CPUC Proposes Self-Driving Cars Can Give Free Rides with Support Drivers

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a proposal that, if adopted at its May 10, 2018 Voting Meeting, would authorize transportation companies using autonomous vehicles that are permitted to operate by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and under the CPUC’s jurisdiction to conduct pilot programs to provide rides to members of the public.

The first pilot program would allow companies to provide passenger service using autonomous vehicles with a trained driver in the vehicle. The second pilot program would allow passenger service using driverless autonomous vehicles that meet the requirements set out by the DMV, including requirements to remotely monitor the status and operation of the vehicle. In keeping with the DMV’s rules, companies participating in the pilots may not charge for the rides until further CPUC approval.

The DMV’s rules that allow for autonomous vehicle driverless testing on roads became effective on April 2, 2018. The CPUC’s proposal provides for the safety and consumer protection of passengers that accept rides from transportation entities subject to the CPUC’s jurisdiction. The proposal is designed to work in tandem with the DMV’s regulations addressing the safe operation of autonomous vehicles.

The proposal authorizes Transportation Charter-Party Carrier (TCP) permit-holders to use test autonomous vehicles to provide passenger service, as long as the TCP permit-holder also holds an “Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program Manufacturer’s Testing Permit” issued by the DMV. This would allow TCP permit-holders to provide autonomous vehicle service to customers as long as a driver is also in the vehicle. Certain other conditions would apply, including that the service must be provided free to the passenger; reports must be regularly submitted to the CPUC and the DMV on operations, collisions, and disengagements; and the entity providing passenger service must remain in compliance with the CPUC’s and the DMV’s permits at all times.

The proposal would also allow TCP permit-holders that hold a “DMV Manufacturer’s Testing Permit – Driverless Vehicles” to operate autonomous vehicles without a driver in the vehicle, subject to certain restrictions. Authorization to provide this service would be available only to TCP permit-holders with driverless autonomous vehicles that have been in DMV-permitted driverless operation on California roads for a minimum of 90 days. Entities seeking to participate in the pilot program would not be allowed to operate from or within airports; must limit the use of the vehicle to one chartering party at any given time (i.e., fare-splitting is not permitted); must ensure that the service can only be chartered by adults 18 years and older; may not accept monetary compensation for the ride; and must report to the CPUC all communications from the passenger in the vehicle to the remote operator.

Participants would also be required to continuously comply with all DMV regulations, and to report certain data to the CPUC on a monthly basis that will be publicly available.

If the proposal is approved by the CPUC’s Commissioners, the CPUC will begin work on a broader framework to allow companies to provide compensated passenger service using deployed autonomous vehicles.

The proposal is available at: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Efile/G000/M212/K643/212643106.PDF.

The CPUC regulates services and utilities, safeguards the environment, and assures Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.

There were multiple petitions to the proposal from Cruise Automation and Lyft.