A crowd torched a Waymo robotaxi in San Francisco

Vandals thoroughly obliterated a Waymo autonomous taxi in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Saturday evening to the cheers of onlookers. In an emailed statement provided to PopSci, a Waymo spokesperson confirmed the vehicle was empty when the February 10 incident began just before 9PM, and no injuries were reported. Waymo says they are also “working closely with local safety officials to respond to the situation.”

A San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) representative also told PopSci responders arrived on the scene at 9:03PM to a “reported electric autonomous vehicle on fire” in the 700 block of Jackson St., which includes a family owned musical instrument store and a pastry shop.

“SFFD responded to this like any other vehicle fire with 1 engine, 1 truck, and for this particular incident the battalion chief was on scene as well,” the representative added in their email.

Multiple social media posts over the weekend depict roughly a dozen people smashing the Waymo Jaguar I-Pace’s windows, covering it in spray paint, and eventually tossing a firework inside that set it ablaze—all to the enthusiastic encouragement of bystanders. After posting their own video recordings to X, one onlooker told Reuters that someone wearing a white hoodie “jumped on the hood of the car and literally WWE style K/O’ed the windshield & broke it.” Additional footage uploaded by street reporter “Franky Frisco” to their YouTube channel also shows emergency responders dousing the flaming EV, which reportedly caught fire after someone tossed a firecracker inside the car. Chinatown’s streets were already crowded by visitors attending Lunar New Year celebrations.

Speaking to The Autopian, Frisco says that they have covered similar autonomous vehicle situations in the past, but this weekend’s drama left the Waymo vehicle looking “completely ‘decapitated.’” Upon arrival, emergency responders reportedly even had difficulty discerning whether it was a Waymo or Zoox car. Although both companies (owned by Google and Amazon, respectively) offer driverless taxi services, neither fleet resembles one another—when they are in better condition.

[Related: Self-driving taxis blocked an ambulance and the patient died, says SFFD.]

Motive for Saturday night’s incident remains unclear. The event took place as locals continue to push back against autonomous taxi operations in the area. Since receiving a regulatory greenlight for 24/7 services in August 2023, numerous reports detail cars from companies like Waymo, Zoox, and Cruise creating traffic jams, running stop signs, and blocking emergency responders. In October 2023, a Cruise driverless taxi allegedly hit a pedestrian and dragged her 20-feet down the road. Cruise’s CEO stepped down the following month, and the General Motors-owned company subsequently issued first San Francisco, then nationwide, operational moratoriums.

Not only is this weekend’s autonomous taxi butchering aggressive, dangerous, and illegal—it’s also apparently a bit of overkill. According to previous reports, driverless car protestors around San Francisco have found that simply stacking orange traffic cones atop a taxi’s hood renders its camera navigation system useless until the obstruction is removed.