Self-Driving Taxis Targeted by Activists in San Francisco

Traffic cones are being placed on AVs to confuse the sensors that give the self-driving taxis their automated functionality

Graham Hope

July 12, 2023

3 Min Read
General Motors Cruise self-driving car undergoing testing on the streets of the Mission District neighborhood of San Francisco, California.
Getty Images

San Francisco’s growing fleets of self-driving taxis are facing a new threat – traffic cones.

Activists operating under the “Safe Street Rebel” banner are unhappy with the disruption they say the autonomous vehicles (AVs) are causing across the city and are urging members of the public to take matters into their own hands to slow their spread.

As numerous videos that have been posted online illustrate, their way of doing so is by placing a traffic cone on the hood of the self-driving taxis – run by General Motors’ Cruise and Waymo, owned by Google parent Alphabet – thereby disabling the vehicles.

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Safe Street Rebel claims its radical tactic is an attempt to raise public awareness of the problems caused by self-driving taxis before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) sits on July 13 to decide whether to allow Cruise and Waymo to expand their services in San Francisco.

Documents posted online earlier this year suggested that CPUC is ready to agree to the companies’ applications to extend their areas of operation and charge for driverless rides 24/7. That’s despite criticism from various city bodies, including the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which has expressed concern about the possible expansion after a series of incidents caused by the self-driving taxis. These include the blocking of first responder vehicles and Cruise’s cars bringing traffic to a halt by gathering at an intersection for hours.

There was also a slew of negative headlines when a Waymo vehicle struck and killed a dog in June.

Now Safe Street Rebel has upped the ante in terms of protesting the rollout of self-driving taxis with its provocative measures. The group claims: “Cruise and Waymo promise they’ll reduce traffic and collisions, but we know that’s not true. They block buses and emergency vehicles, create more traffic and are a surveillance nightmare.” (It was revealed last year that police in the city are being encouraged to use footage from AVs to assist in investigations).

The group’s advice to those who sympathize with its frustrations is to find a cone and “gently place it” on an empty car’s hood. This has the effect of confusing the sensors that give the self-driving taxi its automated functionality, bringing it to a halt.

At the same time, Safe Street Rebel is urging followers online to publicly comment at the CPUC meeting scheduled for July 13, in the hope that the rollout can be slowed down.

While being anti-car generally, the group has a specific problem with the AV companies, claiming: “Cruise and Waymo do not deserve our trust. Why go through all this when we can just fund and expand public transit and paratransit like other cities?” But as Safe Street Rebel’s online clips go viral, opinion is very much split over the wisdom of the tactic, with many pointing out that it could have serious implications for safety and congestion, and also that human-driven cars are worse offenders at causing disruption.

Waymo has already said it will report anyone interfering with its cars to the police.

About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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