CPUC Will Vote On New Pilots For Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service

In 2018 the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) authorized limited pilot programs allowing permitted autonomous vehicle (AV) companies to offer free passenger service in California. In January, the CPUC initiated proceedings to address the continued testing of AVs and related issues. See CPUC Opens New AV Rulemaking Process.

This week the CPUC issued a new Proposed Decision that recommends allowing drivered and driverless AVs to collect fares from riders. In addition, the Proposed Decision would establish other new rules, program goals, and reporting requirements for the new phase of AV testing. In summary, the Proposed Decision recommends that the CPUC:

  • Create drivered and driverless AV deployment programs that allow participants to charge fares for AV passenger service. To be eligible, applicants must have an AV testing permit Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) permit.
  • Authorize shared rides (fare splitting), subject to a condition that the program include a Passenger Safety Plan to minimize safety risks, and quarterly reporting.
  • Reject proposals from local transit authorities to authorize them to separately regulate AV passenger service providers operating within their jurisdiction.
  • Retain rules prohibiting AV passenger service providers from operating in airports without the specific authorization of the airport.
  • Establish goals and reporting requirements that will allow the public to track the maturity of the industry, evaluate permit holders’ progress toward each goal, and understand permit holders’ plans for the future. Specifically, under the Proposed Decision:
    • CPUC will not establish a vehicle safety goal because the DMV regulates AV safety.
    • CPUC will adopt a goal to “protect passenger safety.” Each permit applicant must submit a Passenger Safety Plan describing policies and procedures to minimize risk for all passengers, consistent with enumerated minimum requirements. Unaccompanied minors will be prohibited, subject to consideration at a later date.
    • CPUC will adopt a goal to “expand the benefits of AV technologies to all of California’s community,” and declines to adopt a specific definition of “accessibility.”
    • CPUC will adopt an equity goal to “improve transportation options for all, particularly for disadvantaged and low-income communities” and finds that the environmental justice goal is addressed by ensuring that disadvantaged communities have preferential access to the greenhouse gas (GHG) and air quality benefits associated with the environmental and climate impacts goal.
    • CPUC will adopt an environmental and climate impacts goal to “reduce GHG emissions, criteria air pollutants, and toxic air contaminants, particularly in disadvantaged communities."
    • CPUC will not adopt goals related to city operations and planning or congestion, traffic, curb use, and public transit at this time, but will collect data that could inform those operations.
  • Establish data collection and quarterly reporting requirements, including: trip information using census tract/zip code to protect privacy; totals of complaints and incidents, causes of incidents, and settlement payments; number of wheelchair accessible AVs deployed; AV fuel type; shared versus single party rides; and charging data for plug-in electric AVs.
  • Allow participants to seek exemptions for the use of third-party contractors as AV operators, subject to requirement that operations must be functionally identical to use of employees.
  • Establish program application requirements.

Opening comments on the Proposed Decision are due November 4, 2020 and reply comments November 9, 2020. The Proposed Decision is expected to be scheduled for vote by the CPUC at its November 19, 2020 business meeting.

Contact: Lynn Haug and Ron Liebert