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Waymo pauses self-driving car operations in San Francisco in case of election unrest

Waymo pauses self-driving car operations in San Francisco in case of election unrest


Waymo is pausing operations in San Francisco.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET’s coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

Waymo, the self-driving car arm of Google’s parent Alphabet, said Tuesday it’s temporarily pulling its fleet from San Francisco, as US cities brace for possible unrest related to the presidential election. 

Law enforcement officials have warned of the potential chaos that could come in the aftermath of the contest between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the most contentious elections in recent history. In cities around the country, businesses have boarded up windows as a safety measure.

“Out of an abundance of caution and with the safety of our team in mind, we are temporarily suspending driving operations in San Francisco on 11/3 and 11/4,” a Waymo spokeswoman said. The news was earlier reported by The Verge. 

The fleet of cars, which Waymo tests in San Francisco and other cities, have been moved to a facility in Mountain View, California, where Google is headquartered 40 miles to the south. Last month, Waymo launched a fully driverless ride-hailing program in Phoenix. A spokeswoman said the service will continue to operate, but that it will “closely monitor the situation.” 

Adding to the anxiety around the election is the possibility that results could be delayed, so businesses are prepping for multiple days of uncertainty. The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase of mail-in voting, so a larger chunk of ballots will need to be tabulated in the days following the contest. 

The tension will also affect other transportation companies as cities prepare for unrest. Portland, Oregon, which saw months of mass protests after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May, is asking bike and scooter rental companies to temporarily suspend rentals in specific parts of the city. Officials in Washington, DC, are also directing companies to pause operations around the White House.

Lyft, which operates bike rentals in both cities, said it will pause operations in DC from 8 p.m. local time Tuesday through 4 a.m. Thursday. And in Portland it’ll pause rides starting at 8:30 p.m. local time Tuesday.

“We’ll be following local guidance around the operation of our services,” said a Lyft spokeswoman.

Scooter rental company Lime said it doesn’t plan to halt operations at this time. “We plan to operate normally unless otherwise instructed by cities,” a spokesman said.

During the protests ignited by Floyd’s killing, both Uber and Lyft temporarily suspended their ride-hailing services in several cities, including New York, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Oakland, California. Scooter companies Bird and Lime also removed their scooters from specific cities at the time.

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