San Francisco robotaxis cause traffic 'fiasco' day after expansion approved

California regulators asked to rethink recent approval of San Francisco's round-the-clock driverless taxi services after traffic jam

Just one day after California regulators signed off on a controversial plan allowing San Francisco's dueling robotaxi services to operate around the clock, a group of the autonomous vehicles ground traffic to a halt in one area of the city, sparking calls for the state to rethink its decision.

On Friday night, up to ten Cruise driverless taxis became paralyzed at the same time in San Francisco's North Beach area, causing streets to back up as the vehicles blocked other cars in what the San Francisco Chronicle called a "fiasco."

Cruise robotaxi at san francisco stoplight

A Cruise, which is a driverless robot taxi, is seen during operation in San Francisco, California, USA on July 24, 2023. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images / Getty Images)

One social media account reporting the incident on X, formerly known as Twitter, said Cruise's "self-driving operations had a complete meltdown," and showed video footage of the traffic jam in North Beach. Cruise responded and confirmed that "a large festival posted wireless bandwidth constraints causing delayed connectivity to our vehicles." 

"We are actively investigating and working on solutions to prevent this from happening again," the company wrote, apologizing to those impacted.

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But opponents of using San Francisco as a testing ground for autonomous vehicles pointed to the incident as an example of the risks associated with the expanded use of the unmanned cars — particularly after instances of them of blocking emergency vehicles like ambulances and firetrucks.

protestor holds sign against robotaxis

A protester holds a sign during a demonstration outside the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Aug. 7, 2023 in San Francisco, California.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The Chronicle reported that on Sunday, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said that "government agencies would ask the city attorney to file a petition requesting that the state revisit last week's key approval expanding robotaxi service."

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Last Thursday, California's Public Utilities Commission voted 3-1 to allow rival robotaxi services Cruise and Waymo to operate 24/7 in San Francisco, making it the first major U.S. city with two fleets of driverless vehicles competing for passengers against human-operated taxi and ride-sharing services.

Some city officials and residents made it clear they are not yet on board with the robotaxis at Thursday's meeting after growing frustrations with the vehicles, which Cruise and Waymo have been testing on a restricted basis in the city over the past year.

Waymo driverless taxi stops in middle of street

A Waymo driverless taxi stops on a street in San Francisco for several minutes because the back door was not completely shut, while traffic backs up behind it, on Feb. 15, 2023. (Terry Chea / AP Images)

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Cruise is a subsidiary of General Motors, and Waymo is a spinoff from a project at Google. Both companies have spent billions of dollars developing their technology, and have pointed to unblemished safety records in arguing the driverless vehicles are safer than distracted, intoxicated and bad drivers.

But one of the opponents of their expansion was San Francisco Fire Department Chief Jeanine Nicholson, who disputed the company's driver records ahead of last week's vote, citing 55 written reports of robotaxis interfering with emergency response.

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"They are still not ready for prime time because of the way they have impacted our operations," Nicholson said.

FOX Business' Elizabeth Pritchett contributed to this report.