House Transportation Committee Looks at Personal Delivery Drone Legislation
The committee held a public hearing July 21 on SB 1199 and HB 2699, which authorize “Highly Automated Vehicles” also known as drones. SB 1199, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster), amends Title 75 (Vehicles), providing for Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Committee and providing for personal delivery devices. The legislation authorizes the use of a personal delivery device for a business entity or an agent of a business entity that exercises physical control over the navigation and operation of the personal delivery device and is within 30 feet of the personal delivery device, or has remote support of the personal delivery device and the agent possesses a valid driver’s license from a licensed authority in the United States.
Committee Chairman Tim Hennessey (R-Chester) began by stating that this hearing will cover the topic of Senate Bill 1199. He noted that House Bill 2699 is a similar bill.
Rep. Meghan Schroeder (R-Bucks), prime sponsor of House Bill 2699, commented that her bill looks to regulate personal delivery devices (PDDs). She stated that advances in technology have never been more important and that the pandemic has increased the need for tools to meet consumer demands, support small businesses and create jobs. She noted that PDDs are designed to deliver goods from business to business or business to residence within a three to five mile area. She added that the drones are zero-emissions robots that are safe, efficient and monitored 24/7. She stressed that these devices are not part of normal package delivery operations and that their purpose is to help supplement deliveries and retail businesses. She said that her legislation creates basic rules for operation of PDDs, including requirements for businesses to submit operations plans and to maintain a minimum of $100,000 in insurance for each device. She continued that under her legislation PDDs must obey rules for pedestrians on sidewalks and they must have identification numbers and lights to enhance visibility. Additionally, she stated that these devices must be operated within 30 feet until 2022 and that after that they will be able to be monitored remotely. Concluding, she noted that many states have enacted and implemented similar regulations.
Chairman Hennessey said that this may be a pilot program but it “represents the future.” He remarked that older people may find these devices to be disconcerting, but they will have to get used to it. He noted that bills cannot cover everything so this hearing is taking place to get more comments on the legislation.
Mark Kopko, director of the Office of Transformational Technology, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), testified that ensuring public safety has always been a core function of PennDOT. He stated that emerging technologies like PDDs offer numerous benefits that can overcome the challenges of unprecedented times. He noted that although PDDs are currently operating in over a dozen states, PennDOT has many concerns. He then listed PennDOT’s core concerns with the legislation, made several recommendations, including:
- PDDs should be regulated like a pedestrian;
- PDDs should predominately be operated on sidewalks and within marked and unmarked crosswalks at an intersection;
- local authorities should have the ability to opt out of PDDs operating within their jurisdiction;
- PennDOT and local authorities should have the ability to temporarily restrict operations due to operational or safety reasons, including, but not limited to, emergency conditions;
- business entities should submit an operations plan to PennDOT for review;
- business entities should be required to report incidents resulting in personal injury or property damage;
- agents should always possess a valid driver license and be required to monitor the PDD at all times and take over control if intervention is required; and
- PDDs should be able to safely operate within their operational domain design.
Chairman Hennessey asked what other states are doing with regard to authorization and if they began with a human chaperone for PDDs. Kopko responded that oversight varies by state but that pilot programs were used at local levels, like in Washington, D.C. He added that some states have authorized all-encompassing use and that some have authorized it with a chaperone period. He noted that it is consistent in states that there is a requirement for someone to monitor the vehicles at all times and be able to take over operations when needed. Chairman Hennessey asked how many states have authorized PDD use with someone being required to operate it within 30 feet. Kopko responded that San Francisco had a similar pilot program, but he would have to follow up on specifics on how long that period was.
Minority Chairman Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne) asked what PennDOT’s primary concerns are with the bill. Kopko responded that they are mainly safety concerns. He stated that PennDOT believes there should be reporting of all incidents so they know what is happening at all times. He added that they have concerns about PDDs being on the road so they believe they should operate on the sidewalk and only go onto the shoulder when there is no sidewalk. He continued that braking systems should be updated to consider all surfaces and conditions. He also said that PennDOT thinks there are some “unintended operational abilities” in the language relating to local roadways and authorities. Kopko remarked that there are similar safety concerns regarding hazardous materials. He recommended PDDs not be able to deliver such materials and that the case is an example of some local restrictions that could come from authorities. He suggested allowing municipalities to prohibit the use of PDDs in a case-by-case scenario for situations like winter storms. He noted that under the legislation PennDOT would be able to ban the use of PDDs on specific roadways without consultation with the business, but local municipalities must consult the business if they want to do so.
