Cruise, the autonomous taxi service owned by GM, is working toward offering 24/7 service in San Francisco. I wrote about that here. And so it recently came out with some supportive data suggesting that between September and November of last year, it completed 2,800 rides covering some 27,000 miles, and that it did so without a major collision or injury.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, however, disagrees. They are opposing Cruise’s service expansion plans, and have reported 92 incidents where Cruise’s autonomous taxis have obstructed traffic, caused delays to transit, blocked lanes and, apparently in two cases, driven over firehoses.
These two things are not all that surprising. Firstly, autonomous vehicles are still in their infancy and they are known to do silly things. Part of this, I’m sure, is because they’re programmed around road and life safety. And so if they don’t know what to do, they’re going to default to what is deemed safe, even if it means blocking a lane or obstructing traffic.
Secondly, transit agencies are suffering in our post-pandemic world. So this is an obvious and understandable case of self-interest. And it’s not new. But at the same time, we’ve all seen this movie many times before, from Napster to Uber. Progress is disruptive. But does it really make sense to stop?