Robotaxi Regulations Lag Behind Reality

As fleets of autonomous cars make their way onto city streets, the need to effectively regulate the technology is becoming more urgent.

2 minute read

June 28, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


White Waymo self-driving minivan taxi on street Mountain View, California

Waymo self-driving taxi in Mountain View, California. | Sundry Photography / Adobe Stock

Amidst the high-profile stories about Tesla’s self-driving cars, a quieter autonomous revolution is taking place on real city streets as companies like Cruise and Waymo introduce more and more robotaxis to the streets of San Francisco, Phoenix, and beyond. But unsurprisingly, writes Benjamin Schneider in MIT Technology Review, governments have been slow to catch up to the reality that robotaxis are here, now. 

“I’ve come to believe that most people, including many powerful decision makers, are not aware of how quickly this industry is advancing, or how severe the near-term labor and transportation impacts could be,” Schneider says, adding, “Legal frameworks remain woefully inadequate: in the Golden State, cities have no regulatory authority over the robotaxis that ply their streets, and police legally cannot cite them for moving violations.”

Autonomous taxis have their perks, too. “The mere fact that these vehicles are programmed to follow traffic laws and the speed limit automatically makes them feel like safer drivers than a large percentage of humans on the road.” But their rapid proliferation calls for a discussion of the broader potential repercussions of the technology. For example, “This technology could make automotive transportation so cheap and easy that people decide to make more trips by car, increasing congestion and undermining public transportation. Traffic could be made even worse, San Francisco officials fear, by the many robotaxis double-parking as they await passengers, lacking the situational awareness of where and for how long it’s appropriate to stop.” Not to mention questions of labor or equity.

For Schneider, this is a change that must be addressed quickly. “It’s high time for the public and its elected representatives to play a more active role in shaping the future of this new technology.”

Friday, June 23, 2023 in MIT Technology Review

Large blank mall building with only two cars in large parking lot.

Pennsylvania Mall Conversion Bill Passes House

If passed, the bill would promote the adaptive reuse of defunct commercial buildings.

April 18, 2024 - Central Penn Business Journal

Street scene in Greenwich Village, New York City with people walking through busy intersection and new WTC tower in background.

Planning for Accessibility: Proximity is More Important than Mobility

Accessibility-based planning minimizes the distance that people must travel to reach desired services and activities. Measured this way, increased density can provide more total benefits than increased speeds.

April 14, 2024 - Todd Litman

Wood-frame two-story rowhouses under construction.

Fair Housing Cannot Take a Back Seat to ‘Build, Baby, Build’

If we overlook fair housing principles in the plan to build US housing back better, we risk ending up right back where we started.

April 11, 2024 - James Jennings

"No 710" lawn sign on green lawn.

LA Metro Board Approves New 710 Freeway Plan

The newest plan for the 710 corridor claims it will not displace any residents.

6 hours ago - Streetsblog LA

Close-up of row of electric cars plugged into chargers at outdoor station.

Austin’s Proposed EV Charging Rules Regulate Station Locations, Size

City planners say the new rules would ensure an efficient distribution of charging infrastructure across the city and prevent an overconcentration in residential areas.

7 hours ago - Austin Monitor

Green hills with orange California poppies in bloom in foreground in Chino Hills State Park, California.

Making California State Parks More Climate-Resilient

A recently released report offers recommendations for keeping state parks healthy and robust, including acquiring additional land for conservation and recreation.

April 22 - Spectrum News 1

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.