Uber Fires Self-Driving Vehicle Operators in Pittsburgh

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AFP/Robyn Beck

Uber Technologies Inc. is firing employees of its self-driving car unit after the peer-to-peer ridesharing giant suspended autonomous vehicle operations in the city.

Employees of the smartphone-based car service were notified on Wednesday that approximately 100 “autonomous vehicle operators,” were being replaced by around 55 “mission specialists,” tasked with compiling in-depth analysis of Uber’s test-track operations.

An Uber spokesperson told Quartz, “Our team remains committed to building safe self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the coming months.”

The death of Elaine Herzberg, a cyclist struck dead in Arizona by an Uber vehicle in autonomous mode on March 18, prompted the Silicon Valley company to suspend self-driver operations in San Francisco, Toronto, Pittsburgh and Tempe. Uber later terminated 300 employees of its driverless vehicle operations in Arizona.

Quartz writes:

A Tempe police report released in June deemed the crash “entirely avoidable.” Tempe detectives believe that the safety driver involved in the incident, Rafaela Vasquez, was likely distracted watching NBC talent show The Voice on her phone at the time of the collision. In late May, Uber shut down its driverless cars tests in Arizona, laying off about 300 people it had employed as safety drivers and continued to pay since the fatal crash.

After it shuttered operations in Arizona, Uber said it hoped to resume self-driving car operations in Pittsburgh this summer. That statement drew a strong rebuke from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who claimed the company failed to inform him of its plans, forcing him to learn about it “through social media reports.”

“I made it clear to Uber officials after the Arizona crash that a full federal investigation had to be completed, with strong rules for keeping streets safe, before I would agree with the company to begin testing on Pittsburgh streets again,” the mayor added.

In March of 2017, an Uber self-driving vehicle also was involved in a crash during the testing phase in Arizona.

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