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

Bike and scooter rental companies are also prepping for uncertainty after a contentious contest.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Richard Nieva
Dara Kerr
2 min read

Waymo is pausing operations in San Francisco.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

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. Scooter company Bird said it's "closely monitoring what's happening in the cities we serve and will update our riders of any changes to our service." 

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.