City Offers a Sneak Peek at Its Waymo Strategy with Strong Letter to CPUC About AV Expansion in the Bay Area.

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is considering a proposal to allow Waymo unlimited access during unlimited hours to offer passenger service in its driverless cars throughout San Francisco. As a city that Waymo has identified as one of the cities it hopes to expand to, the City has a lot to say about the proposal and is urging CPUC to proceed with caution. Waymo is seeking to expand service a year after launching limited service in San Francisco.

Waymo LLC, is currently operating driverless autonomous vehicle (AV) testing and mapping in Santa Monica, the first step in launching an AV passenger program after the launch in San Francisco and Phoenix before that. 

Edward King, the Director of the Santa Monica Department of Transportation has written to CPUC (full letter available as a pdf) asking that instead of an all-hours service for an unlimited amount of vehicles that CPUC consider a more measured approval.

“While we will continue our collaborative efforts with Waymo and local stakeholders and strive to stay informed of developments in the industry, we suggest that “thoughtful scaling of driverless AV passenger service [that will] minimize any negative impacts” is more likely to succeed if the Commission requires iterative rather than unrestricted expansion of driverless service,” King writes to CPUC.

King’s letter supports concerns listed by the California Transit Association and City of San Francisco. 

San Francisco has a series of asks for CPUC including a request that Waymo be required to share data with its host cities and that the service be limited to certain areas during high traffic hours (i.e. no service offered during rush hour in the dense downtown). They also ask that Waymo develop a more measured timeline for introducing its service than what they have asked for.

The California Transit Association points to the many times AV’s have blocked light rail tracks and bus only lanes in San Francisco as evidence that any mobility advantages the AV service brings to the city are more than negated by the inconveniences that a rogue vehicle would have to hundreds of transit drivers. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) echoed this concern in a letter of its own.

Waymo hasn’t had an easy couple of weeks in the Bay Area. Last week, the city’s Board of Supervisors approved a zoning appeal that would impact Waymo’s services after recordings were unearthed where Waymo executives discussed how their service could bring parcel and goods delivery service to San Francisco after they publicly stated they had no such plans. Waymo does deliveries in Phoenix, where it first put cars on the streets.

In addition, the local NBC News has chronicled how Waymo vehicles are causing traffic jams.

Santa Monica concludes by asking CPUC for a slower expansion, tipping their hand that they would prefer an incremental rollout for Santa Monica. It’s not a surprise given the chaos the summer of the scooter created half a decade ago. Autonomous cars would likely prove to be a bigger disruptor to the system, for better or worse.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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