ACES Bay Area Network Event: Wrap up of Qs and As

ACES Bay Area Network Event: Wrap up of Qs and As

Our March 12, 2019 meeting of the ACES* Bay Area Network on the topic of “The Real World: Where Government and AVs Intersect” allowed nearly an hour for audience questions of our three speakers – Miguel Acosta, Chief of the Autonomous Vehicles Branch of the California Department of Motor Vehicles; Cody Naylor, Program and Project Supervisor of the Transportation Analysis Section of the California Public Utilities Commission; and Jill North, Innovation Program Manager of the Department of Transportation for the City of San José. I have attempted to capture the essence of the questions and faithfully convey the gist of the answers provided. This is not meant to represent official responses by any of the agencies. Any errors are my own and I welcome your comments and corrections to

*ACES = Automated, Connected, Electric and Shared


Q:     Why doesn’t the CPUC require AVs to provide shared rides, rather than prohibit it during pilots? Why doesn’t the CPUC allow AVs to charge for rides and then collect a small tax that could be applied to provide for equitable transportation solutions? (e.g. disabled)?

A:     The CPUC is taking a cautious, incremental approach to pilot regulation and is in the process of learning. CPUC is concerned about having unrelated parties riding in a vehicle together without a driver. The reason the CPUC does not allow AV passenger pilots to charge is that the regulations for AV pilots are meant to allow for technical testing, not the testing of pricing or business models.


Q:     How long are pilots and when can things move out of pilot phase?

A:     Only one company (Zoox) has received a permit to test AVs with passengers in them. Others have applied but only one permit has been issued. There is no deadline for pilot testing. The CPUC will ultimately extend to a commercial operations framework, but that is not what is in place at this time.


Q:     Why is “heavy rain” excluded from the Operational Design Domain for the Waymo driverless AV pilot?

A:     Waymo provided the information for the Operational Design Domain and excluded heavy rain from the defined domain.


Q:     Is “disengagements” a valid measure to gauge success of a pilot?

A:     Over time, the DMV will likely refine and extend the metrics collected. Disengagements, while a good measure right now, may not ultimately be the best measure.


Q:     Since the CPUC notes that traffic congestion is one of its concerns, why doesn’t it charge for road usage?

A:     CPUC will not necessarily address congestion but it is a concern of local governments and they may wish to address congestion with road pricing schemes. Congestion pricing is not the purview of the CPUC.


Q:     What does the DMV think about delivery vehicles?

A:     The DMV had a workshop on the issue of carrying goods. Motor vehicles and vehicles with gross vehicle weight in excess of 10,000 lbs gross vehicle weight were excluded from deployments and testing.  However there is a desire for a change in those regulations. Currently, Nuro is testing the technology but this is independent of delivering goods.


Q:     What do the regulatory agencies need to see to in order to move forward on AVs?

A:     First of all, the CPUC will need to have more participants in the pilot program. There is currently only one participant in the program.

A:     Currently, the vast majority of DMV permitted pilots are in the “testing with a driver” phase. The DMV has a process for issuing permits for testing AVs without a drive but has only issued one such permit – to Waymo. And Waymo has not yet begun to test AVs in California without a driver.


Q:     What kind of training do the AV drivers need?

A:     The DMV relies on the companies that are testing to provide the driver training plan. This is because the driver training must apply to the technology in that company’s vehicle. The DMV does not dictate the training program.


Q:     Is the “miles between accidents” data set available?

A:     Yes, the public can access and mine this data. To view disengagement and collision reports visit


Q:     Are the CPUC and DMV regulating autonomous vehicles that fly?

A:     They regulate vehicles that use public roads.


Q:     Do the CPUC and DMV have jurisdiction over use of the sidewalk? What triggers CPUC and DMV regulatory oversight?

A:     If the vehicle is operating on an airport then it falls under the airport authority. If it operates only on private property then the CPUC does not regulate that.

