In a few years, autonomous vehicles will profoundly affect the way people move across the United States. But before adoption of AVs can shift into high gear, key stakeholders will first need to address a host of policy considerations concerning AV piloting and development—including those that govern congestion management and car owner privacy. This article provides a broad overview of regulatory policies and best practices companies should consider before entering a target municipality to pilot and develop AVs.

Municipalities: Key Stakeholders Shaping AV Public Policy

The autonomous transportation sector comprises five key stakeholder groups: insurers, regulators, legislators, car companies and drivers. Out of these groups, local regulators and legislators play an integral role in shaping AV public policy. Municipal officials sit at a unique nexus, as they must manage the transition for those negatively affected by the emergence of AVs—such as professional drivers, traffic-related law enforcement officers, insurance companies, auto repair shops, auto dealerships and hotels—while concurrently seeking to encourage economic growth and innovation. Local governments are navigating uncertainty about the extent and pace of AV development as they hope to capitalize on the economic opportunities created by driverless technology, incentivize local investment and advance public welfare.

Best Practices for AV Testing and Development in Target Municipalities

To balance the interests of key stakeholder groups, municipal officials tailor AV regulation to best address the realities of their communities. Managing congestion in Boston, Massachusetts, for example, looks very different from managing congestion in Arlington, Texas. As a result, AV providers should prepare for geographic-specific regulations.

Here are five core policy areas and ancillary best practices AV providers should keep in mind before entering a target municipality:

  1. Piloting and Testing: Trial programs to encourage the responsible testing of AVs
    • Create an AV piloting checklist
    • Consider construction of “smart corridors”
    • Improve roadside conditions for testing
    • Service large corporations
    • Launch a tourist-facing AV shuttle
  2. Congestion Management: The orchestration of traffic flows within a city or other municipality
    • Apply geofencing to urban core
    • Implement dedicated pickup and dropoff zones
    • Consider a hub and spoke transit model
    • Increase the number of flexible use lanes
    • Tax low-occupancy/“zombie” cars
  3. Curbside Management: The management of roads and curbsides from buildings to street
    • Implement flexible curb model with dynamic pricing
    • Automated payments for curbside usage
    • Increase short-term loading zones
  4. Distributional Concerns: The fair and equitable allocation of goods and services
    • Institute a “voucher” or discount system
    • Prohibit digital redlining for TNC/AV fleets
    • Mandate that AVs serve as emergency vehicles
  5. Data Governance & Sharing: Defining data usage and ensuring the privacy of user data
    • Define rules of data ownership, use and retention
    • Require some information sharing as a pre-condition
    • Establish data governance working groups
    • Test digital road rules

Within these categories, the following best practices emerge as the highest priorities in most target municipalities:

  1. Implement flexible curb model with dynamic pricing
  2. Create an AV piloting checklist
  3. Prohibit digital redlining for TNC/AV fleets
  4. Define rules of data ownership, use and retention
  5. Apply geofencing to urban core
  6. Tax low-occupancy/“zombie” cars

AV companies have a wonderful opportunity to work with local governments to shape policy, and to promote the greatest public and private benefits. As the autonomous transportation revolution accelerates, companies should proactively collaborate with target municipalities on policy efforts in the five key regulatory areas: piloting and testing, congestion management, curbside management, distributional concerns and data governance and sharing. To dive deeper and learn more about each of these core regulatory areas, view a recent report co-authored by Jeremy: “Freedom, Trust and Mobility: A Study in U.S. Autonomous Vehicle Regulatory Policy and Federalism.”

Hear John McNelis and Jeremy Strickland discuss developments in AV regulations and the benefits of testing in two different types of municipalities in their companion video: “Autonomous Transportation Regulations: What Companies Need to Know.”

*Jeremy Strickland is an AV regulatory policy researcher.

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