Uber’s Pittsburgh: Governing Greenlighted, Or Asleep At Wheel?

How is Pittsburgh’s government supporting Uber in rolling out the first fleet of self-driving cars onto public streets? By staying out of the way, reports The New York Times:

There have been no public service announcements or demonstrations of the technology. Except for the mayor and one police official, no other top city leader has seen a self-driving Uber vehicle operate up close. Fire and emergency services don’t know where the Uber cars will travel.

And yet, self-driving Ubers have already been cruising around Pittsburgh on test drives for months.

While the local government has come under criticism for its hands-off approach, Bill Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh credits his “greenlight governing” style as necessary for Pittsburgh’s transformation from Rust Belt to tech hub. He stated,

It’s not our role to throw up regulations or limit companies like Uber. You can either put up red tape or roll out the red carpet. If you want to be a 21st-century laboratory for technology, you put out the carpet.

The City of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania’s governor have supported Uber by fighting down a ridesharing ban proposed by the state public utility commission in 2014 and assisting the transportation monolith in finding real estate for its test track.  It also helps that the State of Pennsylvania’s motor vehicle laws do not expressly prohibit driverless cars. Carnegie Mellon University’s ample supply of expert engineers also heavily weighed into Uber’s attraction to Pittsburgh.

Some constituents have expressed concern over their state and local governments’ apparent lack of interest in protecting their streets’ safety. As with any significantly consequential new technology, legitimate questions abound about the safety of self-driving cars. Here in Maryland, officials from the Maryland Autonomous and Connected Motor Vehicle Working Group highlighted many of their questions at last month’s MACo Summer Conference.

Given that most traffic accidents result from driver error, however, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s policy director, Roger Cohen, opined that it’s safer to support the driverless cars than not. As he told New York Times,

We’d be committing governmental malpractice if we didn’t pursue this technology.

Read the full New York Times article here.

Click here for more Conduit Street coverage on autonomous vehicles in Maryland.