The streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown have witnessed a new chapter in the already strained relationship between the city and automated vehicle companies. Yesterday, at approximately 9pm (local time), a man decided to jump onto the hood of a Waymo driverless taxi and shattered its windshield. The act was met with spontaneous applause from those present before escalating into a crowd gathering around the car, covering it in spray paint, breaking windows, and finally setting it on fire. Despite the timely intervention of firefighters who arrived a few minutes later, the flames had already engulfed the car completely.
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” during the attack, adding that fireworks were thrown into the car, sparking 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, a symbol of growing tension between San Francisco residents and operators of automated vehicles. The suspension of operations of rival robotaxi Cruise by the California Department of Motor Vehicles following an accident in which one of its vehicles hit and dragged a pedestrian last year has fueled this debate further. Previous episodes in which automated taxis caused chaos by blocking traffic or colliding with fire engines have only added to these concerns about safety and appropriateness in urban life.
The opposition to 24/7 operation from city officials and some residents is evident through symbolic gestures such as placing orange cones on top of vehicles’ hoods. This incident fits into a broader context where technology companies face challenges when deploying their devices in public spaces – historical precedents range from destroyed shared bicycles to episodes involving violence against electric vehicles and scooters.