On Thursday 2 June, as the UK began four days of festivities to mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, General Motors’ Cruise was celebrating the award of a permit to charge for self-driving car journeys in its home city of San Francisco.
The California Public Utilities Commission approved Cruise’s application in a unanimous 4-0 vote, with the company immediately announcing that paid services would launch within weeks.
Up to 30 Chevrolet Bolt automated electric vehicles (A-EVs) will be limited to a maximum of 30mph, and they still won’t be allowed on highways or used during periods of heavy rain.
Big moment for self-driving
It is a big moment for Cruise with San Francisco considered a harder technical challenge than Phoenix, where rival operator Alphabet has been charging for rides.
In April, we looked at its success in our article “Bullitt was peak 20th century, self-driving is sensational San Francisco today”, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing.
For example, this video of a police stop – “Ain’t nobody in it!” – went viral. With comic timing, when the officer turns his back, the car drives off, pulling over again on the other side of an intersection, with the police car in pursuit, lights flashing.
Just days before securing the permit, Cruise came in for more criticism following another blue light incident.
Self-driving blue light incident
This time a fire engine on a 4am shout was briefly delayed, although a garbage truck was apparently the main cause of the blockage.
Highways News reported: “A Cruise vehicle with nobody in it was moving in the oncoming lane. According to Cruise, their vehicle detected the fire truck and as it is programmed to do, pulled to the right and stopped (avoiding blocking any intersection) and summoned remote assistance. However the oncoming lane was not wide enough for the fire engine to pass, so the truck driver got into that vehicle and got it out of the way. The report says the fire engine was delayed only 25 seconds.”
It meant more negative headlines though, such as “Concern Caused After San Francisco (CA) Fire Truck Blocked by Autonomous Car” in Fire Apparatus Magazine.
Despite these setbacks, the permit was awarded and Cruise’s Chief Operating Officer, Gil West (formerly COO at Delta Air Lines), was quick to post an upbeat blog titled “We’re going commercial”.
“Today, we received the first-ever Driverless Deployment Permit granted by the California Public Utilities Commission, which allows us to charge a fare for the driverless rides we are providing to members of the public here in San Francisco,” he said.
“This means that Cruise will be the first and only company to operate a commercial, driverless ridehail service in a major U.S. city.
“Now with this approval, we’ll begin rolling out fared rides gradually, expanding in alignment with the smoothest customer experience possible. As always, our focus is on delivering a magical and safe service for our riders.
“Crossing the threshold into commercial operations isn’t just big news for Cruise alone. It is a major milestone for the shared mission of the AV industry to improve life in our cities. And it’s a giant leap for our mission here at Cruise to save lives, help save the planet, and save people time and money.
“We’re grateful to the CPUC for their thoughtful review and approval of our application, and we’ll continue our close coordination with regulators and community stakeholders as we expand our service and improve our product.
“Collaborating closely with the communities we serve will only become more important as we continue to deploy this transformative technology.
“Thank you to each and every Cruiser whose focus and dedication is bringing our vision for the future to life — here and now. And thank you to every San Franciscan who has taken a ride with us, provided feedback, and helped us on our mission to continuously improve our service.”