Pittsburgh mayor harsh on Uber’s plans to restart self-driving car tests |

Pittsburgh mayor harsh on Uber’s plans to restart self-driving car tests

Aaron Aupperlee
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto speaks at a press conference announcing the new UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center at 5000 Baum Ave. on Feb. 13, 2018.
In this March 20, 2018, photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, investigators examine a driverless Uber SUV that fatally struck a woman in Tempe, Ariz. The fatality prompted Uber to suspend all road-testing of such autos in the Phoenix area, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Uber self-driving car fleet parked outside their office in the Strip District before a test drive for the media on Sept. 20, 2017.
Tempe Police Department/AP
This file image made from video March 18, 2018, of a mounted camera provided by the Tempe Police Department shows an interior view moments before an Uber SUV hit a woman in Tempe, Ariz.
National Transportation Safety Board/AP
Investigators examine a driverless Uber SUV that fatally struck a woman in Tempe, Ariz. In a preliminary report on the crash released Thursday, May 24, federal investigators said the autonomous Uber SUV that struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian in March spotted the woman about six seconds before hitting her, but didn’t stop automatically because emergency braking was disabled.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s on-again-off-again relationship with Uber appears to be off again after news broke that the company planned to restart testing its fleet of self-driving cars in the city this summer.

Peduto, who wrapped up a 10-day trip to Europe on Thursday, took to Twitter to refute claims Uber made that the company and city are on the same page.

Uber’s communications team tweeted that, as recently as Friday, company officials met with the city to “discuss in detail how we could work together to return safely to self-driving operations.”

The tweet went on, saying that Uber will continue to work with the city and the mayor in the months ahead.

Peduto’s response was harsh.

“You never responded to our requirements. You never informed us of today’s announcement. You never followed up on my requirements after fatality in Arizona,” the mayor tweeted, retweeting the tweet from Uber. “Your PA lobbyist has ignored everything & instead has reached out to other electeds to cover your mistakes. Time to change!”

An internal email from Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber’s self-driving car operations, leaked Wednesday revealed that the company plans to resume its autonomous vehicle tests in Pittsburgh this summer . Meyhofer also wrote that Uber would end its operations in Tempe, Ariz., and focus on Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

Uber parked its fleets of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto and Tempe after a car operating in autonomous mode hit and killed a woman walking her bike across a Tempe street.

Uber said it told Pittsburgh officials in late April that it would be moving autonomous vehicles at its test track in Hazelwood across the city to its engineering center in the Strip District. The cars would be in manual mode, not self-driving mode.

Uber said it told the city in early May of its plans to restart testing in Pittsburgh by the end of June. The company said it would provide more specifics about its return during the meeting Friday and indicated a willingness to discuss new testing rules the mayor requested.

Peduto, in a statement released Wednesday, said the city would require self-driving cars to not exceed 25 mph in the city, regardless of the legal speed limit, and use its app to keep human drivers under the speed limit. The mayor said he made it clear to Uber that a federal investigation had to be completed and strong rules in place for keeping the city’s streets safe, before he would agree to testing.

Uber has said it won’t resume testing until federal authorities complete their investigation into the Tempe crash and the company completes an internal safety review. Meyhofer, in his email, signaled that when cars do return to the road, testing will be tweaked to focus on safety. The company said it does not believe it was testing in an unsafe or reckless manner before the Tempe crash.

It is unclear what authority Peduto has to agree to testing in the city or impose rules. City officials have said that it is up to state lawmakers to regulate the testing of autonomous vehicles. Peduto, who welcomed Uber when it first announced it would begin testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh two years ago, has said he couldn’t do anything to block Uber from operating in the city and instead tried to work with the company to make sure its work benefited everyone.

Tim McNulty, a spokesman for the mayor, confirmed Thursday that legal authority over the roads in the state and motor vehicle laws rests with state lawmakers and PennDOT. He said that it is common, however, for companies to work with local officials when operations could effect city streets or citizens.

Peduto’s relationship with Uber soured in early 2017 but showed signs of improvement by July when the mayor and Meyhofer had what was described as a positive meeting.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected], 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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