Seattle

Eno Transportation Weekly

Pittsburgh Mayor Gives 3 Reasons He Won’t Be Re-Elected

October 6, 2016

“The car was surprisingly underwhelming… I couldn’t tell when humans or robots were driving.”

Across the past year, Mayor Bill Peduto has been a leading force in Pittsburgh’s renaissance.

From 2000-2015, Pittsburgh experienced a 9% drop in population as automation, free trade agreements, and deindustrialization continued to wreak havoc on the Rust Belt economy. Simultaneously, Carnegie-Mellon University’s (CMU) robotics division experienced tremendous success in researching self-driving cars – including winning the 2007 DARPA Challenge for autonomous vehicles.

In 2014, Pittsburgh signed a first-of-its-kind memorandum of understanding (MOU) with CMU. This allowed CMU’s Urban Lab to replace the city’s antiquated traffic signs with a sophisticated network of connected traffic signals, which now allow traffic to flow about 30% more efficiently.

Uber entered a partnership with CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center in 2015 to launch the Uber Advanced Technologies Center. Within a year after the partnership, Uber hired up 40 of the university’s staff members and failed to engage the university in collaborative projects – the only benefit to the university so far was a $5.5 million donation for building a new robotics facility and research activities.

During an event at the Washington Post on September 28, the mayor lent some background on the process of implementing Uber’s self-driving car pilot project – the first of its kind – in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh’s city government has largely taken a hands-off approach to Uber’s project, which is deploying level 3 highly autonomous vehicles (HAVs) to test the company’s technology.

City officials were offered the opportunity to take test rides in Uber’s HAV without waivers during late stages of development and prior to the public launch. Yet the tech firm came under fire in the past week after it was revealed some of the beta testers of the vehicle had to waive liability in the event of injury or death.

When asked about these allegations, Mayor Peduto stated that he never had to sign a waiver and was unaware of them.

The importance of this first deployment of self-driving vehicles is not to be understated – it is an impetus for policymakers and regulators to seriously consider if, and how, they would like this technology to be used in their jurisdictions.

Moreover, this experiment is also a preview of the upcoming political battles over self-driving vehicles.

“There are three reasons I’m not reelected next year:

  1. Refugees – we’re a sanctuary city;
  2. Bike lanes – people hate bike lanes;
  3. Robot cars.”

Behind his affable demeanor, there is a sense that Peduto – a Rust Belt mayor fighting tooth and nail to modernize his town – realizes the cruel irony of his political situation.

And yet, he has continued to push Pittsburgh towards modernizing by any means possible by participating in the Smart Cities Challenge, attracting other Silicon Valley giants, and encouraging the city’s industry to benefit from a boom in self-driving car manufacturing, maintenance, and operation.

Even if he is not the one leading Pittsburgh after 2017, it is clear that Mayor Peduto believes he is putting his city on the right track. He praised the federal government’s recent release of its self-driving car guidance and shrugged at losing the Smart Cities Challenge.

“Not winning the [Smart Cities Challenge] doesn’t mean that we’re not going to become a smart city – it’ll just take longer.”

And based on the city’s proposal video, that may be true.