Autonomous vehicles need to drive and drive and drive, vacuuming up hours of real-life encounters on the road to make their algorithms smarter and safer.

But there’s one thing in relative short supply: cities willing to have test cars on their streets. Portland, Oregon, is trying to change that, its officials say, as the first to issue permits for driverless vehicles, with the goal of getting them on its roads this year.

“The technology is coming,” says Mayor Ted Wheeler. “Either the technology will happen to us, or we are going to shape the playing field.”

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Wheeler and Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman are directing the Portland Bureau of Transportation to create a policy to open up the city’s streets to self-driving cars. As part of a new initiative, the agency would have 60 days to develop a set of rules for pilot programs to deploy and test autonomous vehicles. It’s looking at issues such as the cost of a permit and methods of reporting when and where the cars will be on the road.

The city will solicit proposals from companies working on driverless cars to gauge how they can help Portland reach its goals of reducing carbon emissions and providing equitable service. The city also would consider providing financial support for businesses to test autonomous transit vehicles, such as shuttles or buses, that could connect passengers to its existing transit infrastructure. Wheeler says two years of pilot testing would inform final rules: “If we wait five years, my concern is we are not going to have a say in the matter at all.”

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By Karen Weise
Bloomberg News

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