Mixed reviews follow Uber’s expansion in Pittsburgh

A car with an Uber sticker on a city street.

Despite recent unrest among Uber drivers in Pittsburgh, the company is forging ahead to make the city into a hub for autonomous vehicle testing. 

The ride-sharing company already has an Advanced Technologies Center near Carnegie Mellon University, and it announced on Tuesday that it plans to open another at the Almono Development Center in Hazelwood, a neighborhood southeast of the city center.

According to a blog post on the company’s website on Tuesday, Uber will also be working to develop new test roadways for self-driving cars with the Almono Partnership.

Almono, a partnership between Pennsylvania foundations and the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC), is an urban development district along the Monongahela River.  

John Bares, the director of Uber’s ATC, celebrated the possibility of autonomous vehicles as catalysts for Pittsburgh’s growth in the post.

“The investments we’re making in Pittsburgh today are key to the long-term future of transportation,” Bares said. “Self-driving technology has the potential to drastically cut down on accidents and congestion...The adoption of this technology at scale is likely still many years off, but the Steel City is a terrific place to invest now and in the future.”

While self-driving cars could reduce 90 percent of car crashes, PublicSource reported Feb. 21 on the possible roadblocks to autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh.

Urban driving is “problematic,” according to John Dolan, principal systems scientist at CMU’s Robotics Institute, especially in a city with brutal potholes and confusing street systems.

Uber’s plans in Pittsburgh have consistently been met with criticism.

Last year, the company faced accusations of poaching faculty and staff from CMU. Most recently, some of Pittsburgh’s 1,000 Uber drivers went on strike to protest pay cuts.

Earlier this month, Mayor Bill Peduto lauded the economic benefits of technological innovation in the city during his monthly visit to WESA. But he, too, remained critical about Pittsburgh’s uneven development.

While there are ample engineering and computer science job opportunities at the ATC, Peduto noted that about 20 percent of people in Pittsburgh have no access to that technology or its economic ripple effect.

Proponents of Uber’s innovation in the area, like Councilman Corey O’Connor, who represents Hazelwood and Glen Hazel, are excited about a surge of new jobs. But skeptics expressed concern at a community meeting on Tuesday night that autonomous vehicles will quickly take opportunity away from real people.

“When those cars are self-driving, how many drivers will be working?” Hazelwood resident Homer Craig told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I realize that it’s progress, but show us where it benefits us, because if it doesn’t benefit us, then it doesn’t matter.”  

Reach PublicSource intern Elizabeth Lepro at elepro@publicsource.org and follow her on Twitter @LeproLiz.