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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Autonomous Vehicles in the United States: Understanding Why and How Cities and Regions Are Responding


This report analyzes how cities, transit agencies, and metropolitan planning organizations are responding to autonomous vehicles (AVs), both in terms of current testing and pilot services, as well as long-term implications of broad AV adoption. The report is based on 21 interviews with staff at cities, transportation agencies, MPOs, and select AV companies, as well as extensive document review. We found a broad spectrum of activity on the part of the public sector regarding AVs, as well as a taxonomy of motivations, which ranged from attempting to harness these vehicles to help boost transit ridership, to speeding the adoption of road pricing, increasing density, stimulating technology-sector economic development, generating revenue, and improving pedestrian safety. Agency responses to AV testing vary dramatically – from complex permitting processes and RFPs to intentional delay in developing policy so as not to deter AV activity. Publicly-led AV shuttles provide the largest opportunity for municipalities to shape AV testing, while private passenger AV testing and pilot services often provide inadequate information to cities to appraise their operations. A prospective future in which AVs make up a large share of travel has led some “early adopter” agencies to develop policies such as partnerships between public transit and AV services, changes to zoning codes to reduce parking requirements in exchange for AV drop-off and pick-up zones, and plans to tax AV passenger trips.

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