After a heated six-hour public hearing in San Francisco, Waymo and Cruise have been granted approval to operate their paid autonomous taxi services 24/7. The decision was made by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) with a 3-to-1 vote, allowing the companies to offer rides and charge for them at any time of day throughout the city. The decision has been seen as a significant win for the autonomous vehicle industry, which has invested heavily in the technology without substantial returns thus far.
CPUC Commissioner John Reynolds emphasized that this decision is just the beginning of bringing autonomous vehicle transportation to Californians. However, the commission urged the companies to address concerns raised by San Francisco officials and residents, such as issues with blocked roads, traffic congestion, and interference with emergency vehicles. The CPUC has the authority to limit the number of vehicles on the road or even revoke permits if further incidents occur.
Previously, the companies had limited service, but this approval gives them full access to the city, similar to how Uber or Lyft operate. Waymo and Cruise see this as a major milestone, with Waymo’s co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana stating that it marks the true commencement of their commercial operations in San Francisco, and Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt highlighting the prioritization of progress over the current status quo.
During the public hearing, various perspectives were presented, with many from the disabled community weighing in on the pros and cons of autonomous ride-hailing services. Opponents expressed concerns about vehicle malfunctions, increased traffic, and privacy issues, accusing the companies of not having the city’s best interests at heart. On the other hand, supporters cited the potential safety benefits and the positive impact on disabled riders.
The city of San Francisco had previously requested a delay in the vote due to incidents involving autonomous vehicles causing disruptions. Despite these concerns, the CPUC deemed that Waymo and Cruise had fulfilled their obligations within the state’s regulatory framework for autonomous vehicle testing and commercial operation. The commission expects the companies to engage with first responders, law enforcement, and city officials to address concerns moving forward.