A crowd attacked a Waymo robotaxi Saturday night in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood, breaking windows, covering it with graffiti and setting it ablaze with a lit firework tossed inside the vehicle, according to a post by the San Francisco Fire Department on X, formerly known as Twitter. There were no passengers in the vehicle, Waymo told news outlets.
The California Public Utilities Commission authorized Cruise and Waymo to operate driverless robotaxis with paying passengers throughout San Francisco on Aug. 10, 2023, over the objections of first responders and others. Waymo also operates driverless vehicles in Phoenix and has announced plans to launch paid autonomous ride-hailing service in Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles.
Waymo Vehicle surrounded and then graffiti’d, windows were broken, and firework lit on fire inside the vehicle which ultimately caught the entire vehicle on fire. #SFFD— SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPARTMENT MEDIA (@SFFDPIO) February 11, 2024
Photos by Séraphine Hossenlopp pic.twitter.com/aOTqL3Rk8V
Tensions over autonomous vehicles remain high in San Francisco after an Oct. 2, 2023, incident there in which a driverless vehicle operated by General Motors’ subsidiary Cruise struck a pedestrian and dragged her approximately 20 feet before stopping. The victim had been thrown into the path of the robotaxi by another vehicle. GM CEO Mary Barra said on Jan. 30 that the automaker remains committed to Cruise and is looking forward “to sharing our timetable for returning Cruise EVs to the road soon.” On Feb. 6, Cruise offered $112,500 to settle the California Public Utilities Commission’s investigation into the incident, up from a previous offer of $75,000.
Backlash appears to be growing toward driverless vehicles. In an Oct. 27 statement, National Association of City Transportation Officials Executive Director Corinne Kisner said, “In San Francisco and other NACTO member cities, AVs have injured pedestrians, collided with city buses, downed overhead wires, and interfered with emergency response efforts. AV testing has expanded with minimal oversight, and city governments often have little say over how their streets are used for testing. This combination puts residents’ and commuters’ safety at risk.”
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, in a Jan. 16 statement, praised California Senate Bill 915, which would require AV companies to obtain local approval prior to starting operations in a given municipality. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has also called for greater local input.
The Dawn Project, a safety advocacy group, ran two commercials during Sunday’s Super Bowl LVIII urging viewers to boycott Tesla for its Autopilot software, which has been implicated in several fatal crashes, according to the organization. “By allowing Autopilot to operate on roads with cross-traffic, where Tesla says it isn’t safe, Tesla is putting both its customers and the American public at unnecessary and unacceptable risk,” The Dawn Project Founder Dan O’Dowd said in a statement.