Pittsburgh Lukewarm on Uber’s Plan to Restart Autonomous Testing

(Bloomberg) -- Uber Technologies Inc. is permanently shutting down self-driving testing in Arizona as federal authorities investigate a fatal collision with a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona -- one of the first deaths from a self-driving car. The company is navigating fraught political waters as it attempts to get its autonomous vehicles back on other roads in the coming months.

Uber had already halted autonomous vehicle testing nationally as the National Transportation Safety Board investigates the March crash. Uber said on Wednesday it does not plan to return to Arizona whatever the result of the inquiry.

After the accident, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ordered Uber to stop operating on the state’s roads indefinitely, calling the incident "an unquestionable failure." It was a prompt about-face for a governor who has embraced experimental autonomous vehicle testing in his state.

Uber hopes to resume testing in Pittsburgh this summer. The company has said that in the near term it wants to keep its autonomous testing near its engineering offices to help avoid future incidents. Its self-driving group is based in its Pittsburgh. Axios first reported Uber’s plans to dismantle its self-driving testing operations in Arizona.

Pittsburgh’s mayor bristled at the news that Uber was planning to put its cars back on his city’s roads this summer. "Uber did not tell me of today’s announcement, and I was forced to learn about it through social media reports,” Mayor William Peduto wrote in a statement. “This is not the way to rebuild a constructive working relationship with local government, especially when facing a public safety matter."

Uber says it met with Pittsburgh city officials on May 18 to discuss how to get cars back on the road.

In his statement, Peduto said that Uber’s autonomous vehicles could not return to Pittsburgh until the federal investigation has been completed. He added that he wanted Uber to restrict autonomous cars to 25 miles-per-hour so that if they hit a pedestrian, the accident would be less likely to be fatal. He also asked that Uber alert its human drivers if their car exceeds the speed limit.

“We’re committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future," an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement. "In the meantime, we remain focused on our top-to-bottom safety review, having brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture.”

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