Samuel Marshall, president, Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, stated that PDDs can revolutionize how consumers shop but that they also present the challenge of operating on roads and sidewalks that were not designed to accommodate them. He questioned how ready PDDs are for operating and in what way. He commended Senate Bill 1199 for trying to strike a balance in oversight. He questioned how PDDs will be implemented within the existing infrastructure and how localities will play a role in oversight. Marshall stressed that localities need more power and latitude to ensure the safety of their roads and sidewalks. He also questioned how accountability applies to PDDs, PennDOT and the localities.
Rep. Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne), asked if Marshall heard of any incidents in other states. Marshall responded that he has not heard about any, but that also speaks on how new the industry is. He expressed concern for having dozens of drones going up and down 2nd Street in Harrisburg because the city is not allowed to control them. He added that some sidewalks may be able to handle it but others are not even great for pedestrians to begin with.
Rep. Schroeder asked Marshall if insurance providers can come up with plans for these new technologies. Marshall responded that a lot of his clients would certainly provide coverage, but he has concerns with a claimant, such as a pedestrian or driver. He stated that it needs to be made clear how a claimant can proceed in the case of an accident.
Scott Pauchnik, state and local government affairs representative, FedEx, noted that ecommerce was booming before the pandemic, but the additional demand brought on by COVID-19 has made FedEx a business that is “bursting at the seams.” He said keeping up with the demand is logistically challenging and added that PDD legislation could help complete “last mile” deliveries. He noted that the last mile is the most expensive and complicated part of delivery. Pauchnik said Roxo, FedEx’s delivery robot, was developed based off the model of the iBOT wheelchair. He noted that the iBOT wheelchair was designed for use by wounded veterans. He added that Roxo has a stable base and can navigate difficult terrain, climb steps and curves, and is capable of operating in inclement weather. He said the robot would not obstruct Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sidewalks because it could go over the curb if necessary. He explained that FedEx is planning to operate Roxo mainly in the side area of the road and only use the sidewalk if there is an obstruction along the shoulder of the road. Pauchnik noted that many urban areas do not have sidewalks or roads that would allow for easy use. He said Roxo is designed for use in suburban areas located near retail centers. He stated that the purpose of Roxo is to allow someone who went to the grocery store but forgot one item to be able to get that item without having to return to the store. He added that rolling out the robot was a two- to three-year business plan, but COVID-19 turned it into a “now” business plan. He said Roxo could potentially be a tool that consumers could use to reduce person-to-person contact.
Pauchnik said Roxo is zero emissions, battery operated, four feet tall, and equipped with sensors and GPS navigation. He said the robot maps details such as fire hydrants and cracks in the street. He said the robot will stop when directed by voice command. He explained that the robots will be tele-operated for the initial 18 months and longer if needed. He noted that after that period Roxo will still be actively monitored. He stated that the robots will create machine maintenance and teleoperations jobs. Pauchnik said 21 states are currently considering legislation that would allow for delivery robots. He added that six of those states, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Arizona, Utah, and North Carolina, allow for larger, heavier models of delivery robots, such as Roxo. Chairman Hennessey asked if those six states had approved pilot programs. Pauchnik said the legislation in those states allows robots to fully operate. He added that several other states have been moving in the same direction, but efforts were paused due to COVID-19. He said as PDDs evolve and improve, states are increasingly moving toward legalizing heavier, larger robots. He added that delivery robots are good for both the ecosystem and ecommerce. He noted that delivery robots will only be used for the last mile and will not change the way ground hubs operate. He said delivery robots would be kept at local retail locations. He noted that FedEx does not want to put robots somewhere they cannot operate and is happy to work with PennDOT and local governments to move Roxo forward.
Chairman Hennessey asked how many other competitors were testing delivery robots. Pauchnik said the robot delivery industry is too new to use the term competitors. He noted that the three main players are Amazon, FedEx, and Starship. He said FedEx supports making the legislation as inclusive as possible to include other companies’ models.
Chairman Carroll remarked that he expects a vigorous discussion regarding how involved local governments will be in regulating where and when delivery robots can operate. He said local governments should have a say in regulating robots in areas with speed limits under 25 miles per hour (mph). He added that he hopes FedEx is open to having discussions with local governments. Pauchnik said FedEx is happy to work with all entities involved. He said FedEx wants to be ready to roll when it introduces Roxo in Pennsylvania, without having to have to piece together a business plan as it introduces the robot. Carroll commented that Pennsylvania is never on the front line for change and added that it is incumbent on everyone involved to educate residents on the robots and how they will affect sidewalk use. He said he looks forward to improving the bill through the amendment process.
