autonomous cars on city road

Driverless cars have again become a topic of conversation, as companies like Mobileye and Waymo plan to test them in NYC. City Council Members Justin Brannan, Brad Lander and Rafael Salamanca recently sponsored new legislation related to the licensing and use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) as taxis. Mayor Eric Adams has previously supported the idea.

The new legislation proposed seeks to preemptively regulate the use of autonomous vehicles as taxis. If big-tech companies go unchecked, the councilmembers say, it would adversely affect already-struggling medallion owners and drivers.

“When Uber and Lyft first came to New York, there were no laws in place to stop them from flooding our streets with tens of thousands of FHVs (for-hire vehicles) that would come to decimate the city’s taxi industry, leaving thousands of drivers and medallion owners under crushing debt,” Brannan said. “Now that we have finally saved those taxi workers from financial ruin, we need to make sure this never happens again.”

Opponents of autonomous vehicles have long argued that New York’s streets are too congested and chaotic to accommodate testing and would endanger civilians. In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio opposed former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to allow General Motors to test AV technology on city streets. By 2018 the GM initiative fizzled out, but recently other companies have been trying to gain approval.

In 2019, Optimus Ride launched driverless shuttles in the city. While the pandemic temporarily sidelined conversations, Intel’s Mobileye announced it had obtained a permit from the state in mid-2021 to test its cars on New York streets. As Crain’s reported in November, Waymo also announced a launch in the city.

In August, the city’s Department of Transportation announced new rules governing the demonstration or testing of AV technology in the five boroughs. The city implemented a permitting process and established safety protocols – including test vehicle operators that must be prepared to take control if the AV technology fails.

Source: Crain’s New York Business

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