San Francisco activists use orange cones to thwart robotaxis

Jul 25, 2023, 3:43 PM

A robotaxi on a San Francisco street is disabled after a group of activists place an orange cone on...

A robotaxi on a San Francisco street is disabled after a group of activists place an orange cone on the hood. (KPIX)


SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Driverless cars have been part of the San Francisco landscape for years. But not everyone is happy about it.

A group of young protesters has now launched an all-out war against these so-called robotaxis, using an unorthodox approach.

They come out after dark, riding their bikes in packs, and wearing masks to conceal their identities.

Called Safe Street Rebel, they’ve been roaming city streets using orange cones as their weapon of choice.

“It’s simple,” said John, the group’s unofficial spokesperson who asked KPIX not to use his real name for fear of retribution. “We just drive around in their main travel routes, and we wait for them.”

For the last two weeks, this band of young activists has become a thorn in the side of big tech companies like Waymo and Cruise, after stopping dozens of autonomous cars in their tracks, triggering their safety system by placing traffic cones on their hoods.

Once the cars are disabled, they’re stuck until a technician arrives to reset them.

“We want more discourse about it from everybody,” John said. “We want more people to consider whether we want these on our roads and we want regulators to listen to the people who are actually affected by it.”

They believe the cars are not only unsafe but are taking away much-needed resources from more efficient public transportation.

Their protest has gone viral, garnering millions of views online, just as transportation officials are considering whether to expand driverless services in San Francisco.

In a statement, Waymo called the group’s actions “vandalism.” Cruise said their cars are providing free rides to late-night workers as well as meals to food insecure San Franciscans.

Safe Street Rebel says it only disables empty cars to make sure no one is harmed or inconvenienced.

Billy Riggs, a professor of transportation and innovation at the University of San Francisco and an advisor to tech startups, said not only are these cars fully electric, but they’re also safer; with millions of miles driven on public roads, they’ve had zero fatalities.

“We’ve reached a level where AI can actually do many of the functions in our lives better than we can with less margin for error,” he said.

Still, city officials have raised concerns about whether these cars are ready for primetime.

Both Waymo and Cruise robotaxis have made headlines recently after getting stuck in the middle of busy intersections, bringing traffic to a halt. In some cases, they’ve blocked first responders from doing their jobs.

The San Francisco Fire Department told CBS News Bay Area it logged more than 60 incidents involving these cars since May 2022.

Safe Street Rebel says it will continue its protest until there’s more accountability.

“San Franciscans are just tired of being tech’s guinea pigs,” John said.

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San Francisco activists use orange cones to thwart robotaxis