By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
During the March 25 virtual Pacific Palisades Community Council meeting, CD 11 Transportation Policy Director Eric Bruins provided updates on proposed citywide regulation of robotic personal delivery devices that would deliver food and other purchases to customers.
“Hopefully you aren’t seeing them yet because we don’t yet have a program in the city of Los Angeles,” he began.
Councilmember Bob Blumenfield first introduced a motion in October 2020 that was seconded by Councilmember Mike Bonin requesting that the Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Street Services, with the assistance of the city attorney, “be instructed to develop a regulatory framework for personal delivery devices that operate in the city’s public right-of-way.”
At the time of the PPCC meeting, DOT had not yet reported back with its assembled report; Bruins was collecting input and feedback so that when that time comes, he will be able to advocate effectively on behalf of constituents.
“There seems to be an emergence of robot companies that are looking to go into the delivery space,” he explained. “During the pandemic, deliveries have become a huge business, particularly for companies like Uber Eats and DoorDash, Caviar, you name it.”
Bruins explained that there are two types of robot delivery devices: the first is fully autonomous, which means it is self-piloting. The second is remote-controlled, where an operator sits in an office and controls its motion with a joystick.
Currently, the use of these robots is authorized by state law, with each city having the right to regulate.
“I’ve seen companies not going the scooter model of showing up and asking for forgiveness,” Bruins reported. “We’ve actually had good conversations with folks who want to enter the LA market, but want to do so in a responsible way, so the city is trying to respect that willingness to corporate by putting in a framework that works for the companies to welcome them here.”
Things that are being considered are sidewalk accessibility and utilization, the use of digital management tools, public right-of-way use fees, enforcement capacity, consumer and public privacy, what public benefits there are if any, and limitations on advertising.
“The last thing we want is a bunch of mobile billboards driving on our sidewalks and on our streets,” Bruins added. “I think that’s a real potential blight, and I know that’s something this community is sensitive to.”
Some of the preliminary benefits of deploying personal delivery devices that Bruins expressed would be increased efficiency and lower cost, as well as getting cars off the road—especially for short-distance deliveries.
Members of the City Council’s Transportation Committee expressed concern about the “detrimental impact the devices will have on workers” in a recent report: “It was stated that the automation of good will destroy jobs.”
Following his presentation, Bruins responded to questions from members of the PPCC board, including sharing that safeguards for pedestrians and motorists are a “top priority” for Councilmember Bonin.
One member asked if the companies could be charged to put curb cuts in as part of the program.
“I would absolutely love to charge a high enough fee that is able to have a dividend that is then used to make our sidewalks more accessible,” Bruins responded. “That’s a clear public benefit that we can articulate and I think that makes a lot of sense.”
Bruins shared he expects the Department of Transportation to report back with the draft program information in about a month.
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