Baidu robotaxis draw complaints from human drivers
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Baidu robotaxis draw complaints from human drivers

Four of 159 taxis had quit since April due to declining income

A Baidu Apollo Go robotaxi seen in Wuhan. (Photo: Reuters)
A Baidu Apollo Go robotaxi seen in Wuhan. (Photo: Reuters)

BEIJING - A fleet of more than 500 driverless taxis operated by Baidu's autonomous-driving unit in Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province, is quickly gaining customers despite vocal complaints from locals and taxi drivers, showing the complications of providing such services in an urban area.

The Apollo Go service, launched in August 2022, has become so popular in the city of 13.7 million that local taxi drivers are petitioning the municipal transport authority to limit its use.
A letter sent in late June by Wuhan Jianshe Automotive Passenger Transportation, a local operator, said four of its 159 taxis had quit since April due to declining income, according to a report by the Southern Weekly newspaper. The company accused robotaxis of "taking jobs from the grass roots".

Baidu did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. The company said in May that it reported to the police several cases related to the spreading of misinformation about Apollo Go on social media, and more than 10 suspects were arrested.

After burning cash for years, Baidu's autonomous-driving project is finally aiming to turn a profit, Wang Yunpeng, head of the company's Intelligent Driving Group, told staff in an internal letter in April.

The Beijing-based artificial intelligence (AI) giant expects Apollo Go to expand its Wuhan fleet to 1,000 vehicles and break even locally by the end of this year, Chen Zhuo, general manager of Baidu's self-driving unit, said recently.

Wuhan, a heavy investor in driverless technology, is a national pioneer in opening urban areas to robotaxi services, calling itself "the world's largest autonomous-driving operation service region".

Other cities, such as Shenzhen and Shanghai, have also allowed robotaxis in designated roads or areas, although they are not as big as in Wuhan. Baidu aims to "replicate the successful experience of Wuhan" in other cities in the future, said Chen. The company has previously said it plans to make Apollo Go available in 100 cities by the end of this decade.
While Baidu said passengers are generally happy with Apollo Go, which has achieved an average rating of 4.9 out of 5 in service quality, its fleet has also been the subject of over 300 complaints logged by Wuhan citizens on a government-run transport management website, alleging that the taxis reacted too slowly to traffic lights.

An accident earlier this week involving a Baidu robotaxi in Wuhan has also raised safety concerns. A minor collision with an electric scooter that ran a red light resulted in a scratch on an Apollo Go vehicle.

The scooter driver, who was immediately sent to the hospital, did not suffer any serious injury and is currently under medical observation, said an Apollo Go representative, who added that the company is cooperating with the police investigation.

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