Organizations and Residents Call for Holistic Public Process on Driverless Vehicles

For three years, City leaders have made the decision to subsidize the development of Autonomous Vehicle Technology – through the use of our roadways as a test track, through the blushing pride with which our city advertises itself as a tech hub without any regulatory framework, through the $23 million new road to accommodate an AV shuttle, and through all the city staff time that went into PGH’s Smart Cities application. 

However, in all that time, there has not been a single public forum for residents to examine the effect of Driverless Vehicles and decide whether this technology is worth investing taxpayer resources in expanding. 

Not surprisingly, a recent $410,000 Knight Foundation grant offered to the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure to facilitate the deployment of Autonomous Vehicles in Pittsburgh has City Council, residents, and organizations voicing concerns.

When City Council was first asked to approve the Knight Foundation’s grant at the May 15th Standing Committee Meeting they decided to delay the vote. Council heard the concerns raised about the lack of community involvement and transparency about what the money would be used for. Council directed DOMI to work with PPT and the community to address concerns and improve the proposal (see our blog on this meeting for more background).

However, despite our discussions with DOMI’s Director, the proposal did not change when it was brought up again for a vote at May 29th’s meeting (see a copy of the agenda here). 

In response, more than a dozen people and representatives from organizations such as the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, Sierra Club, BikePGH, Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, Pittsburgh United, Just Harvest and Access Mob Pittsburgh came out to speak in support of a public process around Autonomous Vehicles that is transparent, inclusive, and allows residents to examine the full spectrum of impacts that driverless vehicle technology will have.

City Councilors heeded the points raised during public testimony and added their own questions about the lack of public inclusion throughout the three years that Autonomous Vehicles have been testing on public streets. Led by Councilmembers Theresa Kail-Smith, Corey O’Connor, Deborah Gross, and Darlene Harris, Council called for a Post-Agenda Hearing and a Public Hearing to gather input about the full spectrum of AV’s impact on communities, and account for all associated costs. Additionally, Council called for those who gave testimony to work together on a series of amendments to ensure a transparent process.

In the coming weeks, PPT will work collaboratively to build a process that allows residents to identify shared values about Autonomous Vehicles and decide whether this is ultimately a technology that should be deployed in our communities. We are enthusiastic that the Council recognized the significance of this opportunity and is taking measures to include the community’s voice in this important conversation about the future of mobility.

See PPT’s Press Release put out before the May 29th Standing Committee Meeting

Copies of Public Testimony

Laura Wiens, Director, Pittsburghers for Public Transit – .PDF

Ziggy Edwards, Resident of Junction Hollow – .PDF

Eric Boerer, Advocacy Director, BikePGH – .PDF

Alisa Grishman, Disability Activist, Access Mob Pittsburgh – Facebook Video

News Coverage

Ashley Murray, Post-Gazette, City Council wants amendments, public hearing before approving self-driving vehicle grant

Bob Bauder, Trib, Self-driving education grant runs into opposition at Pittsburgh City Council

Kathleen J. Davis, WESA, Pittsburgh City Council Inches Forward On Exploring Autonomous Shuttle Between Oakland And Hazelwood