San Francisco Chronicle

Driverless taxi company offering free rides in S.F.

- By Ricardo Cano Reach Ricardo Cano: ricardo.cano@sfchronicl­; Twitter: @ByRicardoC­ano

Some late-night hospitalit­y workers in San Francisco will have a new option for getting home after work — a free Cruise robotaxi.

The General Motors-backed company announced this week that it’s partnering with a San Francisco nonprofit to pilot free, driverless rides in the city to service workers from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. daily. “Dozens” of mostly restaurant workers started utilizing the free rides last week, said Amanda Lenaghan, Cruise’s head of social impact, and the company plans to expand “and ultimately be able to serve hundreds of workers.”

Cruise’s pilot arrives as city transporta­tion officials want to curtail the expansion of selfdrivin­g cars, citing a spree of incidents that have disrupted public transit and traffic on city streets.

However, the company said its pilot aims to fill transporta­tion gaps, with frequent and reliable late-night options for transit still lacking as agencies struggle to restore pre-pandemic service.

“One of the reasons that we felt this was … worth launching was that it really seemed to align with where there were very limited off-peak transporta­tion options, leaving late-night workers fewer safe or affordable ways to get to and from work,” Lenaghan said.

Service workers employed by a small group of restaurant­s and small businesses identified by the nonprofit SF New Deal will be among those initially eligible for free robotaxi rides. It’s unclear exactly how many of the city’s service workers will be served by the pilot, though Lenaghan said the company wants to expand it after the first few months and “make this something that’s ongoing.”

Simon Bertrang, executive director of SF New Deal, said in a statement that the pilot was created in response to “acute challenges” that small businesses face as they try to recover in San Francisco’s nightlife economy.

In a July survey conducted by the nonprofit, 27% of 351 small businesses in the city cited reduced public-transit and affordable transporta­tion options for their workers as one of the top challenges in recovering from the pandemic.

Transporta­tion officials have viewed autonomous vehicle companies with skepticism. They’re unsure of what role the robotaxis will fill in the city’s transporta­tion network beyond duplicatin­g rideshare services from Uber and Lyft with the added novelty of being driverless.

Bertrang expressed confidence the Cruise pilot will fill a need sorely lacking for service workers currently at the mercy of infrequent transit options.

“This pilot will enable us to advance our mission to strengthen neighborho­ods by making it easier for under-resourced small businesses to succeed,” Bertrang said.

 ?? Cruise ?? California granted Cruise the state’s first permit to offer paid rides in its autonomous vehicles without a backup driver.
Cruise California granted Cruise the state’s first permit to offer paid rides in its autonomous vehicles without a backup driver.

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