City traffic can get pretty congested, but hardly anyone would expect an endless stream of self-driving cars flocking to one quiet residential street. Except, that’s what’s happening to one dead-end street in San Francisco, according to a local KPIX report.
The street in question is located in San Francisco’s Richmond district on 15th Avenue. The Waymo cars purportedly come at all hours of the day, drive down the dead-end, make a multi-point turn and then return the way they came. (You can see them doing this in the KPIX video.) A short while later, another Waymo car will come and do the exact same thing. Occasionally, according to the KPIX report, there’ll be a queue of confused Waymo cars. One resident said there can be as many as 50 Waymo cars showing up during the day and that the odd parade of self-driving cars has been going on for at least six to eight weeks.
As for why the cars are doing this, it’s anyone’s guess. Residents told KPIX that they asked the drivers, but were told that the cars were “programmed” and that they were just doing their jobs. So far, no one has reported seeing one of these cars dropping off or picking up a passenger.
“We continually adjust to dynamic San Francisco road rules. In this case, cars traveling North of California on 15th Ave have to take a u-turn due to the presence of Slow Streets signage on Lake. So, the Waymo Driver was obeying the same road rules that any car is required to follow,” a Waymo spokesperson told Gizmodo via email.
Waymo, which is owned by Google parent company Alphabet, first launched its fully driverless ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona. It then expanded that program to San Francisco earlier this summer. Around the same time, the company also announced that it would stop selling its lidar sensors to other industries in favor of focusing on its self-driving cars and services.
The fact is driverless cars still haven’t won over the general public just yet. A 2020 AAA customer survey found that only 12% of drivers said they would trust a driverless vehicle while they were in it. Another 28% said they were unsure how they felt. Given that, even a relatively harmless story like this isn’t exactly encouraging. Sure, the Waymo cars in this instance are just confused—but it’s already annoying enough when your Uber or Lyft driver gets turned around. At least then you can talk to your driver. It’s less clear how navigational snafus like this will play out in a driverless future—or if this kind of preference for one random street might lead to unexpected congestion where there shouldn’t be any. In any case, Waymo said last year that it was building a whole fake city to improve testing on its self-driving cars. Incredibly comforting.
Update, 10/14/2021, 2:13 p.m.: Added statement from Waymo.