© 2022 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Contact 90.5 WESA with a story idea or news tip: news@wesa.fm

Pittsburgh Could Get Driverless Taxis In 2019, Uber CEO Says

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
Uber's self-driving vehicles activate internal controls like blinkers using sensing data similar to GPS. The cars first began ferrying passengers in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2016.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Wednesday he wants fully unmanned taxis serving paying customers by mid-2019. 

Khosrowshahi, who took over in August, mentioned the goal to Bloomberg News at the #TheYearAhead event during a global economic forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland.

He said initially the company would likely send autonomous vehicles for a small number of short trips through well-mapped areas on days with good weather. To start, that could be just 5 percent of rides, Khosrowshahi said, but over the next several years, they’d increase the number to an eventual 100 percent. When ordering a ride, customers would decide whether they want a human driver or prefer to travel driverless.

Neither the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission or the state Department of Transportation knew about Uber’s 2019 goals before Wednesday morning, according to the agencies' spokespeople.

PUC spokesperson Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said Uber is currently complying with all relevant motor vehicle laws "as far as they know of," which is required to operate a for-profit transportation service in the commonwealth.

The timeline might be new, but the idea is not.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued new guidelines in September for states grappling with how to govern autonomous cars. The report welcomes automation, noting that unmanned vehicles will “one day, handle the whole task of driving when we don’t want to or can’t do it ourselves."

Current Pennsylvania law requires "that a person is behind the wheel of a vehicle on the road," PennDOT spokesperson Rich Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick said in an email the department "supports legislation being considered in the General Assembly that would allow for higher levels of automated vehicles on roads in Pennsylvania, as well as appropriate provisions in legislation to ensure the safety of the general public, while containing sufficient flexibility to ensure that innovation can continue."

Uber first debuted autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh in September 2016. They're also currently testing in San Francisco and Phoenix.

Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
WESA will be surveying Pennsylvania candidates for federal and state office for the 2022 general election — tell us which issues are most important to you.