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Activists Disable Driverless Taxis in San Francisco Protesting Safety Concerns

Masked activists disrupt driverless taxis, arguing against their safety as a new revolutionary mode of transport.

Cruise self-driving car
Credits: Reuters

Their protests gain online traction amid proposed expansion plans by autonomous taxi companies, causing tension between state and city officials.

A driverless taxi in San Francisco comes to a halt on a dimly lit street as masked figures surround it, placing a traffic cone on its hood. With hazard lights flashing, the disabled vehicle becomes part of a recurring and peculiar scene unfolding across the US tech capital. Activists are taking a stand against the perceived dangers of robot cars.

The activists, led by an individual known as Alex, firmly believe that all cars, regardless of the driver, are inherently problematic. Alex, who requested anonymity, heads the pro-pedestrian and pro-bike group called "Safe Street Rebel." They dismiss claims of driverless cars being a groundbreaking transport revolution, viewing their arrival as an extension of car dominance. Using pilfered traffic cones, these activists disable Waymo and Cruise driverless taxis—the only authorised companies operating in San Francisco.

The activists' resistance has gained immense online attention, amassing millions of views on social media platforms. This surge in visibility coincides with a proposal by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to expand driverless taxi services to a 24-hour paid offering. Waymo and Cruise, potential competitors to ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, would operate without human drivers. However, this proposal has sparked conflicts between state and city officials.

San Francisco initially introduced driverless cars in 2014, mandating the presence of a human "safety driver." Four years later, the requirement for a human driver was eliminated, making it commonplace to encounter a driverless Jaguar cruising the streets. Nonetheless, recent incidents involving autonomous vehicles have raised concerns among San Francisco officials. Cars getting stuck in the middle of roads, obstructing bus lanes and interfering with police crime scenes have become worrisome trends.

Although there have been no recorded fatal accidents involving humans and Waymo or Cruise vehicles, a Waymo taxi was reported to have struck and killed a dog in June. City supervisor Aaron Peskin strongly criticised the CPUC's hurried decision to permit a substantial increase in driverless taxis within San Francisco. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority highlighted 92 incidents involving autonomous taxis in a letter addressed to the CPUC, intensifying the mounting controversy.

The ongoing controversy seems to have influenced the CPUC's decision-making process. The commission's pivotal ruling on the expansion of Waymo and Cruise's services, initially due by the end of June, has been postponed twice and is now expected on August 10. Presently, Cruise is only authorised to charge fares for routes between 10 pm and 6 am, while Waymo cannot charge for rides without a human driver onboard.

Manufacturers of driverless cars emphasise their safety records as a key marketing point. Waymo asserts "no collisions involving pedestrians or cyclists" across "over a million miles of fully autonomous operations," attributing vehicle-to-vehicle collisions solely to rule violations or dangerous behavior by human drivers.

  • Masked activists disable driverless taxis in San Francisco, expressing safety concerns.

  • The "Safe Street Rebel" group protests against robot cars, considering all cars inherently problematic.

  • Waymo and Cruise, the only authorised companies in San Francisco, have faced resistance from activists.

Source: SCMP

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