With dozens of robotaxis cruising the streets, San Francisco has become a hub for the testing and development of self-driving cars. However, despite manufacturers’ desire for more autonomous taxis with greater coverage and longer operating hours, the technology is far from perfect.
In fact, the proliferation of self-driving cars has resulted in a significant increase in chaos on the city’s streets, as seen in dashcam footage obtained by Wired from eight incidents involving public transit colliding with autonomous vehicles.
The footage, provided by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, sheds light on the challenges faced by transit riders during the awkward learning phase of this new technology. Last October, the agency issued a directive to improve the record-keeping of incidents involving autonomous vehicles.
It standardized the term “driverless car” for staff to report “near-misses, collisions, or other incidents resulting in transit delay.” The agency logs revealed 12 “driverless” reports from September 2022 to March 8, 2023, with video evidence provided for eight of them. These incidents resulted in at least 83 minutes of direct delays for Muni riders.
However, this data may not reflect the true extent of the issue, as Muni staff may not follow every directive to the letter, and even a single delay can cause a ripple effect that slows down other lines. Buses and trains cannot navigate around obstacles as easily as pedestrians, other motorists, and cyclists, causing transit-dependent commuters to bear the brunt of the disruption caused by errant driverless cars.
Authorities and officials in San Francisco say that they want to be supportive of modern technology but require that they should be updated on addressing failures.
“What we’re seeing is a significant uptick in traffic and other kinds of chaos on our streets,” says Jeffrey Tumlin, Muni’s director of transportation. “We are very concerned that if autonomous vehicles are allowed limitless, driverless operations in San Francisco that the traffic impacts grow exponentially.”?
Dashcam footage reveals the frustration experienced by bus drivers and train operators as they are cut off and stranded in traffic by self-driving cars. Due to regulations, buses are not permitted to reverse without a supervisor present, exacerbating the issue. Passengers are equally unimpressed, with one woman caught on camera flipping off a Waymo robotaxi.
Self-driving cars are causing significant slowdowns and delays for public transit riders, who already contend with an underfunded service. However, regular drivers are also impacted by stalled self-driving cars on the road.
Wired reports that of the 92 unplanned stops made by self-driving cars over an eight-month period in 2022, 88 percent involved public transit. This highlights the difficulty self-driving cars face in navigating mass transit.