Self-Driving Taxi Tests Approved in NYC, but Human Operators Required

Permitting guidelines come with several key criteria for applicants

Graham Hope

March 29, 2024

3 Min Read
Traffic on New York's 7nd Avenue.
Getty Images

Self-driving vehicles are welcome to test on the congested streets of New York City – but they will have to do so with a human safety operator behind the wheel.

The city has issued new guidelines and permitting requirements for those companies who want to trial their autonomous vehicles (AVs) on public roads and the headline news is that they will not be allowed to operate on a driverless, rider-only basis.

This is in direct contrast to other cities where self-driving taxis have gained a foothold. In San Francisco and Phoenix, for example, Waymo is operating driverless ride-hailing on a commercial basis.

In a statement to announce the new permit program, New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi said: “Autonomous vehicles aren’t just coming, they’re here — they’ve been successfully operating across the country for years. 

“We are doing our due diligence to get ahead of the AV revolution. With careful regulation, we believe that they have the potential to benefit a city as complex as New York.”

The permitting guidelines come with a number of key criteria for applicants.

A significant requirement is that the operator must have testing experience elsewhere and provide detailed information on where and how that was carried out, as well as any accidents that occurred.

Related:Cruise, Waymo Get OK for Self-Driving Taxi Fleets in San Francisco

In other words, AV companies that have no prior experience will not be allowed to test in New York City.

Operators will also have to demonstrate they have a comprehensive safety plan in place and specify what their protocols will be in the event of the failure of their automated technology.

Additionally, only appropriately trained human operators will be allowed, and these will be subject to background checks and have to follow best practices as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Frequent breaks to avoid distraction or fatigue will be mandatory.

And following issues with first responders in other cities – notably San Francisco – AV companies will have to engage regularly with the New York City Police Department and Fire Department of the City of New York.

All applicants must obtain approval from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and also a permit from the New York City Department of Transport, who said its focus was to ensure AV testing “does not unduly impede traffic flow, pedestrian and cyclist movement, transit service or emergency response.”

Self-driving taxi operations have been under intense scrutiny across the United States, following an incident where a pedestrian was dragged 20 feet along a road by a Cruise AV in San Francisco last year.

Related:Uber Offers Waymo Driverless Taxis in Phoenix

The company subsequently suspended all operations, after it had its California testing permits removed for posing an “unreasonable risk to public safety.”

Cruise’s inactivity has left Waymo as the leading self-driving taxi operator in the U.S. and the firm welcomed New York City’s new initiative, and also hinted it could test there in the future. 
“We commend this important step. Waymo looks forward to continuing our partnership with Mayor [Eric] Adams and his administration as we continue to safely bring our technologies to more cities and communities across the country,” said Michelle Peacock, Waymo’s global head of public policy.

About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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