AUSTIN (KXAN) — Amid a growing number of autonomous vehicles operating in the Texas capital, Cruise officials spoke with Austin’s downtown commission last week on the company’s continued rollout of driverless vehicle technology and issues flagged from members of the public regarding operational hiccups with the AVs.
Yariel Diaz, senior government affairs manager for Cruise, told the commission Oct. 18 company and city officials meet roughly once a month via Austin’s Autonomous Vehicles Safety Task Force to discuss concerns the city has received from residents, public safety personnel and other officials, as well as to brainstorm solutions on best practices moving forward.
Some of the data collected and shared between the two entities include incident reports the city has received involving Cruise vehicles, map extensions to the AVs’ coverage scope, increases in Cruise’s Austin fleet size and any increased speed limit authorizations for Cruise’s fleet.
Right now, Cruise offers rideshare services from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., with daytime data collection running from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Diaz added the company is beginning initial testing in north Austin and south of Lady Bird Lake for future map expansions beyond its current rideshare service operations — primarily in downtown and near the University of Texas at Austin neighborhood.
As for any “neighborhood swarms” where a high concentration of Cruise AVs operate in a given area, Diaz said those will likely reduce as Cruise’s vehicles can operate on higher speed limit corridors, allowing them to expand from lower speed limits that often concentrate near neighborhoods.
While the City of Austin does run its AV Safety Task Force — which involves staff from the Austin Fire Department, the Austin Police Department and Austin-Travis County EMS — AVs are ultimately regulated at the state level.
“State law preempts local authority of self-driving vehicles,” an Austin Transportation and Public Works Department spokesperson previously told KXAN. “[Senate Bill] 2205 made rules uniform for AVs across the state, putting regulation and oversight in the hands of the state government rather than local municipalities.”
When asked by commissioners whether Cruise would support more local authority over AV regulations through future policymaking, Diaz said it becomes nuanced when oversight is done at the city level.
“It is easiest to scale across an entire state when there’s one regulatory structure that allows you to do so,” he said. “It’s a lot more difficult when you have to go city by city by city in order to be able to open up that market.”
Cruise officials noted manual data collection or limited on-road testing is in development in the following cities nationwide:
- Los Angeles
- San Diego
- San Jose
- Washington, D.C.
- Las Vegas