All Commentary
Sunday, December 25, 2016

San Francisco Puts an End to Uber’s Fleet of Self-Driving Cars

If self-driving cars turn out to be the future of transportation, San Francisco may have just made a huge mistake.

Innovation has no greater enemy than overzealous regulators, a painful lesson the ridesharing industry has been forced to learn over the past several years. Now, Uber finds itself at odds with local government yet again, this time over concerns regarding its fleet of self-driving cars.

The San Francisco Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the city’s Attorney General’s office put the kibosh on Uber’s rollout of self-driving cars, claiming the ridesharing company failed to obtain the proper permits needed in order to continue piloting its vehicles on city roads.

City officials said Uber is free to continue testing its autonomous cars so long as they capitulate to city demands. Uber, however, is looking for alternative cities.Uber began piloting its fleet of autonomous vehicles in the San Francisco area on December 14, initially ignoring threats and complaints from city officials. While Uber was aware that there was a specific permit required in order to launch self-driving cars within the city limits of San Francisco, the company chose not to obtain this permit because it did not believe the law applied to their current project.

The city of San Francisco defines autonomous vehicles as those having the ability to drive “without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person.” However, this definition does not technically apply to the vehicles in question.

The Volvo X90 SUVs being used in Uber’s San Francisco pilot cannot presently function without a human being in the car. Uber’s ultimate goal is to have these vehicles fully autonomous in the very near future, but as of now these cars simply do not have that capability. In fact, its San Francisco fleet requires both a driver and an engineer present in the vehicle in order to ensure complete safety when the car encounters more complicated traffic situations, such as construction zones or pedestrian crossings.

Unfortunately, after the government’s threats came to fruition, Uber decided to pull its vehicles from the road. “We have stopped our self-driving pilot in California as the DMV has revoked the registrations of our self-driving cars. We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars…” Uber said in a statement.

San Francisco officials have maintained the position that Uber is free to continue testing its fleet of autonomous cars, so long as the ridesharing company capitulates to the city’s demands. Uber, however, has shown no sign that it intends to comply with the permit requirement and is instead looking for alternative cities to take its fleet of futuristic vehicles.

Fighting Back

In our current climate of overregulation, many local governments have grown accustomed to squashing small and unconventional businesses which do not first seek permission before innovating. Sadly, many local governments succeed when it comes to enforcing these regulations and both the consumer and the innovator lose as a result. However, Uber has adopted a unique strategy when it comes to fighting overregulation.

San Francisco may have just made a huge mistake.Both Uber and Lyft have begun punishing cities eager to enforce new regulations by refusing to operate within those cities’ limits. In Austin, for example, both ridesharing companies decided to stop servicing the area after the city passed new laws regulating how ridesharing companies must conduct their screening processes for potential drivers.

While data is still being collected, there has already been evidence suggesting that Austin’s DUI rates have spiked in the wake of Uber and Lyft’s absence. However, Austin has done little to make its regulations friendlier to innovation, and thus neither Uber nor Lyft has returned to the area.

There are currently over 20 additional companies looking to launch their own version of the self-driving car. Given the popularity of this concept, it is only a matter of time before the roads and highways are filled with these smart vehicles, forcing cities to relax regulations in favor of innovation. If self-driving cars turn out to be the future of transportation, San Francisco may have just made a huge mistake.

Republished from Generation Opportunity.

  • Brittany is a writer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. She is a co-host of “The Way The World Works,” a Tuttle Twins podcast for families.