Cruise Robotaxis Cause Austin Street Gridlock Due to ‘Heavy’ Pedestrian Traffic

Residents in Austin, Texas are fed up with Cruise-induced traffic jams—just like Californians.
Cruise autonomous robotaxis stuck in traffic jam | Austin, Texas | Hero
screengrab via Twitter (X)

Robotaxis haven’t enjoyed the best public image over the past year. From unmanned traffic jams to protestors condoning straight-up vandalism against cars, both Cruise and Waymo have had a rough start in San Francisco. So much so that the officials who granted them seemingly unfettered access to the city have reined in the driverless cars to avoid further public outcry, at least for the time being.

Over the weekend, photos and videos of yet another Cruise-induced robotaxi traffic jam spread across X (formerly Twitter). However, unlike the past incidents that have occurred largely in San Francisco, this one wasn’t in California. Instead, it was in another of the country’s tech hubs and in Tesla’s backyard: Austin, Texas.

Photos of the traffic jam can be seen on Twitter by clicking here.

About 20 Cruise-operated Chevrolet Bolts were seen stuck up and down San Gabriel Street late Saturday night. Some had shifted into the oncoming side of the two-lane street, even forcing a pair of Cruise cars to face one another in some sort of autonomous stand-off, blocking traffic even further.

The actual cause of the jam remains unknown, though it’s not uncommon for Cruise vehicles to become stuck and require human intervention—also known as a Vehicle Recovery Event. The individual who posted the photos and videos said they observed the Cruise workers trying to operate the cars via remote control to remediate the situation. A spokesperson hinted that the problem may have been related to pedestrian traffic, though the footage circulating social media does not show an abundance of people nearby during the gridlock.

“Foot and vehicle traffic on the street was heavy,” said a Cruise spokesperson in a statement to The Drive. “Our cars are designed first and foremost to prioritize safety—and that includes using caution around pedestrians.”

The spokesperson continued: “Cruise continuously monitors its fleet, and we were alerted to a crowding event on Sunday morning. We were able to address it and all vehicles departed the area autonomously. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Local news channel KVUE also outlined a separate incident that occurred earlier this week involving a Cruise vehicle stopped in an intersection. That incident caught the eye of Austin City Council Member Zohaib Qadri. Qadri called both incidents “a mess” and expressed plans to voice his safety concerns at the next mobility council meeting.

More photos and video of the Cruise jam can be seen on Twitter by clicking here.

This isn’t the first time that Cruise vehicles have drawn the ire of untrusting residents. Back in January, a driverless car was observed turning into a bike lane. And during another incident, cars were observed treating small residential neighborhoods as throughways. While legal, it caused an unnecessary nuisance to residents who told KXAN that they’d seen as many as 25 cars in a 20-minute span.

The reason, according to Cruise, is that its cars are limited to traveling at 25 mph, so its routes are limited to specific roads—like those in residential neighborhoods. But that’s not the only complaint.

The cars have also gotten stuck in crosswalks, at green lights, in intersections, and even played chicken with other Cruise vehicles. In fact, just have a look at the r/Austin subreddit and you’ll quickly see how the self-driving experiment has tested the patience of locals.

“There’s no city or county anything that is regulating them or overseeing what they are doing,” said Travis County Judge Andy Brown, who once hailed a robotaxi and noted in that earlier KXAN report that his car pulled over and stopped in the street midway through the journey. “And the fact that it’s in a testing phase but there’s not the safeguard of a human in the front concerns me.”

City council members are powerless, and the Austin Transportation and Public Works Department can’t really do anything to stop Cruise from operating on its streets. Earlier this month, the department issued a memo noting that “Texas cities cannot regulate autonomous vehicles” as their authority is preempted by state law.

But that hasn’t stopped residents from complaining about blocked intersections and interference with emergency services. The department has since reached out to equivalent bodies in Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C. for advice.

“At the end of the day, we’re not perfect,” said Michael Staples, Cruise’s General Manager for the Austin region, to KXAN. “There will be situations where the vehicle will experience something where it’s uncertain of what to do next. So when it doesn’t know what to do, it will default to its safest action, which is pulling over.”

Got a tip or question for the author? Contact them directly: