San Francisco Grants Self-Driving Taxi Permits For Waymo, Cruise

The widespread adoption of self-driving cars nudged a step closer last week, after two firms were granted permission to operate full time taxi services.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) last Thursday announced it had approved resolutions granting additional operating authority for Cruise LLC and Waymo LLC to conduct commercial passenger service using driverless vehicles in San Francisco.

The approval includes the ability for both companies to charge fares for rides at any time of day, and further cements San Francisco’s position as the home city for self-driving car services.

Image credit: Cruise

Taxi approval

According to CPUC, its approval comes after a decision that had been adopted in 2020.

The CPUC said it had evaluated the Cruise and Waymo Advice Letters to ensure they met the licensing requirements set forth in the Decision, including passenger safety measures.

Until last week’s approval, there had been a number of limitations placed on both General Motors Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo. Their experimental services had been limited by times and geographic areas within San Francisco.

This meant that prior to last week Cruise had only been authorised to offer fared passenger service in limited areas of San Francisco from 10pm to 6am without a safety driver present, fared passenger service throughout San Francisco at any time with a safety driver present, and non-fared passenger service throughout San Francisco at any time without a safety driver present.

Meanwhile the CPUC noted that Waymo (prior to last week) had only been authorised to offer fared passenger service throughout San Francisco at any time with a safety driver present and non-fared (i.e. free) passenger service throughout San Francisco at any time without a safety driver present.

Waymo had also been authorised to offer non-fared passenger service in parts of Los Angeles and in and around Mountain View, with or without a safety driver present.

Fewer accidents?

“While we do not yet have the data to judge AVs against the standard human drivers are setting, I do believe in the potential of this technology to increase safety on the roadway,” said CPUC Commissioner John Reynolds.

“Collaboration between key stakeholders in the industry and the first responder community will be vital in resolving issues as they arise in this innovative, emerging technology space,” said Reynolds.

Now that both Cruise and Waymo have permission to begin citywide paid taxi service at all hours of the day, both stated in promotional emails that they plan to deploy more cars as a result.

There is said to be more than 500 autonomous vehicles already in operation.

Strong opposition

But getting to this point has been a long and contentious process.

Reuters reported that the CPUC vote had faced “vigorous opposition from some residents and city agencies,” against granted approval.

Commissioners reportedly heard more than six hours of public comment from residents and special interest groups supporting or opposing the measure that would expand paid autonomous vehicle service.

Reuters reported that transportation and safety agencies, such as the police and fire departments, as well as many residents had opposed expanding paid robotaxi service because of what they said were concerns about erratic driving and interference with their operations.

Image credit: Cruise

The transportation and safety agencies, which have no regulatory authority, lobbied forcefully for a more measured rollout of the experimental vehicles.

Concerns may not have been reassured after in March this year, Waymo confirmed it had carried out two tranches of job cuts in 2023. It said it had cut approximately 8 percent of its staff across two rounds of layoffs, meaning a total of 209 jobs had been eliminated.

Cruise and Waymo will now operate in direct competition with local taxi companies Uber and Lyft in offering rides summoned by app.

Waymo will be permitted to drive at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour and in inclement weather, while Cruise will be limited to 35 miles per hour and will not be allowed to drive when weather does not permit, the commission said Thursday.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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