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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

During the first wave of mobility disruption, ride-hailing companies found niches beyond the reach of traditional regulation. But as modes of transportation expand — from shared bikes and scooters to the anticipated rollout of autonomous vehicles — governments and regulatory agencies have begun to re-assert themselves.

The big picture: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and many other cities are actively setting policy, rather than merely reacting to private players. Since AVs are likely to be deployed in business models that look more similar to Lime and Bird than (classic) Uber and Lyft, cities will look to carry over the policies they develop around vehicle caps, permits, data sharing and more.

For autonomous vehicles, the greatest lesson from other shared mobility options is that playing nice matters. To deploy new services — and eventually AV technologies — companies will have to learn to work with cities.

  • UberCab became Uber to obey the letter of a cease-and-desist notice, if not its spirit. Bird, Lime and other companies tried to take a similarly fast-and-loose approach by deploying scooters on streets without engaging city policymakers — but were quickly met with impounded scooters and lack of access to permits.
  • Cities now see the necessity and benefits of active regulation. San Francisco’s permit application process incentivized equity, safety and accountability. LA’s proposed standards — which will allow shared access to data like trip length and utilization — highlight the more sophisticated tools cities will have at their disposal when crafting regulations.
  • Cities have experimented with bike and scooter regulation, with approaches ranging from “free for all” to utilization-based caps.

Companies hoping to operate AV fleets will likely have to show how they will improve safety, minimize increases in congestion and include all members of the community (especially young, old, disabled and low-income residents).

  • In the meantime, AV companies and cities will have to build tools and platforms to enable more advanced regulation. This creates opportunities for startups and automakers alike.

Why it matters: By creating regulatory frameworks that promote competition, limit fleet sizes and ensure equity and accessibility, cities will shape the future business potential of AVs While this may put a short-term damper on deployment and adoption, it should lead to AV fleets and services that are better integrated into their communities.

Anne Widera is a mobility consultant and former strategist at Uber's Advanced Technologies Group and Google's Self-Driving Car Project. She is also a member of GLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.

Go deeper

Storms pummel flood-hit Pacific Northwest as border river overflows

An image of the water-logged Sumas Prairie area taken last Friday. Photo: B.C. Ministry of Transportation/Twitter.

The latest ferocious storm system to hit the Pacific Northwest triggered fresh evacuation orders and at least one mudslide in flood-ravaged British Columbia, Canada, late Sunday.

Threat level: Flood sirens sounded in Washington state as the Nooksack River overflowed. Henry Braun, mayor of Abbotsford, B.C., told reporters the water flow was headed toward the Canadian border city later Sunday. "There's nothing to stop it," he said.

Updated 5 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting aspects of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."