Pittsburgh City Council Inches Forward On Exploring Autonomous Shuttle Between Oakland And Hazelwood

May 29, 2019

Pittsburgh City Council gave preliminary approval Wednesday to accepting a grant related to autonomous vehicles. Councilors said they will hold off on a final approval, pending a public hearing. The vote came after nearly an hour of public comment, with many residents expressing concerns about the idea of running an autonomous shuttle from Hazelwood to Oakland.

Earlier this month, the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure received a Knight Foundation grant for more than $400,000, with the purpose of helping "demystify automated vehicles for the public, and provide transparent information to residents about their technology and testing on city streets."

"While it's great that the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure intends to demystify autonomous vehicles, that's frankly work that the AV companies themselves will be doing anyhow," said Laura Wiens, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit. "What the city has a responsibility to do is host public conversation of projected impacts." 

According to the city's Mobility and Infrastructure Director Karina Ricks, the grant money would likely be used to hire someone to lead conversations on autonomous vehicles with the public, and that the Mon-Oakland connector shuttle would be part of those conversations.

Ted Kielur of Munhall was a Port Authority bus driver for 30 years, and now works for the union that represents drivers, and he said he has safety concerns about autonomous shuttles.

"When you have an operator in the vehicle, it deters crime," he said. "Yes, there's going to be cameras, but the cameras only work after the fact. When you have a medical emergency, you want somebody right there."

Others urged councilors to make the process more transparent and allow the public to participate in decision-making. Accessibility advocate Alisa Grishman uses a wheelchair and walker to get around, and said there are a lot of details to consider.

"If my chair needs to be strapped in, who's going to do that?" she asked Council. "What if someone blind gets on and needs help finding where their seat is? How can autonomous shuttles provide the same level of service that our current buses do?"

Councilor Theresa Kail-Smith urged her peers not to apply for more grants until there are conversations with residents about autonomous vehicles.