The Texas Technology Task Force (TTTF) is a group of public and private sector experts organized to identify policy and economic issues surrounding emerging and advanced technologies. The TTTF held a meeting on June 13, 2018, intended to address three objectives, one of which was to develop a framework for coordinated automated vehicle (AV) testing in collaboration with other state agencies. Two main themes evolved from the roundtable discussion on this objective: (1) the need to gather data on the performance of AV programs; and (2) which entity should take the lead on facilitating coordinated efforts among stakeholders in the state. A consensus was not reached on either point, but it was apparent that data reporting is important to the governmental officials who participated in the discussion. The group was generally receptive to the notion of creating a central, go-to entity for AV issues, but there were wide ranging ideas on how and where this entity would be structured.
Need for Data Reporting
Caroline Love (Government and Strategic Communications Director at the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles) noted that while there are no regulations currently in place to track AV programs, companies seeking to operate in Texas have reached out to stakeholders and demonstrated a willingness to work collaboratively. Brian Moen (Assistant Director of Transportation for the City of Frisco, Texas) described a pilot program being conducted by drive.ai in Frisco and stated that he was pleased to see that drive.ai has a memorandum of understanding in place with the Denton County Transportation Authority, despite such an agreement not being required by law to operate in Texas.
Mr. Moen provided valuable insight into the struggles he sees moving forward. For example, the current AV regulations in Texas, created by the adoption of SB 2205 in 2017, are helpful in encouraging companies to come to Texas, but that he sees a need to track whether the programs are working. He suggested the need to implement reporting requirements but did not elaborate on the scope of such requirements. Mr. Moen noted the proprietary nature of some of the data collected by these companies and was clear that reporting requirements should not hinder innovation.
Mr. Moen suggested that successful AV programs can be accomplished through a public-private partnership (PPP) model like that with drive.ai. He outlined several points that he would want to see in a PPP, including the need to address congestion, sustainability, mobility, and safety. Mr. Moen stressed the importance of communication with the private company (e.g., notifying of road closures, special events, etc.).
There were various opinions regarding which entity is best suited to facilitate the mix of business and governmental interests in the AV space. Kristie Chin (Research Assistant with the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin) observed that companies seeking to work in Texas do not necessarily know who to talk to or where to go when seeking to operate in Texas.
Michael Morris (Director of Transportation at the North Central Texas Council of Governments) suggested that the TTTF and TxDOT could serve as a “fusion center,” but noted that local governments may be best suited to insulate their state partners by taking on the political and economic risks to implement AV programs. A benefit he offered to the group was that local governments may be able to implement these programs more expediently than state government. He noted that the City of Frisco and drive.ai worked to implement the pilot program in a matter of months, not years. To illustrate his point that risk assumed by local governments could be transferred to other partners over time, he offered an example of utilizing state-owned managed lanes in off peak hours to facilitate AV freight transport.
Darran Anderson (Director of Strategy and Innovation at TxDOT) suggested that there could be a task force for AV/connected vehicle issues, possibly similar to the Freight Advisory Committee currently in place at TxDOT. However, he questioned whether such a model could result in losing the ability to adopt new technologies that may come along in the future.
State Representative Celia Israel complimented the City of Frisco for “dreaming big” by taking on the risk of being at the forefront of working to implement an AV program. She pointed out that as the upcoming legislative session approaches, she and her colleagues will want to know what projects are operating under the new regulations.
Takeaways from the Roundtable
The adoption of SB 2205 has made Texas a trailblazer in the AV space, and state and local governmental entities want to continue this momentum by formulating an approach to the PPP model for AV programs. However, SB 2205 was clear that a local government or state agency may not impose AV-related regulations. Creating a central entity to coordinate efforts is laudable, but even the appearance of broadening regulatory authority could hinder the state’s position as a leader in AV implementation. Further, mandating the reporting of data to local governments could result in unintended outcomes. For example, providing data to local governments could subject that data to the Public Information Act. Given that the confidentiality of this highly complex, technical data underlying the operation of these programs is key to the success of each company’s business model, releasing it to the public (including potential competitors) could make businesses reluctant to come to Texas, which would be to the detriment of the progress established under SB 2205.