Driverless cars can now operate 24/7 in San Francisco

The permission was given by California Public Utilities Commission after a 3-1 vote.
Jijo Malayil
Autonomous cars
Autonomous cars


In a massive win for driverless cars in the United States, California has permitted Cruise and Waymo to conduct full-fledged commercial passenger service using driverless vehicles in San Francisco. 

The permission granted by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allows both firms to charge fees for journeys at any time of day. The approval comes after a disputed six-hour hearing on the matter that included residents voicing their concerns about autonomous vehicles (AVs) roaming their roads. Hearing all the arguments, the commission voted 3-to-1 to allow the two businesses to run their cars across San Francisco at any time of the day.

“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. 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 John Reynolds, CPUC Commissioner, in a statement released by the agency. 

Permit to expand services

Previously, both firms were only allowed to offer their services under certain conditions. Cruise was authorized to provide fared passenger service in limited areas of San Francisco from 10 pm to 6 am without the presence of a safety driver and non-fared passenger service throughout San Francisco at any time without the presence of a safety driver.

In the case of Waymo, they could provide fared passenger service throughout San Francisco at any time while a safety driver is present, as well as non-fared passenger service throughout San Francisco at any time without a safety driver. Waymo was also permitted to provide non-fared passenger transportation in sections of Los Angeles and in and around Mountain View, with or without the presence of a safety driver.

In contrast, the approval now allows the firms to expand their services and offer a genuine alternative to other taxi players on the market. "Cruise in a position to compete with traditional ride-hail, and challenge an unsafe, inaccessible transportation status quo," said Prashanthi Raman, Cruise vice president of global government affairs, in a statement.

Waymo will now be able to travel at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour in severe weather, whereas Cruise will be limited to 35 miles per hour and will not be authorized to operate when the weather does not permit, according to the commission on Thursday. Both services currently have more than 500 autonomous vehicles already in operation in the San Francisco area. 

Safety concerns

There have been reports of issues with the technology during the time such services were operational, with even certain limitations in place. It is claimed that such cars have been abruptly stopping, blocking traffic, flashing wrong turn signals, and impeding emergency responders from doing their jobs.

"The city of San Francisco said there have been over 240 such reported incidents since the beginning of the year. But you wouldn't know it if you asked regulators or the robotaxi companies themselves. They don't have to report such incidents," said Justin Kloczko, tech and privacy advocate for Consumer Watchdog, in a press statement.

The group also claimed that according to the city departments' estimates, Waymo vehicles were involved in collisions, with injuries reported at a rate 1.3 times higher than the national average of human-driven cars.

Waymo says that the technology behind its driverless cars is constantly improving, learning from every mile it drives. "From handling heavier levels of rain and fog to smoothly navigating construction zones and improved rerouting around emergency scenes — we’re seeing strong performance and rapid ongoing advancements across the board," said the firm.

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