Cruise and Waymo cars make these mistakes on the streets of SF in front of drivers

Just over a decade ago, these ride-hailing services also got off to a rocky start in San Francisco, leading to a litany of complaints, including that they were clogging streets and stalling traffic while facing less stringent rules than traditional taxis. Now thousands of Uber, Lyft Taxi drivers roam the streets every day, often encountering Cruise and Waymo cars that are quickly moving to become their competitors.

Alarmed by mounting reports of robo-taxis interfering with emergency responders, transit, construction and general traffic, city officials last week asked California regulators to place limits on their unrestricted commercial expansion into the city, saying doing so could cause “serious harm.” Two days later, Cruise agreed to halve its San Francisco fleet pending an investigation into the recent collisions.

When it comes to the downside of the new technology, drivers of other ride-hailing services say they have watched.

James Wilson said he was driving for Uber on a San Francisco street recently when he saw a motorized taxi, which he estimates was going at about 50 mph, slamming on its brakes and screaming until it stopped abruptly when the wind carried a discarded plastic bag through its windshield. .

“Nobody could have done that,” he said. “The person would have known how to handle the situation.”

Wilson and other hired drivers spoke to the Chronicle this week about their encounters with the robo-taxi that have popped up in San Francisco over the past few months. They said they didn’t witness any collisions, but they did see a lot of shoddy driving by General Motors’ self-driving Cruise vehicles and Alphabet’s Waymo cars.

Cruise's driverless car named Butternut Squash arrives to pick up a reporter on August 19.

Cruise’s driverless car named Butternut Squash arrives to pick up a reporter on August 19.

Daniel Echeverria/The Chronicle

“I can tell you that I’ve personally seen bad behavior by[self-driving vehicles]and I don’t know a taxi driver who hasn’t,” said Mark Groberg, a driver and part-owner of Green Cab in San Francisco. He is also a board member of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance They staged a protest Earlier this month outside a California Public Utilities Commission hearing I agreed to expand Cruise and Waymo.

The consensus among taxi drivers and e-taxi drivers has been that autonomous vehicles are no different from the behavior of an adolescent human just beginning to learn to drive – confused, indecisive, slow and unsure of the rules of the road.

Here are some of the most common robo-taxis glitches that drivers said they’ve witnessed — and which drivers and pedestrians in San Francisco should be alert to.

1. Random stops and “pans”

“I’ve seen them get confused a lot,” Wilson said of self-driving vehicles. “And when they get confused, they stop.”

JR Assis, an Uber driver, said cars appear to stop at random, often in the middle of the street.

“I saw columns of seven or eight of them parked in the street,” he said. “You have to walk around them.”

Rashad Bifawi, a Lyft driver of eight years, waits to pick up passengers at SFO Airport on August 21.

Rashad Bifawi, a Lyft driver of eight years, waits to pick up passengers at SFO Airport on August 21.

Michael Cabanatuan/The Chronicle

In some cases, vehicles remain immobilized — a condition known as “bricking” — until a Waymo or Cruise employee can get out and move them. Groberg said that usually takes at least 20 minutes, though veteran Lyft driver Rashad Bifawi said he waited 40 minutes, stuck in traffic, for the self-driving car to be brought back to life and moving.

Waymo says the time depends on the locations of the parked car and the response crew, but it’s 20 minutes longer than the standard response time.

Gruberg said he recently saw an automated taxi driving down Franklin Street and inexplicably stopping repeatedly. A block or two later, he passed it, but said it looked like it was continuing its stop-and-go journey.

The incident didn’t cause any major crashes or backups, but Groberg said it’s still a cause for concern.

“It is clear that whenever such things are repeated, there will be a bad development,” he said.

2. The drop-offs are in the middle of the street

Another common problem reported by drivers is that the autotaxis often stop in the middle of the street instead of when dropping off passengers – a situation that the Chronicle reporter encountered when she got into the cruise car to evaluate the experience.

“They don’t stop,” said Biffaway. “It happens all the time.”

3. Problem with transfers

Esmeraldo Santos, a Brazilian living in Newark, has been driving for Uber for 10 years, mostly in San Francisco and on the Peninsula. He said robot taxis appear to be more confused by road construction – especially minor diversions involving traffic cones – as well as changes in traffic patterns.

“They stop where they are,” he said. “I’ve seen a number of them blocking traffic until someone comes and moves them.”

Esmeraldo Santos, an Uber driver for 10 years, waits to pick up passengers at SFO on August 21.

Esmeraldo Santos, an Uber driver for 10 years, waits to pick up passengers at SFO on August 21.

Michael Cabanatuan/The Chronicle

Drivers have also seen a robot taxi become disoriented and locked away by a person in a wheelchair in a crosswalk or a driver in a turning lane who decides to go straight.

4. Confusion about the rules of the road

Bevoy, a Lyft driver for eight years, said he was in close contact with a self-driving taxi that appeared to not understand the rules of the road at a four-way intersection with stop signs.

Bevoy said he got to the intersection first, stopped at the signal and saw the autotaxi stop at another stop sign. Instead of waiting for him, the self-driving car pulled ahead, Bivoy said, barely missing his car.

“It almost shocked me,” Biffaway said. “I am afraid of these cars.”

Drivers say that self-driving cars also seem to have trouble making left turns, not only proceeding cautiously, Santos said, but in an overly cautious and slow manner that restricts traffic.

“They stay there forever,” he said. “They’re such a traffic jam that all the other cars miss the light and have to wait.”

5. The inability to improvise

One big difference between having a driver behind the wheel, Groberg said, is that he can maneuver himself out of situations, say, going through a construction zone or getting out of the way of firefighters fighting a fire.

“Human drivers make mistakes, and (autonomous vehicle) companies are quick to point out,” he said. “But suppose I, as a human, make a mistake and drive to an active fire location. I, as a human driver, can correct that mistake and drive out of the area. To get AV, you have to wait 20 minutes for someone to get him out of there.

Santos recounted one incident in which a self-driving vehicle was unable to figure out what to do when a parked truck was blocking a lane, requiring drivers to press into it, using only part of the red lane. But the autotaxi, apparently programmed to stay out of the red lane, kept trying to slip past and run into the red lane, where it stopped. It will back up and try again, repeating the error over and over again.

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