SF's Proposed ban on delivery robots dropped in favor of permit program

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN)-- Legislation that would have banned delivery robots from San Francisco's sidewalks has been reframed as a permitting and regulatory scheme and sent back to committee for further review.

Supervisor Norman Yee today introduced the changes to his legislation after hearings in which the legislation drew strong support from pedestrian advocacy groups but opposition from business groups including the
San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

"I resolutely believe that our sidewalks should be prioritized for humans, which seems like a ridiculous argument for us to be having but this is where we find ourselves here today," Yee said. "We do not allow bicycles and Segways on our sidewalks and the protection of our public spaces is our
highest priority."

The amended legislation would create a limited permit program that will allow autonomous robots to be tested and developed in certain parts of the city. Similarly to the permits now issued for self-driving cars, it will
require that the robots be accompanied by a human who can take control
quickly.

Yee's legislation was introduced with the backing of groups including Walk SF and Senior Disability Action following the launch of delivery robots in San Francisco last year by at least one company.

Cathy DeLuca, Policy & Program Director of Walk SF, said the amended legislation was "not a perfect solution" but would still be the strongest regulations on sidewalk robots in the country.

“Supervisor Yee's legislation has started an important conversation about how we use our sidewalks and whether new technology has a place there," DeLuca said. "And the community has spoken loud and clear -- people should have priority on our sidewalks. The proposed legislation, while not perfect, will be the strongest regulation on sidewalk robots in the nation. It ensures that the ability of pedestrians to safely and freely navigate our sidewalks takes top priority.”

The amendments were introduced today with the support of the Teamsters Joint Council 7 and Marble, a San Francisco manufacturer of delivery robots based in Potrero Hill. CEO Matt Delaney said the company
supports "a framework that allows for the manufacturing or testing of autonomous delivery systems."

Business groups opposed the proposed ban as harmful to innovation.

Supervisor Mark Farrell today echoed those concerns, saying it was a mistake to "ban things and stick our heads in the sand."

"We want to be first and foremost in public safety, and our sidewalks are a big part of that, but I also think we should be embracing change and looking for ways to do that as a city," Farrell said. "If we don't do that, the reality is that the technology world is going to innovate around us as a city government."

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, however, warned that public sentiment against the delivery robots could lead to a ballot measure.

"I don't think the vast majority of San Franciscans want robots on our sidewalks, and if we don't do our job here I imagine the citizens of San Francisco will do it right," he said.

The revised legislation will be heard in committee on Oct. 25, according to Yee.

Yee also introduced a resolution today calling for the city to develop a comprehensive framework and permitting process for future emerging technologies.

"San Francisco is a leader in innovation and ideas and will continue to be so," Yee said. "However we need to be mindful of impacts, we need to be strategic in our policies." 

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