Cruise can finally charge for driverless robot taxi rides in San Francisco

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Cruise, the autonomous vehicle division of General Motors, is finally was given the green light start collecting fares for a self-driving robot taxi service in San Francisco.

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday voted to grant Cruise permission to deploy without a driver, the latest hurdle the company had to overcome in order to commercially operate its autonomous taxi service.

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Cruise will operate its passenger service from 10 pm to 6 am on select streets in San Francisco, adding an additional hour and a half to ongoing service. The company will need additional state regulatory approval to charge residents for self-driving rides in the rest of the city, a Cruise spokesperson said. These prerequisites are part of Cruise’s “passenger safety plan,” which limits service to overnight hours and excludes the dense urban core, according to the CPUC. draft resolution.

“In the coming months, we will expand our area of ​​operations, our hours of operation, and our ability to charge residents for driverless rides until we can make trips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week across the city,” a Cruise spokesperson told TechCrunch. .

Screenshot of Cruise's proposed autonomous taxi service in San Francisco.

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Screenshot of Cruise’s proposed autonomous taxi service in San Francisco under the CPUC program. Image credit: California Public Utilities Commission

The cruise was offering free driverless rides to San Francisco residents in their autonomous Chevrolet Bolts from 10:30 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. from February. Company first began testing their autonomous vehicles without a driver in the front seat in the city in 2020, and started offering free trial rides to passengers in June 2021. Last October, Cruz received permission to deploy without a driver from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which meant it could start charging for autonomous vehicle services like delivery. It is important to note that DMV permit restrictions are limited to charging for robot taxi rides.

With this authorization, CPUC Cruise became the only company in the city that can provide commercial driverless passenger services. Waymo, Cruise’s biggest competitor and Alphabet’s standalone division, also recently received permission from the CPUC to charge for robot taxis, but only if a security operator is present during the trips. Waymo offers fully autonomous commercial taxi service in Phoenix since 2020 and recently expanded its driverless program in the city.

While Cruise’s CPUC authorization allows for a fleet of 30 all-electric autonomous vehicles, Cruise is not shy about pushing ahead with its rapid scaling plans in the near future. Last year, former CEO Dan Ammann outlined Cruise Plans to Increase Origin’s Dedicated AV Fleet to Thousandseven tens of thousands, in the coming years.

Last week, a group of San Francisco agencies, including City and County Transportation Authorities, the Bureau of Fire Prevention and Investigation, the City Hall for the Disabled, and the San Francisco Police Department, raised concerns about the lack of clarity in draft resolution regarding Cruise’s limits on scaling its fleet.

The draft resolution states that Cruise must submit an updated passenger safety plan in the form of a Level 2 Notice Letter before making changes to “any changes in hours, geography, road type, speed range or weather conditions in which Cruise intends to operate… »

Notably, this wording does not obligate Cruise to contact the CPUC if it wants to increase its fleet size, a distinction that SF stakeholders believe will “increase the negative impact of Cruise AV’s driverless deployment” given Cruise’s “current approach to passenger loading” , is another cause for concern in the comments of the city to the draft resolution.

“Cruise’s current approach to picking up and dropping off passengers, stopping exclusively in the lane, even when there is free shoulder space, is below the level expected for human drivers,” the comments read, highlighting the danger that the ever-growing fleet of AVs will stop at lane can pose a risk to vulnerable road users such as emergency responders, people with disabilities, the elderly and cyclists.

As part of their comments, the City provided the CPUC with a list of recommendations to include in its final resolution, including:

  • Clarifying that an increase in fleet size and vehicle model requires Cruise to provide a letter of recommendation, given Cruise’s goals to not only rapidly increase its fleet size, but to do so with a new, purpose-built vehicle.
  • Requiring CPUC employees to post on their website the geographic area where unmanned cruise AVs are allowed to operate. Cruz told TechCrunch that he currently offers self-driving rides to members of the public in about 70% of the city, which is detailed in a rough map that CEO Kyle Vogt recently tweeted., but did not specify the specific areas in which it would charge passengers for driverless travel. Nonetheless agenda includes a photo of Cruise’s original service area, including some streets excluded from the geofence where the company is likely to start charging for rides. The zone extends north-south from Richmond County to Sunset County and northeast to Pacific Heights County and Cole County.
  • Convening a regular working group to collect data on customer loading and unloading and AV interactions with first responders and street workers in San Francisco.
  • Collection of wheelchair accessibility data.

The CPUC’s decision to grant Cruise permission to deploy sets a precedent for how the state will continue to regulate commercial AV services in the future, so public feedback is critical. However, it is not yet clear whether the final resolution will take into account any of the city’s recommendations.

” [draft resolution] applies the same wait-and-see approach that the Commission used in regulating transport network companies (TNCs),” the comments say. “This approach undermined San Francisco’s climate goals, reduced transportation options for people using wheelchairs, and significantly increased congestion and travel delays on San Francisco’s streets used for reliable public transportation. These results are likely to be repeated unless the issues identified in these comments are resolved.”

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