Cruise is testing autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in Houston ahead of a planned expansion into commercial nighttime service by the end of the year.
Driving the news: A spokesperson for the autonomous vehicle company confirmed to Axios Tuesday it is offering driverless ride-hailing service to employees and their friends and family, one of the final steps in its testing process before full commercial service.
The company had not previously publicly announced this driver-free phase of testing.
Why it matters: Like other cities with driverless Cruise vehicles, including Austin, Houston is already seeing traffic issues arise as a result.
For example: Several unoccupied Cruise vehicles disrupted traffic when they stopped at the Montrose Boulevard and Hawthorne Street intersection around 8pm Tuesday after a traffic light malfunctioned.
Houston police responded to the scene and directed traffic around the cars. A witness told Axios that officers on the scene tried tapping on the Cruise car’s window to get it to move, to no avail.
What they’re saying: “Our vehicles were stopped at an intersection where the lights were not cycling and showed all red,” a Cruise spokesperson told Axios in a statement.
“While some vehicles took a little time to safely navigate the intersection, all vehicles were able to clear the intersection autonomously. Safety is embedded in everything we do, and our vehicles are designed to adhere to traffic signals and follow rules of the road.”
In Austin, residents and first responders have reported a Cruise car rolling into a building, as well as vehicles bumping into parked cars and causing traffic delays.
As of Wednesday morning, autonomous Cruise cars in Montrose could be seen ferrying passengers along Westheimer Road. A General Motors subsidiary, the company began offering a rider wait list for prospective Houston passengers back in May, and is currently using employee riders and “select Friends and Family” to test its fleet in the area. For locals like Newton, the prospect of a prolific driverless car network in the area carries as much allure as it does uncertainty.
“I think drunk driving is a big problem,” Newton said. “I think there’s a future where driver-less stuff helps. But I’m also concerned that we’re part of an experiment. I don’t know if this stuff is ready for prime time yet.”
We are definitely part of an experiment. I don’t recall seeing any indication of when Cruise was planning to launch in Houston, but whatever it was supposed to be it’s here now. Keep your eyes open out there.
On a completely unrelated note, every time I see a story about Cruise, I get this David Gilmour song in my head:
This is not a bad thing, I like the song, it just has nothing to do with driverless cars. Draw your own conclusions about what it says about my state of mind.