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Portland keen to get autonomous cars on its roads…and fast!

Portland is keen to be a new autonomous driving testing ground (Photo: Fotolia)

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Gareth Watson
Gareth Watson
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The city’s mayor pushes a new initiative to issue permits for testing self-driving vehicles.

Portland, Oregon – the Beaver State’s largest city is well respected when it comes to embracing future mobility. As one of the seven finalists in the Smart City Challenge, it narrowly missed out on turning its vision into a reality. Now it seems it’s ready to embrace autonomous driving too.

And Portland doesn’t hang about! The city is determined to see the deployment and testing of self-driving vehicles on its streets this year – inviting proposals in an effort to meet its goals of reducing carbon emissions and providing equitable service.

As Mayor Ted Wheeler told Bloomberg: "The technology is coming. Either the technology will happen to us, or we are going to shape the playing field."

It appears Portland plans to do the latter. Both Wheeler and Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman are directing the City’s Bureau of Transportation to go forward with a policy that would issue permits to autonomous vehicles - making Portland the latest testing ground for advancing the technology.

The agency has 60 days to develop a set of rules as to how to go about this: considering such things as the cost of a permit and methods of reporting when and where the cars will be on the road. The city itself is even likely to back projects that are developing autonomous transit vehicles, like shuttles and buses, which could connect to its existing transit infrastructure.

Mayor Wheeler told Bloomberg that he reckons two years of pilot testing will be enough to establish final rules:

"If we wait five years, my concern is we are not going to have a say in the matter at all."

It might be that Portland doesn’t want to be caught napping again – as was the case in 2014 when Uber (who themselves have recently had to ground a fleet of self-driving cars) went ahead and launched its ride-hailing service in the city without approval. As a result, they were dragged to court and suspended while a new set of rules was drafted.

Rumor has it that many big players in the autonomous driving game have shown interest in heading up to the Pacific-Northwest - yet non-disclosure agreements prevent Portland from confirming anything.

Read the full Bloomberg Tech article here.

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