A:     The DMV’s purview is “AVs that operate on public roads.” This does not include pedestrian and bike pathways. It does not include vehicles that are not motor vehicles. Motor vehicles cannot legally drive on the sidewalk.

A:     The Federal Aviation Administration is still defining what qualifies as a flying vehicle. If it is operating at more than a certain number of feet above a sidewalk, it’s FAA jurisdiction. At some point, it is the city’s responsibility.


Q:     What about AVs for public transit?

A:     The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, for example, might not own the vehicle but would partner with a private entity. It boils down to: who owns  it and how much control does the public agency exercise?

A:     DMV issues permits to manufacturers or companies that create the technology, not to cities.

A:     Adoption by pubic transit may be relatively slower and will likely target certain groups – e.g. focused on solutions for seniors or blind.


Q:     Regarding some accidents caused by AVs, like the death caused by the Uber in Arizona when the operator was not looking at the road, we have technology to ensure that the operator is watching. Why not require that technology?

A:     As far as AVs causing the collisions: in California the last one was in 2016 during heavy rain and local flooding. The AV maneuvered around sandbags and hit a vehicle in the next lane. Manufacturers are employing different strategies to ensure that the driver is looking at the road. The DMV has the authority to suspend or revoke a permit if the company is posing a risk to the public.

A:     With V2X (Vehicle to Infrastructure) technology, the infrastructure can potentially “talk” to the vehicles before they arrive at the scene of something like sandbags. It’s an interesting vision to consider. City of San José is currently working with Verizon to deploy small cells. Once that technology is set up, then this type of communication could be deployed.


Q:     As far as how AVs might impact transportation equity: What can be learned from the Transportation Network Companies’ (TNCs like Uber and Lyft) impact on equity?

A:     The CPUC has reporting requirements regarding requests for accessible transportation. CPUC also has a large accessible transportation working group which currently numbers about 70 members. TNCs are making best efforts to work with groups whose members are disabled. None of the companies have wheelchair accessible vehicles in testing. Most people who are driving for the TNCs do not have vehicles that can accommodate non-folding wheelchairs because it is not a high priority and it is expensive to modify standard passenger vehicles to provide this access. CPUC has been tasked with assessing a surcharge on certain trips or areas and that can potentially create a fund to support accessible services.

A:     Equity is not just about wheelchair access or access for disabled but also about things like providing transportation for low-income people who may be working “off hours” when regular transit service is not running at convenient intervals.


Q:     What do you see as far as communications infrastructure and how will you regulate 5G and DSRC?

A:     CPUC has not submitted any comments to FCC on this. One significant issue is access to utility pole infrastructure.


Q:     What are the main concerns of the cities and how do they prioritize them?

A:     Main concerns of City of San José are safety, sustainability and congestion.  Safety is the #1 priority. The City put the announcement of its AV pilot on hold following the death in Arizona. Cities often say they want more data from pilots and deployments of AVs but most transportation planners are thinking about traditional transportation planning data. However, it might be more interesting to obtain new types of data that are facilitated by connected or autonomous vehicles – e.g. if there are certain anomalies, such as frequently observed jaywalking in a certain area, this could indicate the need for changes to road infrastructure.

A:      For the CPUC, the #1 priority is safety. Not much is yet known about how AVs will function and the Commission needs to be cautious and slow about defining the rules. For example, the ability to offer shared rides in a driverless AV is not currently a priority for private companies. In general, private companies need money and they do not want to report data. The CPUC has collected an enormous amount of data from the TNCs and it is confidential. For AV testing, companies must report their data publicly and this can be an obstacle to requesting a permit and deploying a pilot. The CPUC has received more pages of comments on data than on any other issue.


Q:     How do cities handle working with small/medium enterprises? Urban Logic is a small startup that has built a platform for City of San José but the current procurement rules don’t allow the company to continue with that work.

A:     Cities need to start looking at procurement processes. It is hard for small companies to get through the procurement process and this limits opportunities for those companies and cities to work together on innovations.

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