What can the Government Learn from Uber and Lyft Regarding Driverless Cars?

Uber and Lyft, which are officially categorized as “transportation network companies,” or TnCs, started around 2009. At the time, their services were completely novel and, because of that, they were largely unregulated. That is, until 2013, when the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) established regulations for TNC services included driver background checks, driver training, drug and alcohol policies, minimum insurance coverage of $1 million, and company licensing requirements. It took four years and many protests and public battles to make that happen. And, in fact, comparable regulations are being developed by cities and states around the U.S. So what lessons learned can the government apply to driverless cars?

  • The Commission’s goal was to support innovation while still protecting the public safety; this philosophy applies to driverless cars as well.
  • Significant statements and feedback were collected on the record by a wide range of stakeholders; this, in my opinion, reflected the state’s interest in learning and being fair.
  • Identifying comparable industries (taxis, limos) provides a basis for new legislation; however, that legislation shouldn’t be retrofitted just because it is what is available.
  • Delayed government involvement has resulted in significant negative response from the taxi and limo industries.
  • Understanding similarities and differences from comparable industries is important (e.g., TnCs collect income, not donations, but they are providing pre-arranged rides).

Note: The Federal government still hasn’t outlined any regulations, so rules are being developed at the local levels. I find this shocking since the issues being addressed at the local level are the same everywhere. I think one of the most key lessons learned is the importance of regulating proactively at the federal level. I guess the government is still figuring that out.

About Lauren Isaac

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile. Easymile provides electric, driverless shuttles that are designed to cover short distances in multi-use environments. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 75 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk, and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.
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