Uber Taking Driverless-Car Pilot From California to Arizona

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SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Amid mounting pressure from California regulators, Uber agreed to take self-driving cars off the streets of San Francisco, saying it will move the program to Arizona instead.

“Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck,” an Uber spokesman told Courthouse News by email. “We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Gov. [Doug] Ducey.”

The statement appears to be an obvious dig at California and what Uber and many other businesses feel is the state’s overly aggressive approach to regulation, one that Uber claims could stifle the pace of innovation.

“From a technology perspective, self-driving Ubers operate in the same way as vehicles equipped with advanced driver-assist technologies, for example Tesla auto-pilot and other OEM’s traffic-jam assist,” Uber’s chief technology officer Anthony Levandowski said on a conference call last Friday. “This type of technology is commonplace on thousands of cars driving in the Bay Area today, without any DMV permit at all.”

The company has also said unnecessary regulations and uneven application of rules across the state stifle innovation and prevent progress in making transportation safer.

“This technology has the potential to dramatically improve society: reducing the number of traffic accidents, which today kill 1.3 million people a year; freeing up the 20 percent of space in cities currently used to park the world’s billion plus cars; and cutting congestion, which wastes trillions of hours every year,” Levandowski said.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles insists it is not attempting to thwart the growth of technology, but ensure that growth occurs in concert with public safety.

“I want to reassure you that the California Department of Motor Vehicles stands ready to work with you collaboratively,” DMV director Jean Shiomoto said in a letter to Uber dated Dec. 21. “This technology holds the promise of enhanced safety and mobility, but must be tested responsibly.”

The DMV has escalated threats against the online ride-hail giant – headquartered in San Francisco – threatening to sue the company unless it pulled its lineup of autonomous vehicles from the streets or obtained the proper permits.

On Thursday, Uber submitted to the pressure.

“We have stopped our self-driving pilot in California as the DMV has revoked the registrations for our self-driving cars,” the company said in a statement. “We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules.”

The DMV, which has been sending strongly worded official letters since the company announced the introduction of semi-autonomous vehicles to San Francisco streets last week, threatened to pull the registration of the 16 cars, claiming they were not properly labeled as test vehicles.

“Consistent with the department’s position that Uber’s vehicles are autonomous vehicles, the DMV has taken action to revoke the registration of 16 vehicles owned by Uber,” a letter sent to Uber this week said. “It was determined that the registrations were improperly issued for these vehicles because they were not properly marked as test vehicles.”

Other California officials lined up behind the DMV, with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee calling on the company to remove the cars from his city’s streets and the state Attorney General’s office following up with a letter threatening to pursue an injunction.

Uber, which uses smartphone applications to connect customers to independent contractors, has courted controversy with regulators in the past given its tendency to break into markets first and wrangle with regulators later.

States like Arizona, Texas and Nevada often attempt to woo businesses away from California, touting lower taxes and a looser regulatory environment. Uber appears poised to move their testing program to Phoenix, Arizona, in the immediate future.