“Put on the brakes” Robotaxi Protest to keep SF Streets Safe!

With the possible addition of 200 more autonomous vehicle (AVS) robotaxis in San Francisco, demonstrators opposed to their deployment vented their frustration this morning outside the offices of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) who will decide whether to move ahead with approving the proposal. The meeting scheduled for this morning at the last minute was moved back to the end of July.

Protesters complained that the deployment of additional robotaxis over the objections of concerned residents, the police and fire departments and multiple other public agencies in opposition to the plan’s approval have been more than frustrated and concerned with the driverless vehicles and their performance on city streets.

Many San Francisco residents feel helpless with the technology being pushed on them without their input or consent as the city since 2018 has unwittingly been used as a testing and proving ground to perfect the various AI systems. One company, Cruise the GM robotaxi subsidiary, has been allowed to carry paying passengers in the city since 2022. The second major player, Waymo a Google Alphabet company, presently is only offering non-revenue rides in the city as it lacks approval to charge for its services.

The protesters expressed their lack of confidence that the proposal will be denied as they characterized California’s Governor Gavin Newsom’s “hand-picked California Public Utility Commission” to be more a rubberstamp body than one objectively inclined to review the proposal based on all its impacts including those on workers and organized labor along with serious public safety incidents caused by the driverless taxis.

The robotaxis have on numerous occasions suddenly stopped in traffic for no apparent reason, blocked intersections and driven directly through construction zones, in one instance stopped “at the edge of an open trench with workers inside it.” Robotaxis have also driven through active police crime scenes and fire scenes where one ran over a fire hose then stopped suddenly impacting firefighters’ efforts on scene. Many of the cars have shut down entirely blocking streets and intersections and have also interfered with emergency vehicles, failed to follow traffic control officers’ directions and like a moron human motorist one even ran from the police after being pulled over and stopped for a traffic infraction. The police for their part have refused to impound offending vehicles while the district attorney has in turn refused to prosecute the companies for numerous traffic violations, public safety infractions and other incidents.

All of these occurences have culminated in little tolerance for the new technology by many along with the fear that approving more vehicles on already congested city streets will result in additional serous infractions, disruption and possibly even death. This reporter experienced an incident at three am one morning while in traffic when a robotaxi desiring to make a right turn from the center lane, attempted to execute the maneuver by coming to a full and sudden stop to allow traffic in the right lane to pass before attempting to make a lane change. The result was numerous frustrated drivers trying to get around the stopped vehicle in a traffic lane causing several near mishaps.

Presently the 30 robotaxis on city streets are only permitted to operate during certain hours and outside of the already congested downtown corridor. The proposed plan, if approved, would allow additional vehicles to operate anywhere in the city during all hours adding to the already daily havoc that drivers face in negotiating city traffic. If the petition is approved, Waymo would be allowed to operate their robotaxis at up to 65 miles an hour and during “inclimate weather.”

The use of robotaxis is in the forefront of what has been estimated to be a $2.1 trillion a year business by 2040. With the financial stakes being so high that even before they are ready to be deployed commercially in large numbers, a great deal of leeway is being given on how the planned deployment would impact revenue for regular taxi, Uber and Lyft drivers that ultimately would see their jobs eliminated as a result.

Mark Gruberg co-founder of Green Cab and representing the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance who spoke at the protest made a plea that his organization is sending a message to CPUC to “put on the brakes” in its approval for the pending proposal. Noting that lately the once human assistant drivers who often had to take over are no longer present and have been removed from the robotaxis allowing the cars to be completely driverless. “What happened to those drivers?” He opined that their removal made the cars more dangerous.

He noted too that “at one time there were 2,000 cabs in San Francisco and now there are less than one thousand and we can thank Uber and Lyft for that.” He also asked regarding robotaxis, “who is going to carry luggage, who is going to help elderly people and people with disabilities to get into and out of taxis, to store their wheelchairs and walkers. We need human drivers!”

On an historical note, Gruberg referred to how in 2010 San Francisco began selling taxi medallions to drivers for $250,000 and that many immigrants and people of color who purchased them did so to create a middle-class life from their hard work in achieving the American Dream. But with the entry of unregulated Uber and Lyft two years later, those who purchased medallions were saddled with enormous debt and that to date 300 have defaulted on those loans driving them into financial hardships, overwhelming debt and foreclosures they never would have been envisioned. In closing, he also called for a moratorium on Medallion foreclosures.

As San Francisco grapples with robotaxis it was late last year that the city was confronted by activists who held a demonstration at City Hall calling for the reversal of the then planned deployment of lethally armed Robo Cops on city streets in what was termed as an “ill-conceived crime fighting effort.” Coupled with the increase of robotaxis it’s no wonder people are moving out of the city as it slowly is being taken over by AI robots in deference to its residents.

Phil Pasquini is a journalist

Report and photos by Phil Pasquini

© 2023 nuzeink all rights reserved worldwide

(This article has previously appeared in Nuzeink.)

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Quest of immortality

Quest of immortality has been as timeless as it has remained fruitless. First recorded over 4000 years ago on the Babylonian Tablets, it narrates the tale of King Gilgamesh of Uruk. His…

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News