Waymo and Cruise Engage in Conflict with San Francisco Officials Regarding Robotaxi Stall-Outs

**Title: Controversy Surrounding Robotaxis in San Francisco: Evaluating Reports on First Responder Problems**

San Francisco Reports 50 Issues with First Responders in 2023

Representatives of Cruise and Waymo Appear Before California Public Utilities Commission

Debate on “Unexpected Stops”

Clashing Definitions of “Vehicle Rescue Events” (VRE)

Statistics Provided by Cruise and Waymo

San Francisco Officials Present a Different Perspective

Procedural Issues and Disagreements

Inconclusive Data

Training and Interactions

Standardizing Procedures and Making Interactions More Intuitive

Fixing First Responder Problems

Differences in Opinions on Resolution Time

Communication and Mediation


**San Francisco Reports 50 Issues with First Responders in 2023**

The city of San Francisco recently disclosed that it has documented a total of 50 reports regarding problems with first responders in the year 2023. This information was revealed during a hearing held by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Representatives from two major autonomous vehicle companies, Cruise and Waymo, appeared at the hearing to address concerns about controversial events involving robotaxis in the city.

**Representatives of Cruise and Waymo Appear Before California Public Utilities Commission**

On August 7, representatives from Cruise and Waymo appeared before the CPUC to respond to questions related to incidents involving their robotaxis in San Francisco. The focus of the discussion was primarily on the issue of “unexpected stops.” However, there was significant debate as both sides defined the term differently.

**Debate on “Unexpected Stops”**

The CPUC had specified that the representatives needed to address questions about unexpected stops, particularly those involving first responders or disrupting traffic. Nevertheless, both Waymo and Cruise provided statistics on what they referred to as “Vehicle Rescue Events” (VRE). These events are instances where a human rescue operator is dispatched to a stopped vehicle to address the problem, often by manually driving the vehicle out of the area or back to the depot.

**Clashing Definitions of “Vehicle Rescue Events” (VRE)**

During the hearing, it became apparent that there were conflicting definitions of Vehicle Rescue Events. Cruise offered statistics stating that they had experienced 177 VREs from January 1 to July 18, with 26 of them occurring while a passenger was on board. They also mentioned that they had driven over 2.1 million miles in San Francisco, a much higher mileage than other operators (primarily Waymo) in the city. According to Cruise, this equated to approximately one VRE for every 79,000 miles of passenger service, or one per 11,500 miles for all types of service. They emphasized that the number of VREs has been steadily decreasing, reaching 1 per 30,000 miles at present. Importantly, there had been no harm to passengers in any of these incidents. Additionally, only 2 of the VREs involved emergency responders.

Waymo, on the other hand, provided different calculations. They stated that they had driven 3 million miles, mostly outside San Francisco, and encountered 30,000 emergency vehicles. Waymo reported 58 VREs over the past 6 months and highlighted an 80% decrease in incidents in June compared to previous months. They argued that a majority of these events had already been resolved and were unlikely to recur. Waymo’s average retrieval time for a rescue was commendable, ranging from 2 to 10 minutes.

**Statistics Provided by Cruise and Waymo**

Despite both companies offering valuable insights with their statistical reports, San Francisco officials, including representatives from the fire department, police, and transit agency, presented a different perspective. They reported nearly 600 incidents since the launch of autonomous vehicles in June 2022, and they believe there may be even more incidents that have gone unreported. The city officials specifically mentioned that they had logged 50 reports in 2023, with an additional 4 reports in the past weekend alone. They also highlighted June as the worst month, expressing skepticism regarding the improvement of the situation over time. Furthermore, San Francisco officials expressed frustration over the lack of effective two-way communication with the companies.

**Procedural Issues and Disagreements**

Cruise and Waymo strategically utilized particular procedural items during the hearing. While it is acknowledged that the CPUC only regulates passenger services, it is evident that the public interest in these matters extends beyond that, especially when it concerns emergency services. The commission should have recognized the need for stricter definitions that encompass events causing significant traffic delays or hindering the work of emergency responders, not just incidents requiring remote rescues. The companies emphasized that they received short notice to provide data and did their best given the circumstances. However, it is crucial to note that the CPUC, which regulates these vehicles as taxi services, may not be the appropriate agency to tackle these questions. San Francisco city officials might have overstepped their jurisdiction by pressuring the CPUC, as these matters primarily fall under the purview of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

**Inconclusive Data**

As a result of the hearing, the data presented by all parties involved remains inconclusive. The most significant point of contention revolves around whether the rate of problems with first responders is improving or worsening. While Waymo and Cruise assert that the situation is improving, with the majority of previous incidents resolved and unlikely to recur, San Francisco officials remain skeptical, believing that the number of incidents is increasing.

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