The CEO of GM autonomous vehicle (AV) and robotaxi subsidiary Cruise, Kyle Vogt, announced in a tweet that the California Public Utilities Commission has signed off on allowing paid Cruise AV driverless taxi service throughout San Francisco.
The robotaxi service will be permitted 24 hours a day, seven days a week according to the Cruise executive, a fact many news services have confirmed and elaborated on.
In a three-to-one decision on Thursday, August 10th, the California Public Utilities Commission voted in favor of allowing both Cruise and rival AV taxi service Waymo (previously Google’s self-driving car project) to run their vehicles continuous on Frisco streets. A seven-hour public meeting, during which many argued both for and against the technology, preceded the Commission’s vote.
The vote overrules the objections of many San Franciscans who view the Cruise and other EVs in testing either as traffic jam-causing nuisances foisted on their city by “Big Tech” or potential economic disruptors amplifying the claimed negative effects of Uber and Lyft. Meanwhile, other residents enthusiastically support the decision.
The entire driverless robotaxi process has been carried out without direct popular voting on the issue. The California Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies gave the initial green light to Cruise and dozens of other companies and startups to use San Francisco as an AV testbed without a public vote. The latest decision, despite allowing ordinary citizens to air their opinions – sometimes heatedly – followed the same pattern, with only the government commissioners voting on the outcome.
Previous to Thursday, Cruise and Waymo could only operate in designated neighborhoods at specific hours, with some providers allowed to offer only free rides. Now, the driverless vehicles can roam the whole city, day and night, accepting fares like any other taxi.
The decision is noted as a major advance toward more widespread approval and use of autonomous vehicles. Proponents hail the change as a way to make transport more available to elderly and disabled people, increasing their independence, while Kyle Vogt struck a dramatic note by describing it as “a signal to the country that [California] prioritizes progress over our tragic status quo.”
Cruise has rapidly rolled out testing of its AVs to new cities over the last year, recently adding its seventh, Nashville, and its eighth, Atlanta, Georgia to the list. It current total of operational driverless vehicles on public streets is somewhere around 400, with cost per mile gradually approaching the “magic number” of less than a dollar.
The AV subsidiary is currently awaiting NHTSA approval for its purpose-built Cruise Origin driverless vehicle, an efficient model designed for mass production and the economies of scale needed to make Cruise a significant financial success.