In San Francisco’s Chinatown, an act of extreme vandalism has occurred, marking a new chapter in the already tense relations between the city and automated vehicle companies. Yesterday evening, around 9pm local time, a person decided to jump on the hood of a Waymo driverless taxi and shattered its windshield. This sparked spontaneous applause among those present before quickly escalating into a crowd gathering around the vehicle, covering it in spray paint, breaking the windows and ultimately setting it on fire. Despite the timely intervention of firefighters who arrived a few minutes later, the flames had already completely engulfed the car.
The causes behind this act of vandalism remain unclear at this time. Sandy Karp, a representative for Waymo, stated that the fully autonomous car was “not carrying passengers” at the time of attack and that fireworks were thrown into it which caused the flames. San Francisco Police Department public information officer Robert Rueca confirmed that law enforcement responded “at approximately 8:50 p.m. to find the car already in flames with no reports of injuries.”
A video posted by YouTube channel FriscoLive415 shows the charred wreckage of Waymo’s electric Jaguar taxi which serves as a symbol of growing tension between San Francisco residents and operators of automated vehicles. The suspension of operations by rival robotaxi Cruise following an accident last year in which one of their vehicles hit and dragged a pedestrian has only fueled this debate further on safety and appropriateness of these services in urban life.
The opposition from city officials and some residents to these cars being operated 24/7 is evident through symbolic gestures such as placing orange cones on their hoods or blocking them from operating altogether during certain hours. This incident fits into a broader context where technology companies face challenges when deploying their devices in public spaces – historical precedents include destroying shared bicycles or episodes involving violence against electric vehicles and scooters.