Relationship between Uber and Pittsburgh strains from self-driving tests

Relationship between Uber and Pittsburgh strains from self-driving tests

Author: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell/Tuesday, May 29, 2018/Categories: Pittsburgh

A tiff between Uber and their former ally, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, opened up last week as the rideshare giant announced they were closing down testing of self-driving cars in Arizona — while gearing up to restart testing in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Sacramento.

The company came under scrutiny after the fatal crash that involved one of their cars in Tempe, Arizona, in March. In the aftermath Uber voluntarily halted its testing and government entities such as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation proposed safety measures to prevent similar instances. Uber remains under investigation for the accident.

In a statement released by Uber executive Eric Meyhofer, the company said it was committed to safety and looked forward to returning its self-driving cars to the road.

This was news to Peduto, who countered that the company neglected to inform him of their plans and criticized them for what he believed was a lack of transparency.

“This is not the way to rebuild a constructive working relationship with local government, especially when facing a public safety matter," he said. “I made it clear to Uber officials after the Arizona crash that a full federal investigation had to be completed, with strong rules for keeping streets safe, before I would agree with the company to begin testing on Pittsburgh streets again.”

Peduto’s statement also outlined safety protocols such as automated vehicles not exceeding 25 miles per hour on the road and requested the company use its driver app to inform human drivers when they are exceeding speed limits.

The company never responded to Peduto’s tweets, but a spokesperson insisted that Uber had informed the appropriate parties. They declined to comment specifically on whether the company planned to comply with the requests outlined in the mayor’s statement, and only said Uber is committed to working with the city, county, and state.

Beyond the communication issues, there are those in the city such as Jonah McAllister-Erickson, the board chair for Pittsburghers for Public Transit, who are wary of what the self-driving cars could bring to the city.

"It is extremely troubling that the National Transportation Safety Board has found that Uber's self-driving car identified a hazard but failed to stop,” he wrote via email. “For far too long Pittsburghers have been unwitting test subjects for an unproven technology, being implemented without sufficient safety controls.”

McAllister-Erickson referred to the NTSB’s preliminary report which said that the vehicle failed to brake in enough time prior to hitting the pedestrian and emergency braking maneuvers were not enabled to avoid erratic driving.

Despite these observations, the report maintains there were no faults with the technology itself.

He added that Pittsburghers for Public Transit is also concerned about the environmental impacts and worried that the company would eliminate driving jobs throughout the country.

Last month, House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. John Taylor (R-Philadelphia) said he expected to address the issue of regulations for self-driving vehicles in June.

“As government we need to at least try to catch up to the technological advancements,” he said at the time.

A bill from Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), SB 427, was introduced last year but hasn’t been advanced since a public hearing.

The bill would formalize regulations for autonomous vehicles, including inspections, permitting and liability.

As for Uber overall, a public hearing on 2016’s Act 164, which gave ride sharing companies the ability to operate in Pennsylvania under the oversight of the Public Utility Commission, is scheduled for June 7 in the House Consumer Affairs Committee.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a staff writer for The PLS Reporter based in Pittsburgh. Have a question, comment or tip? Email her at