City Attorney David Chiu

San Francisco seeks reprieve from CPUC decision allowing unfettered autonomous vehicle expansion

CPUC decision allowed unlimited expansion of AVs despite multiple high profile incidents of poor AV performance impeding first responders and impacting public safety

SAN FRANCISCO (August 17, 2023) — San Francisco officials, led by City Attorney David Chiu, filed an administrative motion yesterday with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to pause the CPUC’s decision to allow the expansion of autonomous vehicles (AVs) for commercial use in San Francisco with no limitations on geographic area, service hours, or fleet size. The motion seeks to stay the implementation of the CPUC’s August 10 resolutions granting AV companies, Cruise and Waymo, the ability to immediately expand their commercial AV fleets without restriction. San Francisco is seeking a stay while it pursues rehearing of the CPUC decision.

City Attorney David Chiu
City Attorney David Chiu

Over the last year, there have been numerous reports of poor AV performance creating safety hazards and interfering with first responder operations, public transit, street construction workers, and the flow of traffic. Both Cruise and Waymo have publicly stated plans to dramatically increase the number of AVs available for commercial use following the CPUC’s decision. This uptick will inevitably lead to an increase in traffic congestion and the number of dangerous incidents.

As legally required, San Francisco’s motion establishes that the balance of harms weighs in favor of San Francisco and the public. It also explains that San Francisco would be likely to win when it seeks rehearing because the CPUC abused its discretion by failing to tie approval to AV performance that would address and improve admitted public safety hazards and because the CPUC failed to consider the environmental impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act of several thousand additional AVs operating on San Francisco streets.

“When deploying powerful, new technology, safety should be the top priority,” said City Attorney David Chiu. “We have seen that this technology is not yet ready, and poor AV performance has interfered with the life-saving operations of first responders. San Francisco will suffer serious harms from this unfettered expansion, which outweigh whatever impacts AV companies may experience from a minimal pause in commercial deployment. The City is simply requesting the CPUC preserve the status quo while it seeks rehearing.”

“San Francisco seeks an immediate stay of the CPUC’s approval of unrestricted driverless AV passenger services in our city. The risks and impacts of this decision should not continue to be borne by our residents and visitors while we seek redress from the Commission’s misguided action,” said Aaron Peskin, President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

“The decision permits industry expansion without solving any of the underlying problems,” said San Francisco Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson. “We do not believe the industry has any incentive to remain at the table and solve their problems. These incidents with Public Safety are not going away and are in fact increasing.”

The motions to stay can be found here and here. San Francisco expects to file an application for rehearing with the CPUC in the coming weeks.