A bit out of the blue, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) announced that Zoox has received the first permit to transport passengers in self-driving cars in California.
This was a surprise because, until the announcement, CPUC hadn’t even come up in any discussion of self-driving cars, at least as far as I can remember.
CPUC did announce a twin pair of self-driving car pilot programs — one program for vehicles with safety operators (“back up drivers”) and one program for fully driverless vehicles. Zoox’s permit requires safety operators. That said, CPUC pilot program applies to “companies using autonomous vehicles that…are under the CPUC’s jurisdiction…”
Which companies are under CPUC jurisdiction is not obvious. The CPUC website states:
“The essential services regulated include electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies.”
I imagine “passenger transportation companies” as something akin to a limited entry, licensed, monopoly-like services. Bascially, taxi companies. There appears to be an ongoing back-and-forth between Uber and CPUC over jurisdiction for regulating human-driven ridesharing services.
Mainly this seems like a reminder of how new self-driving cars are everywhere. Presumably, the self-driving ride-sharing services will be regulated by some government entity. Whether that entity is local or state or federal, and whether it is the Department of Transportation or the Public Utilities Commission or something else, most of that is yet to be determined.
The answers may come down to who steps forward and claims authority.