Robotaxis in San Diego? Autonomous car co. Cruise testing — with drivers — in Gaslamp

Cruise offers rides to passengers in San Francisco, Phoenix and Austin. They haven't announced any plans to expand to San Diego but said testing here is helping them "get to know" the city

NBC Universal, Inc.

Cruise, the self-driving car company based out of San Francisco, was seen testing in the Gaslamp Quarter this week, so NBC 7 wanted to know if they'll be offering driverless car services in San Diego any time soon.

On Tuesday, NBC 7 spotted a Cruise car downtown. We reached out to Cruise for a statement on what the car was doing. A spokesperson responded and said, in part, “We’ve started initial testing with manually driven vehicles in San Diego as we work toward our goal of delivering driverless tech to more people, in more places.”

They also added that this is the “first step in getting to know San Diego’s driving environment.”

Cruise offers rides to passengers in San Francisco, Phoenix and Austin and, so far, hasn't committed to expansion plans in San Diego. In the three cities it operates, their cars complete more than 1,000 driverless trips with passengers each day, a spokesperson told NBC 7.

One of the company’s goals is to reduce traffic incidents that end in injury or worse. They claim that their driverless cars are safer on roads than cars being driven by humans.

".. we know that our driverless AVS can move these tragic statistics in the opposite direction," Cruise boasts on its website.

However, it has not all been positive for the company, especially in San Francisco.

Over the weekend, several videos showed what appear to be multiple Cruise cars stalled in and near an intersection in the North Beach neighborhood. It was the first day of a music festival, called Outside Lands, and the company responded to a post on X that partially blamed the festival for the issue. It read, in part, “a large festival posed wireless bandwidth constraints causing delayed connectivity to our vehicles.” 

The traffic jam happened one day after the California Public Utilities Commission voted to approve an expansion that will allow both Cruise and its competitor, Waymo, to operate throughout San Francisco at all hours. It was a controversial decision that attracted more than 200 people who signed up for public comment both against and in support of the robotaxi services.

NBC 7 spoke with Diana Cherny, who lives and works in San Francisco, about Cruise. She said she has been using it for months and has gone on more than a dozen rides.

“I was a little skeptical at first, but after riding it for over six, seven months now I’ve really enjoyed my experience,” Cherny said. “I’ve found it to be safe and reliable.”

She said it works like any rideshare app. You order the ride from your phone, then can track it as it is on the way to you.

“Once it arrives, you can walk up to it and the way to open the car is only through your phone. Someone can’t like grab the door handle,” she added.

Cherny mentioned a perk of the service is that it is less expensive than rideshare options with a driver, like Uber or Lyft. Cruise fares are calculated using the estimated time and distance of a route, but if that route takes longer than normal or is further, your cost does not change," according to Cruise’s website.

NBC 7 reached out to the California Department of Motor Vehicles for insight on permits issued to companies testing autonomous vehicles in San Diego County and across the state.

They said, in part, “Currently, 40 manufacturers have a permit to test autonomous vehicles on California public roads with the presence of a safety driver. As of August 11, 2023, there are 2,015 test vehicles and 2,932 safety drivers under permits for testing with a driver, and these vehicles can be operated on any California public road.”

The DMV also added, “The DMV is aware of one manufacturer, Qualcomm, that has a permit to test with a safety driver and is operating in San Diego County. Qualcomm has five test vehicles and 12 safety drivers on its permit.”

There is only one driverless testing and deployment permit approved for the San Diego area, specifically. According to the DMV, “On June 8, 2023, the Department of Motor Vehicles permitted Mercedes-Benz USA, to deploy its DRIVE PILOT automated driving system on certain California highways at speeds not exceeding 40 mph.”

Cruise has not made any decisions on if a move to San Diego streets is in the company’s future, but NBC 7 will share updates on the possibility as they become available.

Contact Us