Robotaxis 'do not belong in the city of Los Angeles,' lawmaker says

Robotaxi oversight is now a priority at Los Angeles City Hall.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez told Waymo and Cruise that their robotaxis are not welcome.

"The purpose of this press event is to send a very clear message about robot taxis, and say that they do not belong in the city of Los Angeles," said Soto-Martínez. The councilmember added, "We understand that they pose a threat to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists and risk putting countless of workers out of work. Let me be clear, the city of Los Angeles should not be a test subject for the tech industry."

Statewide agencies, including the DMV and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), are responsible for regulating autonomous vehicles (AVs) in California. Yet, the battle over robotaxis largely has centered around San Francisco, near Waymo's and Cruise's headquarters. As these companies expand, the proverbial battleground is expanding, too, and that's evidenced by several new statements from LA lawmakers.

During the Wednesday briefing, Soto-Martínez announced a motion with support from Councilmember Imelda Padilla. The motion calls for LA's city attorney to join San Francisco’s robotaxi lawsuit against the California Public Utilities Commission. A key point of the lawsuit is to push the CPUC to create new incident reporting rules for robotaxi companies.

Soto-Martínez cited incidents involving Waymo and Cruise AVs at the briefing, including an October 2 crash that led the DMV to suspend Cruise's permit.

"Don't let their slogan, 'don't be evil,' fool you," said Soto-Martínez, referencing Waymo's owner. "Google's robotaxi company is not one of the good guys. It's just another big tech firm trying to put profit over people."

Councilmember Padilla spoke briefly at the podium. "This has everything to do with making sure that the streets of Los Angeles are safe, and we just don't have that promise yet from this sort of technology," said Padilla. "It's also about making sure that we protect jobs, and we just don't have that promise yet from this industry," the councilmember added.

Cruise spokesperson Hannah Lindow told TechCrunch that the company "has driven more than 5M driverless miles significantly outperforming the human ridehail benchmark for safety." Lindow also pointed to a white paper, saying it showed that Cruise's EVs were involved in fewer collisions "when benchmarked against human ridehail drivers in a comparable driving environment."

Waymo spokesperson Chris Bonelli sent TechCrunch a statement that said the company "prioritizes working transparently with policymakers." The statement added that Waymo's goal is to improve road safety and support the "region’s transportation, equity and sustainability goals." It ends noting, "Based on many productive conversations we’ve had with city leaders, we’re confident we can work together to do that."

During the Q&A that followed, TechCrunch asked if any constituents had raised specific concerns about robotaxis. Soto-Martínez replied that he "would have to check," adding, "I know they voted for someone to lead on these values."

Teamsters leaders, including the labor union's vice president at-large Chris Griswold, also attended the briefing. Soto-Martínez did not say who first approached whom about robotaxis when asked by TechCrunch.

Companies including Waymo and Cruise have operated in LA for years. Waymo began mapping the city in 2019 and started testing robotaxi rides with its employees in Santa Monica around early 2023. When TechCrunch asked why the union is so focused on AVs now, Griswold said, "It's being rolled out right now and we're not sure that safety has been really addressed." He added, "Also, you have to go back to the human aspect of losing jobs." That last bit explains why Teamsters is involved.

Griswold told TechCrunch, "We see that these companies will want to take it to the next level to start doing delivery, maybe sanitation. And these are all good middle-class jobs that are going to be lost." Griswold said the union would "attack" the issue "everywhere in the United States," including in Texas and Arizona, where robotaxi companies also operate.

Just two LA lawmakers were present at the conference on Wednesday. Yet by the elevators, Councilmember Nithya Raman told TechCrunch that she "has questions about them," referring to AVs. She added, "We're working with the DOT to figure out how to better regulate them."

Last week, two other LA councilmembers — Traci Park and Bob Blumenfield — backed a motion calling for more reporting on the council's ability to regulate AVs. A total of 15 councilmembers represent the city of LA's nearly 4 million residents.

Updated on Oct 26 with a comment from Cruise.