SF Map Shows Where Self-Driving Cars Have Caused ‘Chaos’

The agencies’ letters represent the most detailed account yet of the self-driving car outage in San Francisco, and include a map showing that several incidents were “concentrated on streets that are critical to the operation of the city’s transportation network.” The letters also come as state regulators consider whether to give General Motors-backed Cruise the final approval it needs to operate the fare service in San Francisco without any time or geofencing restrictions.

Last year, California regulators allowed Waymo to test its driverless cars in San Francisco for safety and gave Cruise permission to charge for driverless rides on roughly 30 percent of city streets between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. — a time period when there is less car and pedestrian traffic.

Transit officials have raised concerns with state and federal regulators about the expansion of self-driving taxis for years. Their latest correspondence highlights tensions between agencies that police city streets and state-regulated autonomous vehicle companies under pressure to commercialize and prove their technology works without accidents.

San Francisco serves as a testing laboratory for self-driving cars. But officials said it was difficult to gauge their effectiveness because companies are not required to report unplanned shutdown incidents — some of which are captured on social media — when they happen.

San Francisco officials want the state to require companies to report incidents when they happen. They also want the companies to gradually increase driverless service and prove their cars can operate without incident during peak morning and afternoon travel times before allowing them to charge for trips in the densely congested and congested Northeast quadrant of the U.S. the city.

“I wish I knew better and had more confidence because all we see are some of these anecdotal incidents,” said Tilly Chang, executive director of the County Transportation Authority. “Seeing (the reported incidents) all together in a list or a map, it gives us pause and we’re concerned about the seriousness of some of them.”

A Waymo spokesperson said the company will send a response letter to the CPUC this week. Cruz disputed the city’s account of the Jan. 22 incident and said the vehicle had already stopped when a firefighter smashed its windows.

Both companies cited more than three dozen endorsements from local community groups, disability advocates and businesses that support expanding their fare services across the city.

“Cruise’s safety record has been publicly reported and includes millions of miles traveled in highly complex urban environments with zero life-threatening injuries or fatalities,” Cruise spokeswoman Hannah Lindow told The Chronicle.

The city’s transportation agencies documented several incidents in which driverless cars disrupted Muni service. On the night of Sept. 23, five Cruise cars blocked lanes of traffic on Mission Street in Bernal Heights, stopping a Muni bus for 45 minutes. On at least three separate occasions, cruise cars have stopped on Muni light rail tracks, halting service.

The agencies described two other incidents in which cruisers impeded the response of emergency services.

David Zipper, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for Public and Local Government, said the incidents in San Francisco illustrate how self-driving technology is “still evolving” even as companies seek to are expanding their driverless cars to other major US cities, such as Austin, Texas.

“San Francisco is the canary in the coal mine for autonomous vehicles because so many companies are in Silicon Valley and look at San Francisco as a high-profile showcase,” Zipper said. “If the technology works and there’s money to continue the launch in more cities — which is a big caveat — then I’d expect to see more cities experience the kinds of services that San Francisco is seeing from Cruise, Waymo and a few others.”

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