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Beijing Introduces Legislation for Robotaxis Amid Rising Backlash

ByYasmeeta Oon

Jul 11, 2024

Beijing Introduces Legislation for Robotaxis Amid Rising Backlash

Beijing is set to support the integration of robotaxis into ride-hailing and car rental fleets as advanced driver assistance systems gain traction in China. Draft guidelines from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Economy and Information Technology stipulate that autonomous vehicles must have drivers or safety officers on board, or be capable of remote interception, while in operation. Additionally, any traffic violations involving robotaxis must adhere to local laws and regulations.

The public has been invited to submit feedback on these guidelines, yet similar initiatives in other Chinese cities have already encountered resistance. Over 1,000 pilot cars in Wuhan, operating under Baidu Inc.’s Apollo platform, have sparked concerns among taxi drivers about potential job losses, as robotaxis are generally more cost-effective than traditional taxis. Local residents have also complained about increased traffic congestion, and one robotaxi was recently involved in an accident currently under police investigation.

Guidelines for Robotaxis in BeijingDescription
Drivers or Safety Officers OnboardAutonomous vehicles must have drivers or safety officers present, or be capable of remote control.
Traffic ViolationsAny traffic violations involving robotaxis must adhere to local laws and regulations.
Public FeedbackCitizens have been invited to provide feedback on the draft guidelines.

Beijing’s support for robotaxis coincides with Tesla Inc.’s plans to unveil its own robotaxi on August 8. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, first introduced the concept of a fully autonomous vehicle to investors in 2019. Musk made an unannounced visit to China in late April, where he reportedly secured tentative approval from government officials to deploy Tesla’s advanced driver-assistance system in China, the world’s largest auto market.

The draft guidelines from Beijing have yet to clarify whether Tesla’s automated cars will be deemed “qualified operators” once the rules are finalized and the vehicles are released in China. However, recent developments suggest a thawing in Beijing’s long-standing safety concerns over Tesla. Earlier this month, Tesla’s locally built cars were included on a provincial government’s procurement list, allowing Communist Party workers to purchase them for official use for the first time.

Despite these developments, there are several issues and concerns that need to be addressed:

  • Safety Concerns: Tesla has faced numerous lawsuits in the US over crashes involving its driver-assistance system, which is sold separately and has been a significant revenue letdown.
  • Job Losses: Taxi drivers in cities like Wuhan are worried about losing their jobs to the more cost-effective robotaxis.
  • Traffic Congestion: Residents have reported increased traffic congestion due to the pilot robotaxi programs.
  • Regulatory Uncertainty: It remains unclear whether Tesla’s robotaxis will meet Beijing’s yet-to-be-finalized guidelines for autonomous vehicles.

The introduction of robotaxis in Beijing is part of a broader trend towards increased automation in the transportation industry. However, the transition has not been without its challenges. In Wuhan, for example, the deployment of over 1,000 pilot cars under Baidu Inc.’s Apollo platform has led to significant pushback from local taxi drivers. They argue that the cheaper robotaxis threaten their livelihoods, a concern that has been echoed by drivers in other cities.

Local residents have also voiced their frustrations, particularly regarding traffic congestion. The pilot program in Wuhan has been blamed for worsening traffic jams, and a recent accident involving a robotaxi has only heightened these concerns. The incident, which is under police investigation, has raised questions about the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles.

Tesla’s position in China remains complex. The company has made significant inroads into the Chinese market, but it has also faced substantial challenges. The inclusion of Tesla’s locally built cars on a provincial government’s procurement list marks a significant milestone, suggesting that Beijing’s safety concerns over the wholly foreign-owned automaker may be easing. However, Tesla has yet to offer features that can be safely used without drivers keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

In the US, Tesla has had to recall millions of cars and has faced numerous lawsuits over crashes involving its driver-assistance system. These issues have cast a shadow over Tesla’s ambitious plans for fully autonomous vehicles. The company’s advanced driver-assistance system, which is sold separately, has not lived up to revenue expectations and continues to face scrutiny.

As Beijing moves forward with its plans to integrate robotaxis into the city’s transportation network, several key issues must be addressed. Ensuring the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles will be paramount. The draft guidelines requiring drivers or safety officers on board, or the ability to intercept remotely, are a step in the right direction. However, the public’s feedback and concerns must also be taken into account.

The impact on employment is another critical consideration. The backlash from taxi drivers in Wuhan highlights the potential for job losses, a concern that will need to be mitigated as the technology becomes more widespread. Policymakers will need to find ways to balance the benefits of automation with the need to protect existing jobs.

Traffic congestion is another challenge that will need to be addressed. The complaints from residents in Wuhan underscore the need for careful planning and coordination to ensure that robotaxi programs do not exacerbate existing traffic problems.

The regulatory framework will play a crucial role in determining the success of robotaxis in Beijing. Clear and comprehensive guidelines will be essential to ensure that autonomous vehicles operate safely and in compliance with local laws. The ongoing feedback process will be critical in shaping these regulations and addressing the concerns of all stakeholders.

Beijing’s support for the introduction of robotaxis marks a significant step forward in the adoption of advanced driver assistance systems in China. However, the transition to autonomous vehicles will not be without its challenges. Ensuring safety, addressing employment concerns, managing traffic congestion, and developing a robust regulatory framework will be key to the successful integration of robotaxis into the city’s transportation network.

As Tesla prepares to unveil its own robotaxi and other cities continue to expand their pilot programs, the experiences of Beijing, Wuhan, and other early adopters will provide valuable lessons for the future of autonomous transportation in China.

Featured Image courtesy of Automotive News

Yasmeeta Oon

Just a girl trying to break into the world of journalism, constantly on the hunt for the next big story to share.

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