Tag Archives: driverless cars

Canary in the Coal Mine

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I was talking with a journalist recently about the inevitable death of the taxi industry. He seemed surprised by my response, that taxis aren’t going anywhere.

“They may not look the same in the future,” I said, “or function the same, but when the day comes that a retired couple from Omaha flying into SFO is required to not only possess a smartphone but also download an app, give a third-party company their personal information, agree to terms of service that allow them to track their movements and then sell that information to other companies for marketing purposes just to get a ride into The City is the day you can officially say San Francisco has lost its soul.”

We were at The Orbit Room, and while he wrote down my comment, one of those old streetcars from Vienna clattered past on Market Street.

No, taxis aren’t going anywhere. And automated vehicles are a long, long way off. In San Francisco, anyway. Unless The City invests millions of dollars in public infrastructure.

Several months ago, I drove two guys who picked my brain about which streets in The City were the worst to drive on. As soon as I found out they worked for Ford, I challenged them on the issue of self-driving cars.

“You know they’ll never work here, don’t you?” I demanded. “It’s hard enough for a human to drive in this city, much less a computer. Besides potholes the size of Lake Merritt, many streets don’t even have clearly marked lanes. How are lasers supposed to detect something that’s not there? It’s impossible, right?”

Both guys nodded.

No, taxis aren’t going anywhere.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

The Long Rocky Road to Buster’s

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Christian started it. That picture he posted on Facebook of his cab outside Buster’s triggered a hankering for a Buster’s Burger that I couldn’t satisfy with just one. Or two. Or even three. Pretty much any fare to North Beach over the past few weeks was an excuse to hit up Buster’s …

Last Friday night, after dropping at The Boardroom, I make a beeline to Columbus and Vallejo, hoping for rock-star parking at the green meter on the corner.

When I get there, an SUV is hogging the space and part of the red curb next to the fire hydrant, preventing me from squeezing in without blocking the crosswalk.

I consider giving up, but my Buster’s craving is too strong. I go around the block searching for another spot, then head to the Vesuvio taxi stand, which, fortunately, isn’t overrun by Uber drivers.
Just as I’m getting back into my cab, two guys approach me.

“Are you available?” the first one asks, opening my back door.

“Sure,” I say, thinking, Well, the fries are usually hot as hell anyway.

“We’re going to Parc 55,” the first guy tells me. “The address is — ”

“Parc 55,” I reply, cutting him off. “I got ya.”

“See, he knows where he’s going,” the other guy playfully chides his companion.

I take a right on Pacific and head down Stockton. As the cab bounces and jerks over a battle zone of potholes, buckled asphalt and metal plates, I apologize for the rough terrain.

“Does San Francisco have many streets that are in bad shape like this?”

I can’t help but laugh. “I’ve driven on dirt roads that were smoother than most of these streets.”

“Are there certain ones you intentionally avoid?”

“There are plenty of streets I’d like to avoid, but it’s almost impossible since so many are ripped to shit.”

“What are some of the streets you think are in the worst condition?” he asks.

I rattle a few off the top of my head: Van Ness, Haight Street, Broadway and Fourth Street.

“Potrero was a total shit show for like five years,” I add. “But they finally repaved it, although there’s still a stretch between Division and 17th that’s a complete suspension killer.”

When they ask me to spell out Potrero, I realize they’re writing them down.

[Keep reading…]

Bring on the Self-Driving Ubers

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The news last week that Uber had unleashed a fleet of driverless vehicles in San Francisco — much like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s recent announcement that Uber and Lyft are causing most of The City’s traffic congestion — was met by the majority of taxi drivers with a resounding: “Uh doy!”

We’ve been seeing these vehicles, as well as others outfitted with antennas and various gadgets, for months. The other day, I drove past an 18-wheeler run by OTTO, a company recently acquired by Uber that’s developing autonomous big-rigs.

Uber’s official roll out last on December 14, however, didn’t go as planned. By that afternoon, someone had photographed one of their self-driving cars almost running into an intersection on Van Ness, and a Luxor cab recorded video of another one blowing through a red light in front of SFMOMA, narrowly missing a pedestrian.

In the media feeding frenzy that followed, Uber blamed the mishaps on human error. OK. But if they can’t train humans to obey traffic laws, what does that say about their ability to create driverless cars?

Personally, I’d much rather share the road with automated vehicles than the typical inexperienced, out-of-town drivers who disrupt the flow of traffic. If Uber’s hiccup of a launch last week proved anything, it’s that the problem really is — in their own words — “the other dude in the car.”

As anyone who has spent a significant amount of time driving in San Francisco can attest, most Uber drivers are totally unpredictable, usually confused and potentially unhinged psychopaths…

Read the rest of this column, including my experience with a crazy Uber driver here.

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Don’t let the door hit you on the way out: Uber’s fleet of self-driving cars leave San Francisco… transported to Arizona, appropriately enough, on semi-autonomous semis.

This column generated some Facebook love:

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The Many Potholes on the Road to Self-Driving Cars

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“You know it’s a good ride,” Juneaux texts me after letting me know he’d gotten a ride to  Palo Alto, “when you’re using cruise control on the way back The City. 

Just as I’m about to respond with “You lucky bastard,” I get flagged by two guys on the corner of Post and Powell.

“Do you know of any strip clubs open this late?” one asks. 

Five minutes later and $50 richer, I drive away from New Century, thinking about the different services we offer as taxi drivers and how difficult it would be to replace the taxi experience with self-driving cars.

Take the four women I picked up earlier that day outside Magnolia on Haight for example. They’re going to the Marriott Maquis. 

“But first we need to see the painted ladies. Is that alright?”

That’s more than alright. A $15 fare turned into a $25 fare, since I obviously had to show them other Victorians in the neighborhood. 

How can you get service like that from a self-driving car? 

Read the rest here.

 

Self-Driving Uber Car on the Streets of San Francisco

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Spotted on Harrison between 7th and 8th, one of Uber’s self-driving cars. Notice the Pennsylvania plates. There were two people up front and two in the back. When the light turned green, the other cars took off, while the self-driving car didn’t seem to move. 

A fleet of Uber’s self-driving cars were released onto the streets of Pittsburgh last week with limited autonomous features. A driver is always in the front seat with his hands on the wheel as a technician sits shotgun. After watching multiple videos from tech sites and news sources, I can’t say I was impressed. 

After all, there’s only so much a driverless car can do:

 

Self-driving Uber cars and the future of taxis

VIDEO: Here’s my segment on the Will and Willie Show talking with Will Durst and former SF mayor Willie Brown about politics, the future of taxis and self-driving cars. I watched it all the way through without cringing too much, so that’s a good sign I guess…