January 7, 2021

New California Regulations Pave Way for AV Progress Under Supportive Biden

Holland & Knight Transportation Blog
Danielle M. Mayer
Election Impacts on Transportation & Infrastructure with Transportation themes

San Francisco and Silicon Valley are thought of as the epicenter for all things technology, including autonomous vehicle (AV) technology. But if you are walking down the busy streets of San Francisco, you will be hard pressed to find a driverless taxi. It's because there are none. But all of that is about to change. The act of hailing a driverless taxi in California just got one step closer to reality. In addition, the incoming Biden Administration shows every indication it will support AV technology throughout the country and work to develop a uniform federal roadmap to combat the current patchwork of state regulations and provide clear guidance to all stakeholders in the AV space.

New California AV Programs

First, on Nov. 19, 2020, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates privately owned public utilities in the state, including electric power, telecommunications, natural gas and water companies, approved two new AV programs that "allow companies to provide safe passenger transportation services, charge fares, and offer shared trips to the public."

Prior to the implementation of these new regulations, companies could not charge passengers a fare for riding in an AV in California. The lack of state guidelines to run an autonomous ride service kept the focus of many companies in other markets, including Las Vegas and Arizona, where such restrictions do not exist. The recent action taken by CPUC will help change this.

The two programs are the Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Program and the Driverless Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Program. In the Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Program, a safety driver is available in the vehicle for operational assistance if needed. In the Driverless Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Program, providers are required to make available and maintain a communication link between passengers and remote vehicle operators. Importantly, these new proposed regulations lay out the ground rules for paid rides in autonomous cars — with and without backup drivers.

According to the CPUC, the regulations establish "four goals that apply to both the existing pilot programs and the new deployment programs: 1) protect passenger safety; 2) expand the benefits of AV technologies to all of California's communities; 3) improve transportation options for all, particularly for disadvantaged communities and low-income communities; and, 4) reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants, particularly in disadvantaged communities."

In order to participate in both of the programs, companies must have a California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) AV Deployment Permit and either a Charter-Party Carrier Class P permit or a Class A charter party certificate in the Drivered AV Passenger Service Pilot Program issued by the CPUC. Further, companies participating in these programs are required to submit data and quarterly reports to the CPUC "with aggregated and anonymized information about the pick-up and drop-off locations for individual trips; the availability and volume of wheelchair accessible rides; the service levels to disadvantaged communities; the fuel type used by the vehicles and electric charging; the vehicle miles traveled and passenger miles traveled; and engagement with advocates for accessibility and disadvantaged communities."

Although AV technology is still a work in progress and has a long way to go before driverless taxis will be all over California streets, the regulations are being applauded by stakeholders because it will allow companies to bring autonomous ride-hailing services to California. The programs will expand the deployment framework for autonomous vehicles in the state while keeping passenger safety as the highest priority.

Biden Administration Support

How will the Biden Administration embrace these transformative activities in California? President-Elect Joe Biden is expected to support the original AV policy, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released during his time as vice president in the Obama Administration, and Biden has promised a yearly $1 billion grant program to help cities adapt and transition to AV technology.

Funding from the federal government is critical for states such as California who are on the forefront of AV technology to usher in a new era of accessible autonomous vehicles. With the support of the Biden Administration, states can work together to provide safe, accessible AV technology to all Americans.

20 Posts in 20 Days Leading to Inauguration Day on Jan. 20

Holland & Knight's Transportation & Infrastructure Industry Sector Group is prepared to assist industry clients in adapting to the anticipated changes by the new administration. Our team is writing new blog posts each day leading up to President-Elect Joe Biden's inauguration, with insights as to likely impacts on the various segments of the industry, including Aviation, Construction, Maritime, Freight Rail, Motor Carriers, Transit and Autonomous Transportation. Bookmark our Election Impacts on Transportation & Infrastructure resource page to follow along.

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