Rep. Ed Neilson (D-Philadelphia) noted that eventually one person may be overseeing 30 robots. He asked if FedEx has increased its number of employees in Texas and what plans FedEx has to inspect robots for safety issues. Pauchnik said FedEx is increasing its number of employees in every state. He noted that Roxo is designed to supplement last mile deliveries. He explained that the idea is that an auto garage could quickly get a part they need from an auto parts supplier without having to send someone out for the part. He said robot maintenance plans would be submitted to PennDOT.
Rep. Neilson asked what training employees will receive. Pauchnik said FedEx is currently not sure how many robots one person will be operating. He added that FedEx provides extensive safety training to its employees and would provide safety training specific to operating robots.
Regarding the initial 18 months, Chairman Carroll asked if operators will remain within 30 feet of the robot by walking or if they will be in a vehicle. Pauchnik said operators are currently walking alongside the robots. He said the robots are programmed to go much slower on busy roads and sidewalks than in areas with less traffic. He added that when a street is too crowded for the robot, it will avoid the street and find another way to reach its destination. Chairman Carroll asked if the robot will be exclusively operated by the person within 30 feet for the first 18 months. Pauchnik said that is correct and the robot will not be autonomously operated during the initial 18 months.
Melissa Morgan, policy analyst, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS), said PSATS recognizes the need for delivery robots but also recognizes that it will not be safe to operate them in some areas. She added that PSATS supports the changes that were made to an earlier version of the bill to give local governments more control. She said PSATS believes it is critical for municipal officials to be authorized to exercise local control to protect public safety. She added that local officials must be able to restrict the use of robots during severe weather or other emergencies. Morgan said PSATS believes there is a need for more local representation on the state’s Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Committee. She noted that currently there is only one municipal representative. She said more local representation is needed so that the committee will hear urban, suburban, and rural perspectives. She added that PSATS understands why robots cannot be considered regular vehicles but is concerned about treating them as pedestrians. She suggested that robots be placed in a separate category. She said robots should also be equipped with a clear means of identification specific to individual robots. She repeated that PSATS is glad that the bill now allows for more local control and added that PSATS would be happy to work with legislators to improve the bill further.
Chairman Hennessey did not indicate whether either of these bills will be considered by the committee this session.
State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists July 8 Meeting Notes
The State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists met on July 8, by Zoom, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following are the highlights.
- Board President Francis Stanton, PE, welcomed the members and acknowledged the guests.
- Board Prosecutor Glenn Masser, Esq., introduced new board prosecutor Tiffany Raker, Esq. then presented one case for the Board’s consideration in executive session, involving a PLS in TX, and noted the Board did not have a hearing scheduled later in the meeting.
- BPOA Commissioner Kalonji Johnson expressed his gratitude to the Board and guests for their patience with the new meeting format.
- Board Administrator Jeannie Bronshtein noted that the Pearson testing agency site is still having trouble with finding vendors.
- Board Counsel Bill Fritz reported on the Seals regulation, noting the approved draft language had been sent to the Office of General Counsel, and were “moving along,” as is the Act 41 regulation.
- During public discussion, a licensee offered a comment on the Act 41 regulation, raising concerns about provisional licenses with regard to EIT experience. Counsel Fritz said he believed the commenter is confusing Act 41 reciprocity with the new applicant requirements.
Remaining 2020 Board meeting dates: September 16, November 10.
This Month in the PA Bulletin:
PENNDOT: HIGHLY AUTOMATED VEHICLE ADVISORY BOARD COMMITTEE VIRTUAL MEETING
The Department of Transportation’s Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Committee will hold a Skype teleconference meeting on Wednesday, August 12, 2020, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. For more information or to RSVP, contact Mark C. Kopko, director, Office of Transformational Technology, (717) 783-1903, email@example.com. Additional information can be found on the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
The following bills and co-sponsorship memos for bills to be introduced of interest to PSPE were acted on by the General Assembly this past month.
Bidding / Contracting
HB 2714 RE: Rebuilding PA with American-made Products (by Rep. Frank Burns, et al)
Amends Title 62 (Procurement) adding a section providing a government agency or school entity authorized to enter a contract for procurement shall subtract two percent from the bid or proposal of a person submitting the bid or proposal if the procurement that is the subject of the bid or proposal involves American-made supplies, services or construction and award the contract on the basis of the revised bid or proposal. Provides a government agency or school entity shall require documentation to confirm that a person qualifies for the two percent preference.
