Self-driving education grant runs into opposition at Pittsburgh City Council
Pittsburgh City Council will likely authorize acceptance of a $410,000 grant aimed at educating residents on the use of autonomous vehicles in the city, but members plan to provide amendments for how that should be done.
Council in a preliminary vote Wednesday agreed to accept the money disbursed over three years from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Karina Ricks, who heads the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, said up to 75 percent of the funding would be used to hire a staffer who would oversee public information programming. The rest would be used to support public meetings, including such things as videos and printed material, and to develop a work plan for how the city should address future autonomous vehicle use in Pittsburgh.
The funding has generated controversy among local activists and some city residents who have voiced concerns that it would be used as a public relations program for autonomous vehicle companies. During a council meeting Wednesday, they urged members to include the public and consider the impact of autonomous vehicles on public safety, public transportation and city jobs.
Ricks said she plans to do just that.
“I think that the quantity of public testimony tells you how important this kind of engagement is,” Ricks said. “What this grant will do is give us the staff capacity so that we can have a dedicated person who can have these conversations and continue them over the course of the three-year period. We would be unable to do that without that grant.”
Councilwoman Darlene Harris voted no, saying she was concerned about the safety of autonomous vehicle testing in the city. Council members Corey O’Connor and Deb Gross abstained. Councilwoman Erika Strassburger is on maternity leave. O’Connor said he would offer amendments before next week’s vote.
“I want to write some amendments, talk to council members and also meet with residents of the community,” he said. “I think we want to set the standard for what the outreach looks like.”
Council also voted to schedule a future public hearing and a public information gathering session, known as a post agenda, on autonomous vehicles.
“This grant money is an opportunity to have a say in the process,” Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said. “I think we need to start having some serious conversations.”
Residents and advocacy groups including Pittsburghers for Public Transit, the Sierra Club and Bike Pittsburgh, said the city has not engaged the public in a meaningful way about autonomous vehicles.
“We are here today to ask you, our city council members, to establish guidelines to ensure that these resources will be used to discuss all of the known or anticipated impacts that (autonomous vehicles) will have, (from) good middle-class jobs and the economy to the environment, pedestrian safety, data privacy and to public transit and mobility, particularly for the under served,” said Laura Wiens, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .