Thursday, June 20, 2024

The California Legislature should put the brakes on Senate Bill 915

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There’s an old stereotype that politicians are fickle and move capriciously with the political sentiments of the moment. This seems to be alive and well among some state lawmakers who can’t decide whether important technology issues should be addressed in Sacramento or at the city-level.

Senate Bill 915 would permit cities to effectively ban state-approved commercial service for autonomous vehicles in a municipality. The bill author, Sen. Dave Cortese of San José, has stated that cities should make the determination whether or not mobility technologies are used on their roads. But in another of his bills, the senator would reduce local control over the location and operation of power plants within their jurisdictions. It seems the senator trusts cities, but only some of the time.

Despite claims of wanting to empower cities around autonomous vehicles, the senator faces a problem: many localities don’t want to be saddled with this new work.

Cities have many priorities in providing for their citizens, whether it’s housing, education, and public safety. And many city leaders recognize that they don’t have the expertise required to make informed decisions about autonomous vehicles. The technology involves complex machinery that operates within dynamic transportation environments.  Piling more work on local agencies with reduced budgets and fewer resources takes attention away from issues that impact the quality of life for residents.

Further, SB 915 would be bad for Californians. The state was among the first to pass a law creating a pathway for autonomous vehicles to operate on public roads. Just as this technology is starting to deploy commercially and offer real mobility solutions for Californians, SB 915 proposes to limit transportation options. Instead, the state is moving backwards at a time when the vast majority of states are embracing mobility advancements.

Efficient transportation is essential to the success of workers. Most residents work outside their home cities and rely on regional travel to make a living, whether by public transit or vehicle roadways. In Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Palo Alto alone, nearly 83 percent of workers commute beyond their city limits. Fragmented transportation rules in different cities hurt travelers.

And it’s not just commuters gritting through rush hour who will be harmed by the bill. Local residents with limited mobility often rely on a variety of options to meet their mobility needs for work, healthcare, education and entertainment. The number of those with reduced capacity is substantial. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 11 percent of adult Californians have significant issues moving independently, and nearly 5 percent are blind or have significant problems seeing, even with glasses. Under this legislation, their transportation options could be reduced, further marginalizing this underserved population.

Decisions about autonomous transportation are too important to be left to piecemeal decisions in myriad cities. All Californians deserve to know that their state leaders are taking a comprehensive view of the technology and the broadest range of transportation alternatives. California agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles, Public Utilities Commission, California Highway Patrol and others have the expertise and resources to monitor autonomous vehicles, review regular performance reports and issue permits for this technology. SB 915 undermines their authority and creates a confusing patchwork of regulations.

The state legislature should put the brakes on this bad bill.

Drew Boyles is the mayor of El Segundo

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