Pittsburgh City Council hears concerns about driverless vehicles | TribLIVE.com
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Pittsburgh City Council hears concerns about driverless vehicles

Bob Bauder
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Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
Experts brief Pittsburgh City Council on July 23, 2019, on possible negative impacts of driverless vehicles in the city. Experts brief Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, on possible negative impacts of driverless vehicles in the city.

A panel of experts expressed a range of concerns Tuesday about potential negative impacts of driverless vehicles during a meeting hosted by Pittsburgh City Council.

Council members noted that the autonomous vehicle industry in Pittsburgh has created numerous jobs in the city, but they said they wanted input from all sides to help with future public policy decisions.

The input included concerns about privacy, safety, job losses and diminishing public transit options.

“To me I think it’s just a philosophical conversation we need to have,” said Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith of Westwood. “The thing that concerns me is the jobs. I think that we need to make sure we’re preserving jobs. I don’t want to see people out of work.”

Jarvis Williams, president of a union representing public transportation workers in Columbus, Ohio, said that is exactly what would happen under an autonomous commercial shuttle bus program being tested in Columbus.

“They say explicitly that a major benefit of a fully autonomous vehicle is the reduction of costs achieved by eliminating the operator and all on-board equipment necessary for human operations,” Williams said. “We have too many concerns about the introduction of autonomous vehicles in Columbus. Our first is job loss, obviously. These are good jobs that have provided a solid middle-class income for generations of blue-collar workers.”

Companies including Aurora Innovation, Uber and Argo AI and Carnegie Mellon University have been testing self-driving cars in Allegheny County, according to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation data. Uber started the trend in 2016.

Bike Pittsburgh early this year released results of a survey showing that Pittsburgh residents feel safer sharing the road with autonomous vehicles over human drivers.

Michael Skirpan, a professor on the special faculty at Carnegie Mellon University, said driverless buses would likely carry special sensors and cameras capable of recording the actions of passengers. The ownership, use and amount of data permitted to be collected are critical elements in considering driverless vehicles, he said.

“Are we going to collect the maximum amount of data, which is often what people want because maximum amount of data leads to long-term potential monetization of that data and things that they can do with it,” Skirpan said. “However, (that’s) exploiting a lot of people who are riding the vehicle and who they are mining the data from.”

Laura Wiens, executive directors of the advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit, said a proliferation of autonomous vehicles could diminish public transit and lead to decreased fare revenues and fewer bus routes. She also said drivers are necessary to help those with disabilities navigate public transit.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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