Uber Pulls Self-Driving Cars From California Roads

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The California Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday revoked the registration for Uber’s 16 self-driving cars over a permit fracas, effectively ending the company’s pilot program in San Francisco.

One week after the test was launched, Uber sent out a statement that said: "We have stopped our self-driving pilot in California as the DMV has revoked the registrations for our self-driving cars. We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules."

At issue: a $150 permit that would allow Uber to legally give people rides in driverless cars. The company has been testing these cars around the city for a while now, and wanted to be able to use them in its ridesharing fleet.

However, the cars need the same special permit as the 20 other companies testing self-driving technology in California, regulators argued.

Uber maintains it does not need a permit because the cars are not sophisticated enough to continuously drive themselves and — although the company promotes them as "self-driving" — will always have an Uber employee behind the wheel.

The DMV said the registrations for the vehicles were improperly issued because they were not properly marked as test vehicles. It invited Uber to seek a permit so their vehicles could operate legally in California — an offer the company said it did not plan to accept.

So the DMV did not back down. 

"It was determined that the registrations were improperly issued for these vehicles because they were not properly marked as test vehicles," the DMV wrote in a statement on Wednesday. "Concurrently, the department invited Uber to seek a permit so their vehicles can operate legally in California."

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee expressed his pleasure at the DMV's enforcement.

"I have always been a strong supporter of innovation and autonomous vehicle development and testing, but only under conditions that put human, bicyclist and pedestrian safety first," he said in a statement.

Uber officials on Wednesday were scheduled to hold a closed door meeting with state regulators to hash out whether or not the company can pick up riders in driverless cars. However, all sides remained tight-lipped about all aspects of the meeting, including where and when it was taking place.

On Dec. 14, hours after rolling out its self-driving cars, Uber was bombarded with complaints: California legislators threatened legal action; dash cam footage showed an Uber driverless car running a red light; and Consumer Watchdog began pushing the San Francisco Police Department to impound the renegade cars as well as District Attorney Dennis Herrera to file criminal charges against CEO Travis Kalanick. 

Also, San Francisco also has an active bicycle culture, and some of its leaders have criticized Uber for deploying cars that make right "hook" turns across bike lanes at intersections.

The executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition said that on a test ride Uber gave him before the launch, the car twice made such turns. Brian Wiedenmeier said he told Uber officials and they promised to fix it. He said he got reports of other such turns on the pilot project's first day, but not since.

Before the San Francisco launch, the company said it told all employees sitting in the driver's seat to take the wheel for such turns. Meanwhile, it is working to improve the software.

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