Russia to Permit Robo-Taxis by 2024

In April, 2020, the big four national AV developers Gaz and Kamaz, Sberbank and Yandex, proposed to the government a draft plan of preparation of legal and technical frameworks with a goal of unlimited implementation of self-driving vehicles in 2022.

Five months later, the federal government’s answer was: “If we effectively begin to execute the plan we’re elaborating now based on suggestions from institutions and key companies, I think that 2024 is the time we can launch robo-taxis,” deputy minister of transport Alexey Semyonov said while speaking at online session “Self-driving vehicles, remedy against pandemias and crises: how to bring them faster onto Russian roads?”

He also said that the regulators might allow autonomous trucks on certain routes before 2024 because intercity freight transport requires a less advanced infrastructure compared to taxis. Based on results of street tests pilot being underway since December, 2018, the government believes in “high level of technological readiness” of the local AV developers.

The 2022 deadline suggested by developers conflicts with Kamaz’s earlier claim that the company will be ready with Level 4 and 5 autonomy solutions no sooner than 2026. Gaz was vague on its schedule, yet is likely to be ready only with Level 2 and 3 solutions. Yandex uses each and every occasion to repeat that it’s ready yet to offer robo-taxi services in many environments except the most heavy conditions such as dense traffic require another five years to solve. As to Sberbank, the developer is merely starting public test rides.

Many in the nation will welcome the government’s intention to proceed at a moderate pace because two additional years will give the public time to reflect on the proposed changes and weed out the potential conflicts of interest. The memories of criticism over hasteful introduction of the aforementioned street tests pilot are still fresh in memory.

Yet, being late with the regulation brings other risks because the income-hungry technology providers are certain to look for loopholes in laws in order to faster offer the technology to the consumers. The recent history provided an example of that scenario when rapid development of shared transport in absence of up-to-date regulatory framework caused a number of negative side effects.

A small squadron of market-ready Level 3 technologies are waiting for the starting-gun. Autonomy-related laws and standards are urgently demanded right now to commercialize that solutions and proceed with technological development. “One of the most serious obstacles to safely implement self-driving transport we face today is a lack of both necessary and sufficient legislative package,” Semyonov said.

The preparation work has been underway for some time already. “Nowadays, we have developed a complex of actions aimed at supporting testing and step-by-step implementation of self-driving vehicles without a human safety driver in them,” he said. It will be supported later on with other necessary legislation and technical regulations, including procedures of registering and investigating accidents with AVs involved as well as the rights and duties of road users. It is to be followed then by creating AV-compliant intelligent transportation systems and establishing new testing zones.

A number of other experts on the session believed ITS was on the top of vital issues to be tackled alongside with consumer trust. The most pessimistic opinion sounded in the discussion was that those two issues might delay robo-taxi launch until 2030. “With the country’s large territory, there’s inequality in technical level and capability as well as a lack of unification among regional ITS,” head of ITS department at Russian road research institute Vasily Kurguzov said. He also noted that 2024 was a feasible date to provide full autonomy transport with seamless infrastructural support. It’s safe to say that he naturally presumed key transport corridors, such as the motorway from Moscow to the Finnish border, as well as a limited number of the most potential taxi markets.

Gradual and moderate introduction of autonomy, starting from partly autonomous versions, is also vital to build trust of Russian consumers in the technology which is, currently, as low as 51%, said Alexander Ovanesov, managing partner at Arthur D. Little Russia. While many people are afraid of actually riding in autonomous cars, they also find it difficult to uptake the level of transparency of user data needed for autonomous driving. Yet, there’s demand for smaller automated driving options such as traffic jam pilots, parking assists or remotely summoning a car from a parking lot. By legalizing that technologies, the authorities can resolve that concern: “It can be a trigger of the mental shift.”

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