San Francisco Deploys Driverless Buses
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) – The city of San Francisco has launched its first driverless buses. They are running on a fixed route around Treasure Island, a former Navy base in the middle of the bay.
The shuttles are managed by Beep, an Orlando, Florida-based company that has run similar pilot programs in multiple communities. They have empty driver seats and steering wheels but carry an attendant who can take over control if necessary.
The shuttles run on a fixed route, called the Loop, that circles Treasure Island, which the city uses as a public transit hub. Each vehicle has an attendant, who can steer the electric buses with a handheld controller if needed.
The shuttles are the first driverless passenger vehicles to operate in San Francisco since California regulators allowed rival AV companies Cruise and Waymo to expand their fleets of cars without drivers to offer around-the-clock service in the nation’s best-known tech city.
Consumer Watchdog is calling on the city to halt or scale back those expansions. It says that dozens of incidents have involved cars without drivers stopping in the middle of the street or impeding first responders as they carry out lifesaving efforts.
And it says that the CPUC’s approval Thursday ignores the safety problems and gives the companies unlimited freedom to expand despite the risks.
The commission’s vote allowed Cruise and Waymo to charge for rides around the clock, unconstrained by prior geographic and operating limits and with a limited number of paid rides.
A short, single tone, often high-pitched and electronic, used as a signal or warning in various devices and systems.
After a contentious debate, the California Public Utilities Commission sided with Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise on Thursday, allowing them to take paying passengers day or night throughout San Francisco without restrictions.
The move solidifies the symbolic tech hub as the center of autonomous vehicle testing and demonstrates its importance for the nascent technology’s development.
The city’s police and fire departments, as well as residents, argued for a measured rollout of paid robotaxi service. They say their operations have been impeded by the cars, which don’t stop for pedestrians or comply with traffic rules.
Its also point to several incidents in which the vehicles have stopped suddenly, causing human drivers to react aggressively or veer into bike lanes.
They argue the companies must address these issues before expanding further. The city’s board of supervisors said it will petition CPUC for a review of the decision, and if that fails, they plan to bring a legal challenge.
Located at the north end of the Bay Area, Treasure Island is home to a museum, popular flea markets and the modern engineering marvel that houses the Golden Gate Bridge operations.
This 400-acre artificial island was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1936-37 on a shoal off neighboring Yerba Buena Island.
Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission gave Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Waymo and General Motors Corp’s Cruise permission to offer paid rides in their driverless cars at any time of day or night.
The decision angered residents and city agencies, including SFPD and SFFD, who said the companies’ robotaxis have been blocking traffic and disrupting emergency vehicles.
City Attorney David Chiu filed a motion with the utility commission to halt the unlimited expansion. He argues that a series of limited deployments with incremental expansion offers the best path to public confidence in the technology. The city also wants more data on the performance of the cars.
The boxy vehicles have become a common sight on San Francisco’s streets, where they shuttle passengers in around-the-clock rides. They have also been spotted at the airport and other locations. Locals often document their driving hiccups on social media.
Safety agencies, including police and fire departments, had lobbied for a more measured rollout of paid robotaxis. They cited concerns about erratic driving and interference with their operations.
Cruise, majority-owned by General Motors, won permission last year to operate 30 cars that offer robotaxi service between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. without backup human drivers, and to charge for the rides.
Waymo, which has parent company Google, had a similar permit, but the companies asked for permission to offer more fully autonomous cars and expanded hours of service.
The CPUC voted 3-1 to allow expansion. The city plans to petition the commission for a reconsideration. Every safety feature or rule has had major deaths or serious injuries behind it, Peskin said.