Bring on the Self-Driving Ubers

The news last week that Uber had unleashed a fleet of driverless vehicles in San Francisco, much like the SFMTA’s recent announcement that Uber and Lyft are causing most of The City’s traffic congestion, was met by the majority of taxi drivers with a resounding, “Uh doy!”

We’ve been seeing these vehicles, as well as others outfitted with antennas and various gadgets, for months. The other day I drove past an eighteen-wheeler run by OTTO, a company recently acquired by Uber that’s developing autonomous big rigs.

Uber’s official roll out on Wednesday, however, didn’t go as planned. By that afternoon, someone had photographed one of their self-driving cars almost running into an intersection on Van Ness, and a Luxor cab recorded video of another one blowing through a red light in front of MOMA, narrowly missing a pedestrian.

In the media feeding frenzy that followed, Uber blamed the mishaps on human error. Okay. But if they can’t train humans to obey traffic laws, what does that say about their ability to create driverless cars?

Personally, I’d much rather share the road with automated vehicles than the typical inexperienced, out-of-town drivers who disrupt the flow of traffic. If Uber’s hiccup of a launch last week proved anything it’s that the problem really is — in their own words — “the other dude in the car.”

Most Uber drivers, as anyone who has spent a significant amount of time driving in San Francisco can attest, are totally unpredictable, usually confused, and potentially unhinged psychopaths…

A few months back, I’m doing my rounds in Union Square. After checking the taxi line at the Hilton, I take a right on Cyril Magnin and a left onto Ellis. At Powell, while the light is red, a silver Uber in front of me hits their hazards. A passenger gets out. When the light changes, the driver moves forward slowly, hesitating and stopping erratically, no doubt checking their phone to figure out what they’re supposed to do next.

Up ahead, the signal at Market is green. I really want to get through that light. So I go around the Uber.

Perhaps it was a slightly aggressive move, but I’ve been driving Fusions for most of my taxi career. After you’ve knocked off a few side mirrors, you learn how much space you need to squeeze through tight spots.

On Fourth Street, I’ve already forgotten the incident — one of many that occurs each night. I focus on finding a fare.

Since the taxi line in front of the Marriott is too long, I stay to the right and hope someone is leaving the Hotel Zelos or the Mosser.

Out of the corner of my eye, a car races up on my left, cuts in front of me and stops.

At first, I’m confused. What new form of crappy driving is this? Then I realize it’s the Uber I just circumvented.

Whatever.

I try to get around them but I’m boxed in. I can’t reverse because there are cars behind me.

As I blow my horn, a young black woman emerges from the vehicle and approaches me.

Oh shit! I messed with the wrong Uber driver!

I start to roll down my window to deescalate the situation: Hey, it’s just city driving, nothing personal.

“Roll down your window, motherfucker!” she yells.

I see a canister in her hand and instinctively roll UP my window.

She’s a few feet away when she points what I assume is pepper spray at me. But the stuff hits my window like super glue.

“Roll down your window!”

She shoots more on the glass and then sprays a thick layer on the outside door handle.

While I’m trying to make sense of what’s happening — is that Mace? — she continues to scream at me, picking up garbage off the street and throwing it at my windshield.

Finally, I’m able to reverse and escape her wrath.

As I drive to the yard to clean my cab, I have so many questions… What would’ve happened if she’d hit me with the Mace? Why was she carrying Mace in the first place? Don’t you need a permit to carry Mace? And what was the deal with spraying the door handle like that?

It’s obvious she’s either used Mace before, or has been waiting desperately for the opportunity.

More than anything, I wonder when Uber is going to perfect their driverless technology. Cause, seriously… Bring on the robots already.