San Francisco Traffic Stands Still After Cruise AVs Stall in North Beach

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

san francisco traffic stands still after cruise avs stall in north beach

With California having approved the contentious expansion of driverless robotaxis operating in San Francisco, autonomous test vehicles showed their readiness by stalling themselves in the middle of town. The situation reportedly wasn’t the result of local activists trying to disable the vehicles or cyber warfare, but rather the result of their having lost their internet connection for a few minutes.

According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly a dozen driverless vehicles operated by General Motors’ Cruise stopped late Friday night on Vallejo Street in the North Beach bar and restaurant district. Presumably there to snag some riders, the vehicles were unresponsive and ended up blocking traffic on San Francisco’s less-than-ample roads with their hazard lights on.

This left human drivers stuck behind the stalled AVs for roughly fifteen minutes, unable to find a way to get the self-driving vehicles moving again. However, they all suddenly came back to life after their nap and continued on as if nothing had happened.

From the LA Times:

The situation is loaded with irony, as the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday voted 3 to 1 amid great public controversy to allow a massive robotaxi expansion. The vote allows General Motors-owned Cruise and Waymo, owned by Google’s Alphabet, to charge fares for driverless service and grow the fleet as large as they’d like. Cruise has said it plans eventually to deploy thousands of robotaxis in San Francisco.
City officials in San Francisco, from the mayor’s office down, have been fighting the move, with officials saying the robotaxi industry needs to fix problems that endanger the public first before further expanding the business. The city’s Fire Department has logged more than 55 cases of robotaxis interfering with first responders. Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson has repeatedly said Cruise and Waymo are getting in firefighters’ way and their technology is “not ready for prime time.”
The CPUC decided to go ahead anyway. One of the three yes votes was cast by Commissioner John Reynolds, who served as head lawyer at Cruise before appointed to the CPUC by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The no vote came from Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma, who said the companies should explain the problems and how they plan to fix them first.

Aaron Peskin, North Beach’s representative for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, expressed his dismay regarding what might have happened if emergency services needed to get through the area while the vehicles were inoperable and incapable of even pulling off to the side of the road. He also noted that he was inundated with texts and emails where locals had filmed the empty cars blocking traffic.

Peskin reportedly reached out to Cruise government affairs manager Lauren Wilson late on Friday and was informed the following morning that cellular carriers had dropped the ball.

“As I understand it, outside lands impacted LTE cell connectivity and ability for RA advisors to route cars,” Wilson explained to him.

Outside Lands is a three-day music festival held in Golden Gate Park roughly four miles away. High usage at the event apparently left the North Beach without sufficient wireless connectivity and Cruise’s vehicles went dormant as a result.

Peskin has said local officials are doing whatever it takes to have the CPUC decision reversed, noting that they are currently discussing whether to seek a court injunction and whether or not to fine the companies whenever an autonomous test vehicle blocks traffic. He also told the outlet that CPUC and Governor Gavin Newsom (who appointed its members) were putting corporate money ahead of public safety.

“If you’re looking for an example of regulatory capture, you’re seeing it now,” Peskin explained. “It’s unethical and immoral but legal,” he continued. “Bottom line, this all goes to Gov. Gavin Christopher Newsom.”

While most of the incidents being cited by San Franciscan officials tend to be relatively minor, typically involving confused AVs clogging up construction zones or stopping abruptly near intersections. There have been collisions with trucks, buses, and a couple of fatal accidents involving dogs. A Cruise robotaxi even collided with a semi-truck on August 7th, which was just days before the California Public Utilities Commission voted to approve the expansion.

[Image: Cruise]

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3 of 40 comments
  • Lostjr Lostjr on Aug 19, 2023

    Two in one night.

    "A driverless Cruise car with a passenger inside collided with an emergency vehicle in San Francisco Thursday night, the company said.

    Shortly after 10 p.m., the driverless Cruise car, which had a green light, entered the intersection at Polk and Turk streets in the Tenderloin, the company wrote in a tweet Friday morning, and was hit by an emergency vehicle that was en route to an emergency scene. The company did not specify what type of emergency vehicle it was."


    This one is human caused, but another human driver might have seen it coming?

    "The same night, a Cruise car collided with another vehicle at 26th and Mission streets.

    The company said another driverless car, which had no passengers, entered the intersection on a green light when another car ran a red light at a high speed. The driverless car detected the other car and braked, according to Cruise, but the two cars still collided. The driver of the other car was treated and released at the scene and a police report has been filed, Cruise said."

    San Francisco Chronicle.

    • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Aug 20, 2023

      I find that second one appealing in a way. Is this wrong of me?

  • JamesGarfield JamesGarfield on Sep 02, 2023

    This comes to mind:

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