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Uber pulls self-driving cars from California roads

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“The people of Pittsburgh and San Francisco didn’t sign up to be part of this grand experiment”

An Uber driverless car displayed in a garage in San Francisco.
An Uber driverless car displayed in a garage in San Francisco.
Photo by AP Photo/Eric Risberg

One week after at least two of Uber’s self-driving cars bolted through red lights, and after state regulators tried to revoke their registrations, the rideshare company announced Wednesday that it would suspend the program in California, at least for now.

And an Uber spokesperson says: “We have stopped our self-driving pilot in California, as the DMV has revoked the registrations for our self-driving cars. We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules.”

The company’s beta program was especially jarring as it also used the lives of San Francisco pedestrians and cyclists as guinea pigs.

Even San Francisco mayor Ed Lee, infamous for siding with tech dollars, publicly demanded that Uber obtain the necessary permits.

Chris Cassidy of the San Francisco Bike Coalition sent out the following missive shortly after Uber’s announcement:

“Thank you to the hundreds of San Francisco Bicycle Coalition members who spoke up to tell Uber to stop its irresponsible pilot. State and local officials heard you loud and clear, as the California DMV and Attorney General's office took action tonight to revoke the registration of Uber's autonomous vehicles.

“Autonomous vehicles will be a part of San Francisco's future, and they have the potential to reduce collisions and revolutionize the way we use and see our streets. Now we have a chance to do things the right way. We know 2017 will be the year to create the regulatory framework to realize this technology's potential. It's important that as the State of California considers revisions to those regulations, they are written such that the safety of people walking and biking is a top priority.”

While Uber’s California self-driving car operations have stopped, their Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania program continues.

“We haven’t heard anything at all,” Tim McNulty, spokesman for Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, told Curbed SF, regarding the company’s driverless car snafu. “They have been testing in neighborhoods that have a lot of bike lanes,” he added.

Oddly, except for one incident of a self-driving Uber going the wrong way on a one way road, the Pittsburgh vehicles seem to have been rather well behaved.

Unidentified vehicle #sanfrancisco #driverlesscar #selfdriving #car #sharing #economy

A photo posted by Marco Vanucci (@marcovanucci) on

“No one is aware of any illegal or dangerous maneuvers” from autonomous vehicles in that city, says Scott Bricker, a former San Francisco resident turned director of Pittsburgh’s bike coalition.

The autonomous car’s habit of suddenly “hook turning” into bike lanes seems to only happen in San Francisco, although no one is quite sure why.

Bricker even speculates that San Franciscans might just be more vigilant about watching for that kind of thing.

He adds, “The people of Pittsburgh and San Francisco walking and riding and driving our streets haven't necessarily signed up to be part of this grand experiment.”

Uber actually touts their new technology as a safety measure. Human beings aren’t really the best drivers ourselves, and San Francisco has a not insignificant problem with flesh and blood drivers plowing into cyclists and pedestrians.

It seems that the streets of San Francisco are a bit more confounding for computers than streets back East, but Uber has not responded to our queries about why that might be.