Hear Pittsburgh City Council talk self-driving cars and their impact on workers

The meeting will focus on more than just autonomous vehicles.

Uber's fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions from 2016

Uber's fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions from 2016

Jared Wickerham/ For The Incline
MJ Slaby

Pittsburgh City Council will hold a public meeting in September about all things automated — within days of the one-year anniversary of the launch of Uber’s pilot program shuttling Pittsburghers around in its self-driving cars.

Speakers are still in the works, but the hope is to have the conversation be about more than just self-driving cars, Curt Conrad, chief of staff for Council member Corey O’Connor, told The Incline.

O’Connor requested the 1:30 p.m. Sept. 18 post-agenda meeting on automation, which isn’t until then to invite speakers and to account for the council’s upcoming summer recess, Aug. 1 to 24.

A portion of the conversation will be about the impact of automation and self-driving cars on the workforce, which, Conrad said, has a ripple effect on the medical field, the hotel industry, “you name it.”

The meeting will also be a time for self-driving vehicle experts to speak in a public setting. Recently, several have been on local panels such as a Pittsburgh Entrepreneurs Forum panel in March and The Next Generation of Transportation panel last week. However, public education on the technology has been limited, with a bulk falling to PennDOT. Experts have also said that Uber’s pilot program allowing Pittsburghers to ride in autonomous vehicles doubles as a form of public awareness. 

The post-agenda has been in discussion since before Uber launched its self-driving fleet, Conrad said, and the discussion will help council prepare for possible policy changes.

Currently, the city doesn’t — and can’t — give self-driving car companies permission to be in and test in Pittsburgh. The only law that applies to testing vehicles is that a licensed driver must be in the driver’s seat.

Mayor Bill Peduto has been outspoken about his interactions and expectations with self-driving car companies, especially Uber. Earlier this year, Peduto proposed a memo of understanding urging greater social responsibility from Uber. And in June, he helped unveil the final report from the National Summit on Design & Urban Mobility. The MOU between the city and Uber is still in the works, city spokesman Tim McNulty confirmed Monday.

At the state level, officials are editing a bill that would govern self-driving vehicle tests in the state, and policy recommendations from PennDOT’s Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force were released late last year. The policies, however, couldn’t be put in place without a new state law.

Last month, lawmakers in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate also discussed bills regarding self-driving vehicles, but legislation has yet to be proposed on the federal level.