News / Calgary

'Can't prevent change:' Mason looking at social implications of autonomous vehicles

The City of Calgary is looking into how the municipality can pilot these vehicles

French Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition Nicolas Hulot (R) walks past the French autonomous vehicle company Navya, during a visit at the research and development centre.

STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

French Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition Nicolas Hulot (R) walks past the French autonomous vehicle company Navya, during a visit at the research and development centre.

They're coming faster than you think, and the provincial government is keeping an eye on the newest technology with bated breath.

Last week, at the Alberta Urban Municipality Associaton convention Transportation Minister Brian Mason briefly touched on the next big thing for cities: autonomous vehicles. This comes as municipalities like Calgary and Edmonton are looking to test the technology on private roads – the only place they can at this time.

For the Alberta cities to become a testing ground for the new technology on municipal roads, the province needs to be on board and give them permission.

"We're not ignoring this technology," he said. "We're actively involved in it and we're going to continue to be."

Mason said he would need to see proposals from the city before he'd consider allowing the technology testing on public streets. He also noted that the issues he's looking into are social in nature.

"We have to look broadly at the impacts," Mason said. "It's not just a matter of getting technology and having a pure technology focus; you also have to look at the social impacts ... what's the effect on our land use, how we design our transportation networks – will we need as much parking?"

Mason, who is a former bus driver, said he still has friends in the industry and knows they are very concerned about their jobs and where the industry is going.

"We can manage change, we can't prevent change," Mason said.

He said the department is actively involved in conversations both with industry and cities. But he wouldn't say what companies the province is talking with because the discussions are informal.

"I'm not sure we've had direct discussions with some of the major vehicle manufacturers that are working on the research, but certainly we've had informal conversations," Mason said.

But Coun. Shane Keating said if the province is going to get on board with autonomous vehicles, they don't really have a choice, and should probably ditch the bureaucracy.

"It's something we all have to show an interest in," said Keating. "As much as we hate to see shifts in employment and individual's jobs, that's something that's been going on for centuries."

He said tradeshows are already displaying tech that could turn heavy equipment operated by workers into autonomous affairs – and the time to get ahead of that is now.

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