Driverless cars from Cruise create traffic jam in San Francisco

The incident comes a day after Waymo and Cruise gets approval to operate paid services around the clock.
Jijo Malayil
A driverless car from Cruise
A driverless car from Cruise


Imagine a world where autonomous cars are given a free mandate to run and offer various services to passengers. The city of San Fransico experienced exactly that after it allowed Cruise and Waymo to conduct full-fledged commercial passenger services. 

On August 10, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allowed both firms to charge fees for journeys at any time of day after a 3-to-1 vote. A day after, Cruise's driverless cars were seen creating traffic blockades in the city’s North Beach neighborhood, according to reports quoted by CNBC

Pedestrians reported seeing as many as ten of Cruise's driverless stuck near Vallejo Street in North Beach at around 11 pm, which led to a disruption in traffic for about 15 minutes. According to the firm, cell phone coverage troubles connected to a nearby music event impeded its ability to guide the trucks. 

Cruise, part of General Motors, has not formally responded to the traffic hiccup its cars caused last week. The firm had claimed that it already has more than 100,000 signups on a waitlist for service. The approval also made San Francisco the first major city in the United States to permit two robotaxi companies to offer full-fledged services.

Strong opposition 

The CPUC's decision came after a contentious six-hour hearing in which citizens expressed their fears about autonomous vehicles (AVs) roaming their streets.

Some groups, notably San Francisco's police and fire agencies, strongly objected to the regulators' decision, resulting in the weekend traffic bottleneck. Officials from the city's fire department, police department, and municipal transportation agency prepared a report of at least 600 incidents involving driverless vehicles since June 2022, including unpredictable operations near an emergency response zone, obstructing travel to an emergency, contact or near misses with personnel or equipment, and more, for a hearing last week, according to CNBC. 

“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 after the body approved the proposal. 

Approval to expand

Earlier, both companies were only permitted to provide their services under specified circumstances. Cruise was authorized to provide fared passenger service in certain parts 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.

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

In contrast, the clearance now permits the businesses to extend their services and provide a legitimate alternative to the market's other taxi competitors. Waymo can now travel at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour in bad weather, whereas Cruise will be limited to 35 miles per hour and will not be permitted to function when the weather does not help.

In the San Francisco region, both firms already have over 500 autonomous vehicles in operation, and with the recent approval, the firms are set to expand.

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