News / Vancouver

Vancouver councillor wants city to prepare for driverless cars

Coun. Geoff Meggs is steering a motion asking the city's engineers to study the impact of self-driving vehicles on the city and its economy.

The Google self-driving car maneuvers through the streets of in Washington, DC May 14, 2012.

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

The Google self-driving car maneuvers through the streets of in Washington, DC May 14, 2012.

Driverless cars might seem like a futuristic dream, but a city councillor doesn’t want Vancouver to take a hands-off approach to the emerging technology.

Coun. Geoff Meggs is steering a motion slated for next Tuesday’s council meeting asking city staff to look into the impact of self-driving vehicles and how to maximize the benefits of the technology for Vancouver and the city’s economy.

Although the city’s transportation 2040 plan, which outlines a strategy for how people and goods will move in and around Vancouver for the next 30 years, was adopted only four years ago, Meggs said it fails to address driverless technology.

That’s worrying, he said, considering makers of several autonomous cars believe the vehicles will be street-ready as soon as 2020.

“It may be a powerful tool or there may be problems with it, but at the moment, it’s an empty category in a lot of our thinking,” Meggs told Metro. “We don’t want our (transportation) plan, which we just did, to be obsolete before it even starts.”

Driverless cars are already being road tested in Ontario, the United Kingdom, France, Zurich and some U.S. states.

On Thursday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau also asked the Senate to launch a study of the regulatory, policy and technical issues that need to be addressed so that Canada can smoothly and safely make the transition to self-driving vehicles.

Meggs said self-driving vehicles have the potential to make driving safer, and could help reduce the number of cars on Vancouver streets by allowing more people to share one vehicle.

But there are also challenges, he said, from road safety to liability and insurance, and cyber security, ensuring that the vehicles’ computer systems can’t be hacked.

Protecting the privacy of passengers who don’t want their whereabouts constantly tracked is also a concern, he added.

Negative impacts on the economy also need to be considered, Meggs said, if the technology could put some people out of jobs.

“We have to ask what we’re going to do with all the drivers out there who are highly skilled people,” he said. “I’m not suggesting we turn down the technology on that basis but I think there should be a thoughtful approach because the technology may be appealing for some people but it can devastating for others.”

While many of the answers are still unknown, Meggs said it’s important for the city to drive the discussion and not let potential benefits of driverless technology pass them by.  

With files from The Canadian Press.

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