Robotaxis in LA: Councilman calls for regulations as groups protest Waymo expansion

Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez said the city of Los Angeles should "not be a test for the tech industry.''

Wednesday, October 25, 2023
LA Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez calls for regulations on robotaxis
Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez is urging state officials to enhance regulations for robotaxis, saying safety incidents, including crashes and congestion, are "becoming the norm.''

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- You may have already seen them roaming around Santa Monica or Venice and soon, there will be more "robotaxis" available for use in the Los Angeles area.

The expansion, however, is being met with some fierce opposition, mainly from those concerned about safety.

"Anybody who knows Los Angeles knows that the freeways are not the place to bring these wreckless robotaxis," said Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 399 Lindsay Dougherty in a statement.

NOTE: The video above is streaming the ABC7 Los Angeles 24x7 Streaming channel.

On Tuesday, unions held a rally outside of Google's headquarters on Main Street, protesting the recent expansion of Waymo's autonomous ride-hailing service. Waymo, formerly known as the Google self-driving car project, recently announced a tour that will give Angelenos a chance take free, fully autonomous rides for a limited time ahead of a wider service launch.

READ MORE | Waymo's self-driving car driving up to Santa Monica starting Oct. 11

Waymo has already offered self-driving car service in San Francisco and Phoenix - and the service arrives in Santa Monica on Oct. 11.

"We're saying hell no to driverless vehicles on our streets," said Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Yvonne Wheeler in a statement. "Autonomous vehicles, like the ones that Waymo wants to unleash in our communities, have been wreaking havoc wherever they go. From blocking fire trucks on call, to emergencies, to crashes into buses, running over animals, running through construction sites and ruining freshly poured concrete, it's clear this technology is not ready to be introduced into our roads and our city."

On Wednesday, Los Angeles City Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez introduced a motion calling on the city attorney to join an existing lawsuit against a state commission "urging officials in the state to address public safety concerns around autonomous vehicles (AVs) and rein in the expansion of robotaxis in Los Angeles.''

The councilman specifically cited both Waymo and Cruise, companies developing and launching AVs, in his motion.

During a morning news conference at City Hall, Soto-Martinez said the city of Los Angeles should "not be a test for the tech industry.'' He urged state officials to enhance regulations for robotaxis because he said safety incidents, including crashes and congestion, are "becoming the norm.''

"Some of the stories that I've heard are absolutely egregious and should not be happening here in the city. These vehicles have stopped at intersections at peak hours, whether due to crashes or shutting down to the lack of connectivity,'' he added.

The councilman also shared his concerns over how the AVs could be taken over in a potential cyberattack.

A Waymo spokesperson said the company "prioritizes working transparently with policymakers. Well before our arrival and throughout our current Los Angeles operations, Waymo has worked closely with City Hall, first responders and transportation agencies. Our goal is to introduce a ride-hailing service that improves road safety and supports the region's transportation, equity and sustainability goals. Based on many productive conversations we've had with city leaders, we're confident we can work together to do that.''

In response to Tuesday's protest, a Waymo spokesperson said, "We appreciate that people have different viewpoints and encourage them to learn more about the positive impacts Waymo's autonomous ride hailing is having on safety, accessibility and sustainability."

Cruise did not immediately respond to a request for comment by City News Service.

Chris Griswold of the Teamsters union, which represents drivers and other workers, joined Soto-Martinez at Wednesday morning's news conference.

Soto-Martinez emphasized that if the AVs were to become safer, he would still not support that technology because it could eliminate good-paying jobs. Soto-Martinez is calling on Los Angeles to join an ongoing city of San Francisco lawsuit against the California Public Utilities Commission to redo an August hearing that expanded robotaxi permits for Cruise and Waymo.

The CPUC is one of the regulatory bodies overseeing the rollout of AVs in California.

According to the motion filed during Wednesday's L.A. City Council meeting, the city "must join San Francisco's call to state regulators to reign in autonomous operations in urban contexts and identify benchmarking standards to inform how to expand operations in a thoughtful and careful manner.''

The motion was co-authored by council members Nithya Raman, Imelda Padilla, and Heather Hutt. It will now be forward to the Transportation Committee, and the Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee in November for consideration.

On Tuesday, the California Department of Motor Vehicles announced it was rescinding Cruise's robotaxi permits. The DMV noted in its suspension order that Cruise withheld video footage of its robotaxi hitting a pedestrian in San Francisco on Oct. 2., impeding the agency's ongoing investigation of the incident.

City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.