How robotaxis are contributing to the polarization of San Francisco

As the taxi draws closer, I feel a slight acceleration in the rate of my heartbeat. It’s a strange sight, and one that I honestly didn’t think I’d witness in my lifetime at all.

The taxi does not have a driver. It comes to a stop in front of me and extends an invitation to use my phone to unlock the vehicle’s door before taking me away into the night.

But just as I’m ready to go in, a person walking by comes up to me.

He informs me that “they’re unsafe,” and I agree. He tells me that he saw someone get dangerously close to being ran over by a robotaxi and cautions me to be careful in similar situations.

He is the spokesperson for a group in San Francisco that is opposed to robotaxis and is of the opinion that the city has given its approval to a risky experiment that is putting people’s lives in jeopardy.

And some people have even taken it one step farther. Cones have been placed on the vehicles’ hoods by a campaign organization since the beginning of the summer in order to render them inoperable.

The term “coning” is used to characterize what Safe Street Rebel does, and some of its movies have gained widespread attention. However, local officials are determined to continuing to allow them to operate on the streets of the city – at least for the time being.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) held a vote on August 10, 2023, to decide whether or not to authorize two taxicab companies, Waymo and Cruise, to operate a 24-hour service. Previously, the only time of day during which they were permitted to run paid rides was at night.

However, before the vote was taken, the officials listened to public opinion for a period of six hours, which consisted of a continuous stream of people expressing their aspirations and fears.

There were drivers for Uber and Lyft who were concerned that robotaxis would steal their means of subsistence: “If you allow self-driving taxis to expand, it’s going to take jobs away from families.” “I raise my daughter by myself,” Rosine, a mother who drives for Uber in the city, said.

The automobiles, according to the representatives of the waste removal trucks, frequently broke down and blocked their vehicles. The fire department in San Francisco has voiced their disapproval of the autos for the same reason, stating that they had been impeded 55 times so far in 2018.

Others are of the opinion that the technology just has not demonstrated that it is risk-free yet. A taxi driver in San Francisco named Matthew Sutter was quoted as saying, “I’m all about technology, but it’s not ready guys… this is a danger to the citizens of San Francisco.”

There were also people there representing persons with physical disabilities, and they were concerned about how they would be able to get into cabs if the drivers didn’t aid them. The use of robotaxis, according to Mara Math, a member of the Paratransit Coordinating Council, “would leave disabled San Franciscans out in the cold.”

On the other hand, there were those who supported it. An orthopaedic surgeon in San Francisco named George Janku, who is also an avid cyclist, was quoted as saying, “I see how these cars behave, and I trust them much more than angry drivers or distracted drivers.” He went on to say that he has worked on a number of cases involving serious injuries caused by human drivers and that he believed robotaxis to be safer.

Jessie Wolinsky, who is blind, stated that she has experienced harassment at the hands of drivers for both Uber and Lyft. It was said that riding in a Waymo car “provided me with a level of safety that I’ve never experienced before.”

Another mother claimed that taxi drivers refused to transport her because of the car seats she used for her children, which is something that would never happen in a car that drives itself.

I have heard arguments on both sides of the issue. Over the course of the past few months, I have made multiple trips in Cruise’s robotaxi, and there have been no incidents. Concurrently, I have been a passenger in a robotaxi that was unable to move when it became stuck in the middle of the road.

It simply halted because it did not know how to negotiate the tight right-hand turn. The vehicles that were behind me honked their horns and then finally mounted the curb in order to get by us. I could see where they were coming from with their anger.

A robotaxi operated by Cruise was involved in a collision with a fire truck only eight days after a decision was taken to authorize businesses to increase their usage of robotaxis.

The state department of motor vehicles demanded that Cruise cut the number of vehicles operating on the roads in half, and the company has agreed to comply with this request.

David Chiu, the city’s attorney, filed a petition with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) asking it to postpone its ruling. He stated that San Francisco would suffer substantial harms as a result of the unrestricted expansion.

Despite this, both Cruise and Waymo are adamant that their robotaxis are completely risk-free.

Waymo reported to the BBC that the business had completed more than two million kilometers of driving under fully autonomous control. According to what it states, there has not been a single collision involving a pedestrian or cyclist.

Waymo also claims that every time it has been engaged in a collision with another car, the other driver was negligent or reckless in their driving.

Cruise said to the BBC that it has completed three million kilometers of autonomous driving and had an excellent track record for passenger safety.

However, a significant number of people in San Francisco continue to be skeptical. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the ringleaders of Safe Street Rebel in a peaceful urban park. This individual requests that they remain nameless.

They tell me that coning might be one of the earliest physical protests against artificial intelligence, and that these kinds of human activities are going to become more and more commonplace in the future.

They are dissatisfied with the fact that the worries of San Francisco residents over robotaxis are not being taken seriously: “We’re absolutely not vigilantes. We are simply members of the community who have self-organized in order to be heard.

I inquired as to whether or not they were members of the Luddite movement, which was a group that passionately resisted technological developments in the early 19th century. Luddites were a group that existed in the early 19th century.

“Yeah, I believe that there are some similarities here. And I believe that the Luddites have been given an unjust reputation throughout history.

The location of San Francisco is somewhat peculiar. Its goal is to be at the vanguard of technological advancement. However, local officials did not take a significant number of inhabitants with them.

It appears as though a decision point has been reached in regard to the city. The automakers themselves argue that their products do not pose any safety risks. But if they are unable to persuade the people of San Francisco of that, they will face an uphill battle to maintain their presence on the streets of the city.

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