What Pittsburgh City Council will talk about at its meeting on self-driving cars and automation

The post-agenda meeting is 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
MJ Slaby

It’s been a very busy week for self-driving car policy.

On the national level, the first federal legislation aimed at autonomous vehicles passed the U.S. House and new guidelines for testing and deployment were unveiled.

In Pennsylvania, experts and government leaders met for the state’s first Automated Vehicle Summit in State College, Pa.

Here in Pittsburgh, Uber marked one year of allowing ride-share users to ride in self-driving cars. And City Council will discuss the self-driving car industry at a post-agenda meeting on automation Monday. Council member Corey O’Connor, who requested the meeting, stressed that its about more than self-driving cars and the discussion will include the impact of automation on the workforce.

Right now, the city can’t impose mandates on self-driving car companies who want to test and are testing in the city. The only law that applies to testing vehicles is a state requirement is that a licensed driver must be in the driver’s seat.

The post agenda is an informational meeting, and per O’Connor’s office, these are the speakers set to attend:

  • Lee Branstetter, faculty director for the Center for the Future of Work at Carnegie Mellon University
  • Gary Fedder, interim CEO of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute
  • Darrin Kelly, executive vice president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, AFL-CIO
  • Michael Ceoffe, president of Teamsters Local 249 (tentative)

The meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. Monday, and you can attend in person (in Council Chambers of the City-County Building, Downtown) or watch it here.

The Incline reached out to council members to get their thoughts — particularly on the self-driving vehicles — ahead of the the meeting. Four of the nine members responded. Here’s what they had to say:

Deborah Gross, District 7 

The questions are endless when it comes to the “brave, new world” of a new industry, said Gross, whose council area includes the Strip District where Argo AI and Uber are based. Questions range from safety and cybersecurity to jobs and neighborhood preservation.

But one conversation she wants to have specific to Pittsburgh is: “What good is your robot car? What does this do for the people of Pittsburgh?”

Gross said that it can tie back to other issues facing the city such as infrastructure, affordability, housing, childcare and food access. That’s where council can get involved on things like land use, permitting and data-sharing, she said.

She added that the data of where cars are could help make infrastructure and transportation decisions. She’s also looking for benefits for small businesses and their delivery both to their stores and to their shoppers.

The councilwoman said she’s also concerned about making sure neighborhoods still have a voice and the things they value like walkability, as companies move in and add jobs. And of course, she wants to know more about the jobs themselves.

“I’m interested to see what jobs are created for who and where,” Gross said.

Corey O’ConnorDistrict 5

O’Connor, whose district includes Hazelwood, home of Uber’s test track, said he expects the future workforce to be a large part of Monday’s discussion: What will the jobs be? What negotiations need to be made?

As Pittsburgh finds its “steel mills of the future,” many jobs in the city will be based in robotics and computer, he said. It’s on council to think about the jobs of the future and partnerships with self-driving car companies hiring in the city, O’Connor said.

“What do we want in return?” he asked. But O’Connor added that the meeting isn’t about specifics, instead it’s about being pro-active and starting a discussion.

Dan GilmanDistrict 8

The self-driving vehicle industry is “a great opportunity for Pittsburgh to create jobs and grow the economy,” Gilman told The Incline in an email.

But he said there should be a focus on making sure the industry has jobs “for the PhD to the GED.” Carnegie Mellon, where self-driving vehicle work has happened for decades, is in his district.

“This means creating an ecosystem that includes things like manufacturing components of autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh. We must also work cooperatively with the industry on issues including data, infrastructure, and ethics in AI,” he wrote.

Darlene Harris, District 1

Harris has two big concerns about self-driving cars: safety and jobs.

“We need to know specific actions the self-driving vehicle industry will take in order to keep residents safe and ensure that Pittsburgh citizens are gainfully employed,” she wrote in an email to The Incline, adding that jobs shouldn’t be taken away from residents, but more jobs are a good thing.

City council is there to protect residents and has an obligation to make sure the autonomous vehicle industry grows in a way that benefits residents, she said. Moving forward, she said she’d like to see council work with Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration to to make “them come through on the promises made to our residents when the self-driving vehicle industry first came to Pittsburgh.”

“I also think it is important to discuss previous missteps in implementing self-driving vehicles in order to learn from our mistakes,” Harris wrote.