Robotaxis now operate in San Francisco around the clock.

Robotaxis now operate in San Francisco around the clock.

The Rise of Robotaxis in San Francisco: A Game-Changer for Taxi Operators

Waymo Robotaxi

Robotaxis are set to revolutionize the streets of San Francisco, operating autonomously and providing convenient transportation options around the clock. This development is a huge win for taxi operators, but it has raised concerns among anti-car activists, city officials, and competing rideshare companies. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently granted Waymo and Cruise, two major players in the ridesharing industry, the authority to operate driverless vehicles with passengers and charge fares 24/7 in the city.

Previously, Cruise was only approved to operate in San Francisco between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. without a safety driver present, while Waymo could offer fared passenger service at any time but with a safety driver. Now, both companies have received permission to provide passenger service in autonomous vehicles without a safety driver present at all hours. This regulatory change allows them to collect fares for their rides.

Waymo, owned by Alphabet, made headlines as the first taxi company to offer autonomous rides to the public in San Francisco in 2021, following its successful service launch in Phoenix, Arizona. Cruise joined the market in 2022, but initially only offered driverless rides during the late night hours.

Both Waymo and Cruise possess an Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Program Permit issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which is a prerequisite for companies seeking to deploy autonomous vehicles on public roads. To enter the passenger service market using autonomous vehicles, both Waymo and Cruise had to submit an “advice letter” to the CPUC. These letters were evaluated to ensure compliance with licensing requirements and passenger safety measures.

The CPUC’s decision to grant Waymo and Cruise all-hours operation authority for driverless vehicles in San Francisco was met with mixed reactions during a six-hour public comment session. San Francisco officials and some vocal residents expressed objections, citing concerns about pedestrian safety, traffic congestion, and potential interference with first responders. These concerns led to innovative protests organized by anti-car activist group Safe Street Rebel, known as the “Week of Cone,” during which they placed traffic cones on the hoods of Waymo and Cruise vehicles.

While there are differing opinions on the readiness of autonomous vehicles for public deployment, CPUC Commissioner John Reynolds believes in their potential to improve road safety. He stated, “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.” Reynolds emphasized the importance of collaboration between key industry stakeholders and the first responder community in addressing emerging challenges in this innovative technology space.

The introduction of 24/7 driverless car services by Waymo and Cruise in San Francisco represents a significant shift in transportation technology. However, it has also sparked debates on the role of technology in cities. Anti-car activists view these autonomous vehicles as a means for auto companies to reinforce car dominance and reliance. They aim to push back against what they perceive as an excessive tech presence in urban areas.

As San Francisco adapts to the rise of robotaxis, it will be essential for city officials, rideshare companies, and activists to find common ground to address concerns and ensure the safe integration of autonomous vehicles into the urban landscape. In the coming years, data and experience will help determine the true impact of this technology on road safety, traffic flow, and urban mobility.