New federal guidelines pave way for self-driving cars in Boston

Google Self-Driving Car. Photo by Flickr user smoothgroover22 and used with CreativeCommons permissions.
Written by Erin Wade

By Erin Wade
BU News Service

Less than a week after Boston Mayor Martin Walsh unveiled the city’s yearlong plan to begin pursuing self-driving car policies and testing, the Obama administration announced Monday the first federal regulations on the autonomous vehicle industry.

Massachusetts does not currently have any rules on the books that would hold Boston back from testing self-driving cars on the road, city spokesperson Samantha Ormsby said, but the city will likely have an even easier time testing autonomous vehicles following the the U.S. Department of Transportation mandate that individual states “address unnecessary impediments to the safe testing, deployment, and operation” of self-driving cars.

“The city’s work on autonomous cars, and our partnership with the World Economic Forum, closely aligns with both State and Federal goals on this innovation,” Ormsby said in an email Tuesday. “We look forward to reviewing the Federal guidelines that were just released, and incorporating them into our ongoing planning process.”

Boston’s initiative is a partnership between the city, the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group. It will support the goals of Go Boston 2030, a plan adopted by the city to improve the safety, accessibility and sustainability of transportation options in Boston by 2030.

Because the city’s program for testing driverless cars is still in early stages of development, Ormsby said officials are not yet ready to announce plans for funding the project.

Prior to the city’s announcement of the initiative, the mayor held an advisory group meeting in July to explore “autonomous shared vehicle technology,” according to a press release issued by the mayor’s office. The Boston Globe reports that Lyft was involved in the meeting, but further details on attendees of the meeting were not immediately available.

Both Uber and Lyft see autonomous cars as the future of their companies, with Uber testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh and Lyft co-founder John Zimmer recently announcing that he expects the majority of Lyft vehicles to be autonomous within the next five years.

Stephanos Biliardis, a full-time Uber and Lyft driver, does not think the technology behind self-driving cars is ready to dominate the roads of Boston just yet, but after more testing, he said, “I’m all for it.”

Despite his openness to the new technology, Biliardis acknowledged that autonomous cars could put him out of a job. He quit his job a few months ago to become a full-time Uber driver, and he started picking up passengers for Lyft just two days ago.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called self-driving cars a “transformative technology” in a press release Tuesday.

“Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken,” Foxx said.

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