It's been a good long while since we heard about Supervisor Norman Yee's proposed ban on delivery robots on SF sidewalks. But that doesn't mean it's fallen by the wayside — in fact, Yee's still pushing the ban after negotiations with delivery companies left him unsatisfied.
So reports the Examiner, which notes that the ban has opposition from two prominent San Francisco business groups.
One of those is the Chamber of Commerce, which argues that a ban might force robot companies out of SF. "A similar argument was made in support of the Twitter tax break," the Ex wryly notes. Small Business Commission has also voted against the proposal, first delaying a June vote "as Yee agreed to hold further negotiations." Those negotiations proved fruitless, aide Erica Maybaum tells the Ex, as “we had met with the various companies who did not adequately address our safety concerns.”
That led Yee to return the proposal to the SBC without any amendments this month. After an hour of debate, the Commission voted against the ban 5-1, but "supported a resolution urging the Board of Supervisors to establish a working group to study the issue in more detail."
Commissioner Kathleen Dooley, who cast the sole vote in support of Yee's legislation, said that safety is a prime concern. “We may not have hard data but if anyone in this room walks around in San Francisco we see how amazingly congested the streets are.” She's also worried about enforcement of regulations, as “The enforcement factor in this town is the weakest link in our administration. There is just not the manpower to do that properly.”
Dooley might not be wrong about that last bit: Though the city's Department of Public Works launched a pilot program requiring permits for the devices, the Ex easily determined that “Happy," a robot widely advertised as making deliveries from Jack in the Box's Fisherman's Wharf location was doing so without the required permits, it appears.
“I see the value of innovation for public and private good, however, let’s be honest about how some emerging technologies have been operating as if no rules apply to them,” Yee said in a statement sent to the Examiner.
“We do not allow bicycles or Segways on our sidewalks because as a city we have prioritized public spaces for people. That same principle should apply to delivery robots — it’s not a complete ban, what we are saying is they have no place on our already congested and crowded sidewalks.”
And in the end, it's not the decision of any business groups or commissions — it's up to the Board of Supervisors to determine regulations for delivery robots, as they have for other disruptive businesses like Airbnb and Uber in the past. The Board will return from their summer vacation on next week, and their Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the ban as soon as September 13.
Previously: SF Supe Seeks Ban On Robot Delivery Services