Waymo, facing opposition against expansion in San Francisco, announces Austin as a new market

Waymo recently announced that it will be adding its commercial self-driving taxi services to a fourth city—Austin, Texas. Austin joins three other Waymo markets: Phoenix, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. However, the company currently only operates without restrictions in Phoenix. Ars Technica explains:

Assuming this goes like previous Waymo announcements, the statement "first rides with the public" means Waymo will be carrying NDA-bound "trusted testers" chosen from a waitlist. As for when normal Austinites can actually hail a Waymo, it's tricky. So far, of Waymo's four announced cities, only one, Phoenix, is actually offering commercial rides to the public with no restrictions. San Francisco was announced as a Waymo One market two years ago and is still only doing commercial "testing." (Waymo's website description of "we'll reach out when it's your time to ride" stands in contrast to the "anyone can ride" description for Phoenix.) Los Angeles was announced one year ago and still isn't taking rides yet.

While Waymo begins its expansion to Austin, the company is currently waiting on a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission (CAPUC) to actually start service in Los Angeles, and its plans to expand operation in San Francisco are facing opposition. On Monday, August 7, 2023, the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance will be protesting at the headquarters of CAPUC, in hopes of stopping the commission from lifting restrictions on Waymo (and competitor Cruise), a move that would allow the companies to operate 24/7 anywhere across the city. KRON provides more details, highlighting concerns about job loss, autonomous vehicle safety, and interference with first responders:

The commission, which is responsible for regulations of autonomous vehicles or AVs, has called a meeting Monday to discuss AV interference with first responders, and is set to vote on granting expanded operations Thursday.

"Taxi drivers are the canaries in the coal mine in the coming AI onslaught," Mark Gruberg, a member of the Executive Board of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, said in a statement Saturday. "Our jobs may go first, but yours could be next." 

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which has urged the state to collect more data before making a decision, estimated last month that more than 90 complaints about driverless cars were reported in both March and April. 

As of July 25, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has received 627 Autonomous Vehicle Collision Reports, according to its website. The transportation agency said the AVs stop in place when confused instead of pulling over; pick up and drop off passengers in traffic lanes and have difficulty understanding things like traffic control officers or construction sites.

The taxi drivers contend that the Cruise and Waymo cars suffer mass breakdowns, create lengthy street blockages, obstruct public transportation and interfere with police and firefighters. "AV operations are a massive experiment, with the public as guinea pigs," Gruberg said. "The CPUC is about to bestow a premature approval on an immature technology."

The San Francisco Standard reports that incidents involving Waymo driverless cars have increased six-fold in 2023. And some of the collisions across the United States since autonomous vehicles first started operating have resulted in death. In May 2023, a small dog died after being run over by a Waymo car in San Francisco. And I'll never forget a tragic incident that happened about a half mile from where I live—Tempe, Arizona resident Elaine Herzberg was walking her bicycle across a street when she was hit and killed in March, 2018 by a self-driving Uber, an incident that Wikipedia describes as the "first recorded case of a pedestrian fatality involving a self-driving car."