Infrastructure & Environment

Uber Moves Self-Driving Car Experiment to Arizona

by | December 23, 2016

By Trisha Thadani

Uber is moving its self-driving pilot project to Arizona, one day after the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered the autonomous vehicles off the roads in San Francisco.

"Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck," an Uber spokeswoman said Thursday afternoon in a statement. "We'll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we're excited to have the support of Governor Ducey."

After starting its San Francisco test on Dec. 14, the ride-hailing company angered the mayor and officials at the DMV by refusing to get a permit to operate its self-driving cars. Residents also flagged several incidents involving the self-driving vehicles, such as running red lights. And so, around noon on Thursday, a fleet of Uber self-driving cars passed through the South of Market area on the backs of several flatbed trucks. Commuters gawked at the fleet with their distinctive hoods, backing up traffic as the convoy slowly drove by.

In a statement Thursday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called California's regulations burdensome and said Arizona welcomes Uber's self-driving car test with "open arms."

"While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses," he said.

It is unclear what city -- or cities -- the cars are headed to.

Robbie Sherwood, a spokesman for the Phoenix mayor's office, said people reported seeing Uber's self-driving cars in the city Thursday.

"Phoenix is excited to be an Uber-friendly city, and we are excited that they are expanding here," Sherwood said.

Ducey signed an executive order in 2015 that supports the testing and operation of self-driving cars in Arizona. Google began testing its autonomous cars in several cities there this year.

Uber said last year that Tucson and the University of Arizona will become "the next home to our Uber mapping test vehicles."

California, however, has had enough for now. On Wednesday, the DMV told Uber that its cars were improperly registered, and that the autonomous vehicles could no longer operate in its hometown. The DMV said it could expedite the application process for the appropriate permits, which require reporting of accidents involving self-driving vehicles. Uber has declined to apply for a permit.

When asked Thursday if Uber plans to apply for a California permit, a spokeswoman said there are "no plans to do so today," and declined to comment further.

A DMV representative also declined to comment on Thursday's move.

For self-driving vehicles in Arizona, "there are no special permits or licensing required," according to the state's Department of Transportation. "In Arizona, autonomous vehicles have the same registration requirements as any other vehicle, and nothing in state law prevents testing autonomous vehicles."

staff writer Lizzie Johnson contributed to this report.

(c)2016 the San Francisco Chronicle

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