San Francisco’s Chinatown was the site of an episode of extreme vandalism last night, marking a new chapter in the already strained relationship between the city and the auto companies. At around 9pm (local time), an individual decided to jump on the hood of a driverless Waymo taxi and then smashed its windshield. This act caused spontaneous applause from those present, before the situation quickly escalated: a crowd formed around the vehicle, covering it with spray, breaking the windows and, finally, setting it on fire. Despite the timely intervention of the firemen, who arrived a few minutes later, the flames had already completely engulfed the car.
The reasons for this act of vandalism remain unclear at this time. Sandy Karp, a representative of Waymo, said that “the fully autonomous car was not carrying passengers” at the time of the attack and that “a firework was thrown into the car” causing it to burst into flames. San Francisco Police Public Information Officer Robert Rueca confirmed that police responded “at approximately 8:50 p.m.” and found “the car already on fire,” adding that there were “no reports of injuries.”
A video posted by YouTube channel FriscoLive415 shows the charred wreckage of Waymo’s Jaguar electric taxi, which has become a symbol of growing tension between San Francisco residents and autonomous vehicle operators. The suspension of rival robotaki Cruise’s operations by California Department Motor Vehicles following an accident in which one of its vehicles struck and dragged a pedestrian last year is prompting debate about safety and suitability these services in urban life. Previous episodes where automated taxis have caused chaos by blocking traffic or colliding with engine fires are also contributing to this debate.
The opposition of city officials and some residents to operate these cars 24 hours a day is manifested through actions such as placing orange cones on their hoods or using other forms protest against their imposition in public spaces. This incident fits into wider context where tech companies face challenges when trying to place their devices in public spaces- historical precedents include destruction shared bicycles to violence against electric vehicles scooters like LimeBike or Bird being attacked by angry locals