SAN FRANCISCO — California authorities took a big step forward Thursday by expanding driverless taxi services in San Francisco, giving operators Waymo and Cruise the green light to compete with ride-sharing services and taxis.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) heard six hours of public comment before voting three to one to allow Waymo, a unit of Google parent Alphabet and General Motors-owned Cruise, to essentially operate 24-hour robotaxi services in San Francisco.
“Today is the first of many steps to bring AV (autonomous vehicle) transportation services to Californians and establish a successful and transparent model for other states to follow,” said CPUC Commissioner John Reynolds, who voted for favor approval.
Waymo cars have been authorized to travel at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour) without human drivers behind the wheel, even in inclement weather.
He also won permission to offer self-driving rides to paying passengers in his Silicon Valley hometown of Mountain View.
Cruise has been approved to operate fare passenger service in San Francisco at no more than 35 miles per hour and not through dense fog or dense smoke.
Previously, Cruise could charge customers only during certain hours of the day. Waymo had not been allowed to charge for rides without a human driver on board.
no human required
Driverless cars were first introduced in San Francisco in 2014 with a mandatory human “safety driver” on board.
Four years later, California removed the requirement that a human driver be in the car.
The CPUC session drew commentators from all sides of the issue, with some calling robot taxis unsafe threats while others hailing them as solutions to everything from climate change to road rage.
Driverless cars have gotten stuck in the middle of highways, blocked bus lanes, or even interfered with police or fire operations.
But others in the audience praised the vehicles for giving people with disabilities independence, making the roads safer and helping to eliminate discrimination.
Others opposed cars of any kind, saying the future lies in clean, convenient, and affordable public transportation.
“The future of cities is not cars, regardless of the type,” said one speaker. —AFP
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