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Cruise skips out on hearing, tests driverless vehicles with little city collaboration

San Francisco supervisors were disappointed Tuesday when representatives for Cruise, a self-driving car company, failed to show up for a scheduled hearing.

The company last month was granted a permit by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test its driverless vehicles on city streets.

During the meeting with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who chairs the SFCTA, said it was unfortunate the company did not appear, adding:

“My hope was that this hearing would be an opportunity for Cruise, the permittee, to introduce themselves to this body and to entreat them to do this the San Francisco way to engage with decision makers.”

Peskin had hoped The City and company could work together on a host of issues, such as public safety and labor, a provide a collaborative relationship model for other cities to follow. However, the supervisor was disheartened by Cruise’s absence from Tuesday’s hearing.

Some supervisors said they were approached by lobbyists to brief them on the company’s plans, but Peskin said meeting behind closed doors with a lobbyist “just doesn’t cut it.”

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said while he appreciated his conversation with a Cruise lobbyist, the company should prioritize working and engaging with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Daniel Lawrence Lu The California Department of Motor Vehicles announced Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020 that they’ve granted the vehicle company Cruise a permit to test driverless cars on designated streets in San Francisco, Calif.

Echoing similar sentiment, Supervisor Gordon Mar said:

“I am concerned that this new crews testing program of driverless AVs here in our city seems to have happened without any meaningful local input and oversight beyond just cursory notification by crews and their lobbyists rather than true collaboration.”

Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, is regulated under the state and has no obligation under state law to share its plans with local officials. However, officials hoped to have some influence over how the company plans to operate its vehicles.

An SFCTA staff report shows that the company did reach out to some city officials, first responders and neighborhoods groups in early November.

Following the limited outreach, Cruise began testing during restricted night hours with one vehicle in one neighborhood, the report said. The company did not provide further test details, the report said.

Under the permit granted to Cruise, the company can perform tests on city streets at speeds of up to 30 mph, without safety drivers inside vehicles. The company is prohibited from testing in heavy fog or heavy rain conditions.

Jeffrey Tumlin, the SFMTA’s director of transportation, said autonomous vehicles could benefit The City’s Vision Zero goals if the vehicles are programmed to follow speed limits, yield to pedestrians and adhere to all other traffic laws.

Tumlin said he wants to approach the autonomous vehicle industry with “eyes wide open,” adding:

“We’re certainly eager to work with industry in order to see their data that documents in fact that autonomous vehicles are significantly safer than privately operated vehicles driven by humans.”

A spokesperson for Cruise declined to comment for this story.

In related news, the California Public Utilities Commission will Thursday will discuss legislation that would allow autonomous vehicle companies to accept passengers for service. Both the transit agency and SFCTA have submitted comments on the proposal.

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