Possible MOU between Pittsburgh, Uber is ‘still in talks’

Don’t expect to see the agreement while Mayor Bill Peduto’s in D.C. today.

The Incline
MJ Slaby

More than two months after first suggesting it, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has yet to reveal his proposed memo of understanding urging greater social responsibility from Uber.

In late May, TribLive reported that Peduto planned to “detail what he calls a road map to help cities benefit from self-driving technologies being developed by Uber and other companies” at an event June 14 — today — at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Those details would “form the basis” for the MOU, according to TribLive.

But Tim McNulty, spokesman for the mayor’s office, told The Incline on Tuesday that the MOU is “still in talks” and wouldn’t be included in Peduto’s remarks at the press club event. Instead, the mayor will focus “mobility issues, and ways cities can pursue transportation policies (including those on automated vehicles) that promote equity for all,” McNulty wrote in an email.

Uber stood by previous statements that the company wouldn’t comment on any proposal from Peduto until it was made available to them.

Today’s event in D.C. is the second part of the National Summit on Design & Urban Mobility that was in May in Pittsburgh. The city is partnering with the American Architectural Foundation and CityAge to discuss the final report of that summit.

Per its schedule, Peduto will give welcoming remarks. He is on a seven-person panel, along with Karina Ricks, the city’s director of mobility and infrastructure. A ZipCar representative will be on the panel, which doesn’t feature anyone from a self-driving car company, including Uber.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the mayor’s idea for an MOU with Uber in early April. The document would call for better working conditions for drivers, improved fuel efficiency and services to elderly residents, per the Journal.

The idea follows months of Peduto publicly criticizing Uber, as well as criticism for the company from Peduto’s mayoral primary opponents John Welch and Darlene Harris, as well as from organizations like Pittsburghers for Public Transit.

The mayor has acknowledged that he can’t force Uber to sign the MOU when it’s finished. Ride-sharing companies are regulated by the state, and the only law that applies to testing self-driving cars states there must be a licensed driver in the front seat. State lawmakers and stakeholders are currently revising a bill to regulate testing of self-driving cars. In late 2016, PennDOT’s Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force released its recommendations for policies related to implementing a new state law.

Even if the proposed legislation and policy recommendations were in place, they do little to give power to cities in the way Peduto’s MOU is expected to address. The role of cities was not a focus area for the task force, however the recommendations do allow for cities or municipalities to “request a temporary prohibition or restriction on the testing,” and PennDOT would determine if the prohibition/restriction was “necessary and justified,” per the policy recommendations.