Shanghai becomes the first Chinese city to license self-driving cars to carry passengers

Shanghai has become the first city in China to issue permits allowing passengers to be carried on the streets in self-driving cars.

Initial licenses have been granted to Chinese automaker SAIC motor group, Germany’s BMW, and ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing.

Under the terms of the permit, each company is allowed to deploy up to 50 vehicles. If there’s no incident after six months, there’s room for the firms to expand their fleets. A human driver must always be available to take control if needed.

Members of the public who volunteer for test rides must be in good health and be aged between 18 and 70. Companies must provide insurance for the passengers, a result of a regulation passed last week by Shanghai’s government.

Only a relatively small number of roads will be available for self-driving cars in Shanghai initially. Just under 54-kilometres of roads can be used for authorised companies’ autonomous vehicle tests.

No fee can be charged for riding in a self-driving car, ruling-out a true taxi-like service which can be monetised at this point. Didi Chuxing has said that passengers will be able to hail rides via its app.

Any company seeking to receive a permit is required to have more than 24,000km and 1,200 hours of passengerless testing in Shanghai’s Jiading district without any incident to be considered for approval.

The development is a milestone on China’s road to deploying self-driving cars. Eyes will now be on Shanghai from companies looking to start monetising self-driving technology in the world’s most populous country.

However, other Chinese cities are hot on the heels of Shanghai. Baidu’s autonomous vehicle project in Changsha is set to deploy 100 driverless taxis by the end of 2019. Pony.ai, meanwhile, will transport its employees and a pool of volunteers in driverless cars in Guangzhou starting in December.

On the global stage, China is behind the US in issuing licenses for self-driving cars. Permits in America have been granted for autonomous vehicle trials in cities including San Francisco, Detroit, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh, and Phoenix.

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