• Fri. Mar 1st, 2024

Fire, Chaos and Controversy: The New Frontier of Automated Vehicle Operations in San Francisco’s Chinatown


Feb 11, 2024
Crowd sets self-driving taxi on fire in San Francisco

In the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, an act of extreme vandalism occurred last night, marking a new chapter in the already strained relationship between the city and automated vehicle companies. At around 9 pm (local time), an individual jumped onto the hood of a Waymo driverless taxi and shattered its windshield. The spontaneous applause among onlookers quickly gave way to chaos as a crowd formed around the vehicle, covering it in spray paint, breaking windows, and finally setting it on fire. Despite the timely intervention of firefighters, who arrived a few minutes later, the flames had already consumed the car.

The reasons behind this act of vandalism are still unclear at this time. Sandy Karp, a spokesperson for Waymo, stated that the fully autonomous car was not carrying passengers during the attack. According to San Francisco Police Department public information officer Robert Rueca, law enforcement responded to the scene at approximately 8:50 pm to find the car already ablaze. There were no reported injuries.

A video posted by YouTube channel FriscoLive415 shows the charred wreckage of Waymo’s electric Jaguar taxi, which has become a symbol of growing tension between San Francisco residents and operators of automated vehicles. The suspension of operations of rival robotaxi Cruise by the California Department of Motor Vehicles following an accident in which one of its vehicles hit and dragged a pedestrian last year has fueled this debate further. Previous incidents involving automated taxis causing chaos by blocking traffic or colliding with a fire engine have also contributed to this discussion on safety and appropriateness in urban life.

The opposition from city officials and some residents to 24/7 operation of these cars is evident through symbolic gestures such as placing orange cones on vehicle hoods. This incident fits into a broader context where technology companies face challenges deploying their devices in public spaces, with historical precedents ranging from destroying shared bicycles to episodes involving violence against electric vehicles and scooters.

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