Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Dan Saltzman have announced the Smart Autonomous Vehicles Initiative (SAVI). With this initiative, they directed the Portland Bureau of Transportation to develop autonomous vehicle policies and solicit proposals from companies that would test autonomous vehicles on Portland streets by the end of the year.
At the Portland Business Alliance’s April Forum Breakfast: “The Road to Autonomous Vehicles,” sponsored by Portland General Electric, Wheeler made the announcement. At a news conference after the breakfast, Wheeler and Saltzman signed a directive telling Leah Treat, director of PBOT, to launch the initiative.
“Portland’s long history of transportation innovation is about to enter a new chapter,” Wheeler said. “My goal is to have an autonomous vehicle pilot program in Portland, working for Portlanders, by the end of the year. To the inventors, investors and innovators, I’m here to say that Portland is open for business. By working with private industry, we can make sure that cutting edge technology expands access to public transit and reduces pollution and congestion.”
It’s important for autonomous vehicles to improve safety, said Saltzman, the commissioner who oversees PBOT.
“Good rules allow business and government to work together, rather than at odds,” Saltzman said. “Autonomous vehicles can make our streets safer by taking human error out of the equation. As we work towards our Vision Zero goal of ending traffic fatalities and serious injuries, the public has a right to expect that the city will help make sure that safety standards are met. Autonomous vehicles should help us meet our safety, equity, climate change and economic goals.”
In crafting this initiative, we will build on the experience and know-how we gained as a finalist in the USDOT’s Smart City challenge last year, said Treat, the director of PBOT.
“This directive sets the framework for making smart choices about emerging technology,” Treat said. “Realizing the potential of autonomous vehicles starts with making smart choices and setting clear standards that support the interests of the autonomous vehicle industry and our community. We will look to the first autonomous vehicle pilots for valuable information about the performance of AVs and how we can harness this technology to increase affordable transportation, reduce congestion and fight pollution.”
The directive tells PBOT to take four actions to advance SAVI within the next 60 days:
1. Propose for City Council and public consideration Interim Transportation System Plan (TSP) policies that ensure connected and autonomous vehicles will serve Portland’s safety, equity, climate change, and economic goals;
2. Publish a Request for Information (RFI) that invites AV testing specific to advancing safety, equity, climate, and economic goals;
3. Adopt an Interim Administrative Rule that provides a clear path to permit innovators to apply to test, pilot or deploy AVs in Portland; and
4. Develop public engagement, reporting, and evaluation plans that ensure Portland residents, workers, and businesses have opportunities to shape the “rules of the road” for AVs in Portland.
Portland General Electric (NYSE: POR), the largest electric utility in the metropolitan area, said the initiative could help grow the local economy and reduce emissions with electric vehicles.
“Evolving our transportation infrastructure is one of the great challenges, and the great opportunities, we face in the Portland region,” said Charlie Allcock, Business Development Director for Portland General Electric. “The transportation sector contributes over 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions here in Oregon. And increased traffic and congestion could put a damper on economic growth. We applaud Mayor Wheeler’s decision to make Portland a mecca for innovative solutions and new jobs, and will work closely with the city area as we move towards a smart, shared, self-driving and emission-free transportation future.”
The Portland announcement was praised by Transportation for America, a Washington, D.C-based alliance of elected, business and civic leaders from communities across the country that advocates for investment in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions.
“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to reshape our cities, and we’re excited to see that Portland is taking proactive steps to ensure that this coming transformation in urban mobility is harnessed effectively to move them closer to their economic, safety, equity and environmental goals,” said Russ Brooks, Director of Smart Cities for Transportation for America. “Portland’s commitment to engaging the public to shape this future together should be a model for other cities. And their push to work together with other local, regional and state leaders to flesh out state legislation that works for cities should be a model for the federal government as they progress toward making national policy for autonomous vehicles.”