Partnerships / Acquisitions

Pittsburgh Rethinking Uber’s Driverless Cars

“You can either put up red tape or roll out the red carpet,” Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, said in September of opening its proverbial doors to Uber’s driverless car program.

“If you want to be a 21st-century laboratory for technology, you put out the carpet.”

After three-quarters of a year living life in the lab — Pittsburgh, it seems, has lost some of the love when it comes to being the home of Uber’s driverless pilot. As it turns out, working with Uber has not gone as expected.

Among the complaints: driverless rides that were initially pitched as free actually had charges associated with them, Uber withdrew its support for a $50 million federal grant to revamp transportation that Pittsburgh was seeking and the jobs it said it would create in neighborhoods that need them most (like the one that houses its driverless car test track) haven’t materialized as of yet.

“This was an opportunity missed,” said Michael Lamb, Pittsburgh’s city controller, who has called on Uber to share the traffic data gathered by its autonomous vehicles.

It is an opportunity various municipalities are hoping to catch — as they see Uber partnerships as the potential future of urban transportation systems. But it is as an opportunity cities need to fully understand before they sign on, notes Linda Bailey, the executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Uber “is a business, and they want to make money,” she said. “With Pittsburgh, we learned we need to present the city’s needs upfront.”

For its part, Uber claims it has created 675 jobs in the greater Pittsburgh area and had helped local organizations like a women’s shelter, among other moves.

“Uber is proud to have put Pittsburgh on the self-driving map, an effort that included creating hundreds of tech jobs and investing hundreds of millions of dollars,” the company said in a statement. “We hope to continue to have a positive presence in Pittsburgh by supporting the local economy and community.”

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