Why San Francisco’s robotaxi rollout has been such a mess

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Self-driving cars have flooded San Francisco streets, and many of them have no safety drivers behind the wheel.

In August, two of the leading autonomous vehicle companies, General Motors-owned Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo, were granted permission to expand operations, allowing people to hail a driverless car the same way they order an Uber. Users who have been invited or granted access after signing up through a waitlist can hail robotaxis in select regions of the city for the cost of a typical rideshare.

But the launch has been plagued by problems. The cars have driven into firefighting scenes, caused construction delays, impeded ambulances and even meandered into active crime scenes.

“There have been 75 plus incidents,” said San Francisco fire chief Jeanine Nicholson. “It’s like playing Russian roulette. It’s impacting public safety and that’s what we need to fix.”

San Francisco city attorney David Chiu said, “there are still some glitches that need to be worked out.”

“And this is with only a few hundred vehicles,” Chiu said. “The idea that thousands of vehicles could be hitting our streets in short order is what gives us concern.”

In October, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Cruise’s permit to operate its driverless fleet in the state, citing an incident in which a Cruise vehicle dragged a pedestrian for 20 feet after a collision.

Cruise had been quickly expanding to other cities, including Phoenix, Austin, Dallas, Houston and Miami, but the company paused driverless operations nationwide following the California suspension. Waymo is still operating robotaxis in San Francisco.

Before Cruise’s permit was revoked, CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa took a ride in one of its autonomous vehicles. She also gave Waymo a try and offers a comparison of the two very different rides. She sat down with Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise, who was optimistic the company could get past these recent hurdles.

“It will be very commonplace for people who are in major cities to get around town in a robotaxi over the next few years” Vogt said.

Watch the video to see how the launch of robotaxis has been going for the city and what’s next.

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