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California County Opposes Driverless Car Expansion

San Mateo County, Calif., is pushing back on a proposal to bring driverless taxis to the peninsula’s streets and highways, doing so first via a letter sent recently to regulators.

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(TNS) — “Depending on what is decided, we look forward to working with them,” Showalter said. “Our police look forward to working with them on their law enforcement interaction plans.”

San Mateo County is pushing back on a proposal to bring driverless taxis to the Peninsula’s streets and highways.

In a letter to regulators, the county opposed a request by robot-driven taxi service Waymo to expand its operations beyond San Francisco. Waymo and competitor Cruise have experienced safety problems in San Francisco, including several instances where driverless cars caused traffic congestion and impeded emergency responders.

“Waymo failed to communicate in any depth or detail with county staff about the specifics of Waymo’s proposal to expand its operations, largely unfettered, into San Mateo County,” read the county’s letter last week to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates autonomous vehicles throughout the state.

The company, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc, the parent company of Google, wants its driverless cars to be allowed to pick up and drop off paid passengers from northern San Mateo County down to Sunnyvale in Santa Clara County. Robotaxis were first allowed to operate in San Francisco last August.

The protest letter was signed by county attorney John Nibbelin and dated Feb. 8, the deadline to submit objections to Waymo’s expansion plans.

The Department of Motor Vehicles already granted approval for Waymo to operate on the Peninsula in January. The company is awaiting a response from the CPUC, which could come anytime within the next few weeks, before their vehicles can leave San Francisco County limits. Local governments do not currently have any decision-making power when it comes to where Waymo operates.

“Had Waymo meaningfully engaged with County Staff with respect to this matter, we would have shared that this expansion is of significant public interest and requires much closer scrutiny and stakeholder outreach than the advice letter process can provide,” the letter read.

Waymo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The county’s Board of Supervisors also unanimously approved a resolution this week in support of Senate Bill 915, which would grant local governments the authority to permit or prohibit the use of driverless cars on their roads. The bill, authored by state Sen. Dave Cortese, a San Jose Democrat, would also let cities and counties create local rules, such as capping the number of cars operating in a certain area or setting maximum fares.

San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa, who introduced the resolution, had stronger words against Waymo’s expansion plans.

It is “time to pull the plug on Waymo’s unlimited access to our highways and roads in the heart of the Silicon Valley,” he said.

“These decisions are currently being made by two state agencies that have not engaged in any meaningful way with county or city officials who understand local roads the best. We do not want to see the calamities that AVs have caused in San Francisco, including just last week when a Waymo struck a bicyclist,” Canepa added. “ We want to avoid these dangerous scenarios in Silicon Valley and we need local control to do so.”

The DMV in October told Cruise it could no longer operate its taxis in the city, describing the vehicles as an “unreasonable risk to the public.”

Last weekend, Lunar New Year revelers in San Francisco’s Chinatown destroyed and set fire to a Waymo vehicle on Jackson Street near Grant Avenue where they were celebrating.

Beyond San Mateo County, however, some local government officials are more optimistic about Waymo’s planned expansion.

In Mountain View, at the southern end of the Peninsula in Santa Clara County, and home to Waymo’s headquarters, Mayor Pat Showalter said that the local government, which has had a strong relationship with Waymo and its parent company, would support whatever decision the CPUC makes. The five commissioners are appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate.

The Mountain View mayor said that she was confident that the local government and police would be able to address safety concerns and regulation of the autonomous vehicles should they be allowed on the roads.

While she’s aware that opposition is rising against driverless vehicles among her northern neighbors, Showalter said the city would rather take a “wait and see” approach.

“I’m confident that the company, Waymo, will work through the problems,” Showalter said. “You can’t make a decision about what hasn’t happened yet.”

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