California proposal would see autonomous vehicles able to carry passengers


The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), a state regulator whose responsibilities include passenger transportation services, has issued a proposal that would allow transportation companies using autonomous vehicles to conduct pilot programmes providing rides to members of the public.

Two types of pilot programme are covered by the proposal. The first would see companies allowed to carry passengers in autonomous vehicles with a trained driver on board. The second would let transportation providers offer passenger services using driverless autonomous vehicles, as long as these vehicles met the requirements set out by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The proposal, which would apply to autonomous vehicles permitted to operate by the DMV under the CPUC’s jurisdiction, will be voted on at a meeting of the CPUC next month.

The CPUC’s proposal is designed to work in tandem with the DMV’s autonomous vehicle regulations. Since 2 April, the DMV has been able to issue permits for fully driverless vehicle testing.

According to the CPUC’s proposed plans, companies would not initially be able to charge for rides. Firms seeking to offer autonomous vehicle pilot programmes with a trained driver on board would also need to hold a testing permit issued by the DMV.

In addition, operators would have to provide the service free of charge to passengers and submit regular reports to both the CPUC and DMV on operations, collisions and disengagements.

Transport providers seeking to offer driverless autonomous vehicle pilot programmes would need to have been operating the vehicles without a driver on California roads for at least 90 days ahead of the programme. The proposal would also prevent companies from operating from or within airports, rule out fare-splitting and require passengers to be aged 18 or over.

If the proposal is approved in May, the CPUC plans to begin work on a broader framework that would allow autonomous vehicle operators to charge for passenger services.