimately be voted on during closed session, according to the commission.