The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) harshly challenged driverless vehicle passenger services in a letter Thursday, pointing out numerous flaws and issues with GM’s cruise service.
Cruise, along with Alphabet’s Waymo and other services, are currently locked in a tight race to be approved to start charging for rides in San Francisco and other places in California. In June, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved Cruise’s operation under a pilot program, but with the strict caveat that the company could not charge for rides. By the end of September, Waymo was catching up with Cruise, with both companies receiving DMV approval to begin operating commercial services. Last month, Cruise tried to get ahead of the game by applying for a permit from the state to start charging fares.
However, that hit a snag on Thursday with SFMTA’s challenge. According to the SFMTA, videos, including some taken from Cruise promotional materials, show Cruise vehicles picking up and dropping off passengers in the middle of the street. The action is illegal, as the law states that the deposit must be made near the sidewalk. The agency added that not only is the action illegal, but it endangers people and slows traffic as a result, including buses.
Cruise may also face other issues, as the SFMTA followed their request and found that no service was provided for low-income neighborhoods, minority neighborhoods or passengers in wheelchairs.
“Together, the cruise videos document a total of 14 stops to pick up or drop off passengers; they provide evidence that none of these stops complied with vehicle code and transportation code requirements,” SFMTA Director Jeff Tumlin said in the letter.
Although CPUC still has the final say on whether Cruise can charge the fares, the letter shows that approval is not a sure thing and that the company may find problems operating in San Francisco if it does not correct the problems. reported by SFMTA. The SFMTA wants the CPUC to deny the permit unless Cruise can recognize and safely demonstrate legal street parking, parallel parking, stopping in parking lots, and recognizing all other forms of transportation such as buses and trains.
Several issues raised against Cruise
Critics noted Thursday that while the SFMTA has legitimate arguments, their intentions may not be entirely altruistic.
“Driverless cars are still in their infancy and there are still a lot of issues being worked out,” Sebastian Jordan, a transit consultant who has worked with multiple agencies in California in the past, told The Globe on Thursday. “A big downside, for example, has been people’s reluctance to accept them, because a lot of people prefer people to still drive. Even younger generations like Gen Z and Millennials, who are more tech-savvy , really prefer people behind the wheel.Two-thirds of the country wouldn’t even consider buying one, and more than 70% are too scared to ride one.
“But ride-sharing companies and other commercial entities want it because it would eliminate paying drivers, which is a huge savings.”
“Now SFMTA brings up some good points because I’m sure everyone can see what the problem is with letting people out in the middle of the street. What if they deliberately avoid minority neighborhoods and some of the other indicted things? It’s a difficult thing to answer. Individual taxi drivers and ride-sharing drivers have faced the heat for decades for not accepting passengers based on their destination or identity. Imagine an entire company.
“But we also have to remember that the SFMTA is very supportive of public transport, which self-driving car makers are threatening a bit. Agencies like them prefer people to take the BART or a bus or even the streetcar in San Francisco. So while these are legit points, let’s not forget that they are also trying to protect themselves a bit. Driverless cars are still a huge problem and haven’t been perfected, so there’s still a long time before we start seeing them hitting the road in large numbers.
Cruise said Thursday he would respond to SFMTA’s letter on Monday.