San Francisco taxi workers whose livelihoods are being disrupted by technology protested at the headquarters of the California Public Utilities Commission this week against plans to expand autonomous vehicle fleets in the city.
Taxi drivers and their supporters hope to stop the commission from lifting current restrictions and allowing Waymo and Cruise to offer driverless commercial passenger service 24/7 anywhere in the city.
The commission, which is responsible for regulations of autonomous vehicles or AVs, met Monday to discuss AV interference with first responders, and is set to vote on granting expanded operations Thursday, Aug. 10.
“Taxi drivers are the canaries in the coal mine in the coming AI onslaught,” Mark Gruberg, a member of the Executive Board of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, said in a statement. “Our jobs may go first, but yours could be next.”
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which has urged the state to collect more data before making a decision, estimated last month that more than 90 complaints about driverless cars were reported in both March and April.
As of July 25, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has received 627 Autonomous Vehicle Collision Reports, according to its website.
The transportation agency said the AVs stop in place when confused instead of pulling over; pick up and drop off passengers in traffic lanes and have difficulty understanding things like traffic control officers or construction sites.
“Taxi drivers are the canaries in the coal mine in the coming AI onslaught. Our jobs may go first, but yours could be next.”Mark Gruberg, San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance
The taxi drivers contend that the Cruise and Waymo cars suffer mass breakdowns, create lengthy street blockages, obstruct public transportation and interfere with police and firefighters.
“AV operations are a massive experiment, with the public as guinea pigs,” Gruberg said. “The CPUC is about to bestow a premature approval on an immature technology.”
Taxi drivers say the coming of AVs is especially threatening to those who bought a medallion from the city. A medallion permits an individual or company to operate a taxicab.
“Of the 700 or so medallion purchasers, over 40 percent have already lost their medallions to foreclosure,” Gruberg said. “Once AVs have gained a foothold, the rest may not be far behind.”