California Public Utilities Commission Issues Proposal For New Autonomous Vehicle Programs

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By Rachel Rockwell

On November 19, 2020, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will vote on whether to adopt Commissioner Shiroma’s October 15, 2020, Proposed Decision Authorizing Deployment of Drivered and Driverless Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service (Rulemaking 12-12-011). The Proposed Decision follows D.18-05-043, dated June 6, 2018, in which the Commission created a framework for two pilot programs to regulate both drivered and driverless AVs providing passenger services to the public.

The October proposed decision would create two new autonomous vehicle (AV) programs that authorize fare collection: one for drivered autonomous vehicles and the other for driverless autonomous vehicles. The programs would allow AV companies to provide passenger transportation services, charge fees, and offer shared trips. The proposal would also require applicants to the existing driverless pilot program, and the new driverless deployment program, to submit Passenger Safety Plans, and receive a permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in order to participate.

The Proposed Decision also establishes four main goals that apply to both the existing pilot programs and the new deployment programs: 1) protect passenger safety; 2) expand the benefits of AB technologies to all of California’s communities; 3) improve transportation options for all, particularly for disadvantaged communities and low-income communities, and 4) reduce greenhouse gas emissions, criteria air pollutants, and toxic air contaminants, particularly in disadvantaged communities. The CPUC will collect various data to monitor each permit holder’s progress towards all four goals by requiring permit holders in both drivered and driverless deployment programs to submit detailed quarterly program reports.

With respect to the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Proposed Decision notes that on October 22, 2019, the Commission and the DMV hosted a workshop with AV providers, trade groups, advocacy groups, and public agencies to discuss the pilot programs, and subsequently ordered these groups to submit comments on the effectiveness of, and next steps for, the pilot programs, particularly with respect to the ways in which the CPUC should incorporate environmental and climate concerns into its program goals. While some groups proposed that the CPUC focus on how to encourage electric vehicle (EV) adoption by permit holders, the October proposed decision declines to implement the promotion of EV adoption as a specified goal. The Commission reiterated that the goals of the new programs are to reduce greenhouse gases, criteria pollutants, and toxic air contaminants, and these objectives are appropriately reflected without including a formal goal to promote EV adoption.

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