Introduced and referred to House State Government Committee, 7/30/2020
Budget Related Bills
HB 732 RE: Petrochemical Tax Credit (by Rep. Aaron Kaufer, et al)
Amends the Tax Reform Code, in realty transfer tax, exempting from tax a transfer of real estate to or by a volunteer emergency medical services company, volunteer fire company or volunteer rescue company; and establishing a local resource manufacturing tax credit to qualified taxpayer companies which use carbon capture and sequestration technology at a facility to the extent it is cost-effective and feasible at the discretion of the qualified taxpayer and the company has filed all required state tax reports and returns and paid any balance of state tax due as determined by assessment. Provides for the application and approval of the tax credit. The tax credit shall be equal to 47 cents per unit of dry natural gas that is purchased and issued in the manufacturing of petrochemicals or fertilizers at the project facility by a qualified taxpayer. Provides $26,666,668 in tax credits each fiscal year. Provides no more than four qualified taxpayers shall receive a tax credit annually for a maximum credit of $6,666,667 each. A tax credit cannot be carried back, carried forward or be used to obtain a refund. Provides for the sale or assignment of the tax credit. Provides provisions related to pass-through entities and reports to the General Assembly. The provisions shall apply to the purchase of dry natural gas produced in the commonwealth for the period beginning January 1, 2024, and ending December 31, 2049. The local resource manufacturing tax credit expires December 31, 2050, and is effective in 60 days. The remainder of the act is effective immediately.
Amended on Senate floor, read third time, and passed Senate, 7/13/2020 (40-9)
Received as amended in House and referred to House Rules Committee, re-reported on concurrence as committed from House Rules Committee, and House concurred in Senate amendments, 7/14/2020 (163-38)
Signed in the House and in the Senate, 7/15/2020
Approved by the Governor, 7/23/2020 (Act No. 66 of 2020)
COVID-19 Related Legislation
HB 2541 RE: Countywide Reopening Plan for Businesses (by Rep. Frank Farry, et al)
Amends Title 35 (Health and Safety) providing for countywide reopening plan for businesses. Provides that the governing body of a county, in consultation with the county emergency management agency, county health department, county health officer or any other appropriate health or emergency management official, may develop and implement a countywide reopening plan for businesses subject to closure by the governor due to the spread of a communicable disease during a public health emergency.
Read second time, and re-referred to House Appropriations Committee, 7/8/2020
Reported as committed from House Appropriations Committee, read third time, and passed House, 7/14/2020 (114-87)
Environmental Building Standards
HB 1779 RE: Groin Structures (by Rep. Parke Wentling, et al)
Amends the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act establishing the definition of as a shore structure that may affect shore erosion, wave action or inundation. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Protection shall not charge a license fee for a person to construct, repair, replace, operate, maintain or remove a groin structure at the licensed premises.
Removed from the table, 7/13/2020
Read second time, and Rereferred to House Appropriations Committee, 7/14/2020
HB 2699 RE: Personal Delivery Devices (by Rep. Meghan Schroeder, et al)
Amends Title 75 (Vehicles), in general provisions, providing a pedestrian is an individual afoot or an individual with a mobility-related disability on a self-propelled wheelchair or an electrical mobility device operated by and designated for the exclusive use of an individual with a mobility-related disability; and, in highly automated vehicles, providing one member representing personal delivery devices to the Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Committee and authorizing use of personal delivery devices by enumerated entities. Provides for operator designation, operation requirements, areas of operation and personal delivery device equipment requirements. Requires an insurance policy for a business entity for operating personal delivery devices. Establishes violations and definitions.
Introduced and referred to committee on House Transportation, 7/20/2020
Amends Title 75 (Vehicles), in general provisions, further providing for definitions; and, in highly automated vehicles, further providing for Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Committee and providing for personal delivery devices. Authorizes the use of a personal delivery device for a business entity or an agent of a business entity that exercises physical control over the navigation and operation of the personal delivery device and is within 30 feet of the personal delivery device, or has remote support of the personal delivery device and the agent possesses a valid driver’s license from a licensed authority in the United States.
Received in the House and referred to House Transportation Committee, 7/8/2020
Copies of all bills of interest can be accessed via the Internet at: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/session.cfm
Upcoming meetings of Interest
Some House Committee meetings and session can be viewed online at: http://www.pahousegop.com/
Senate Committee meetings and session can be streamed at: http://www.pasenategop.com/
UPDATED 2020 HOUSE SESSION SCHEDULE
September 15, 16, 17, 29, 30
October 1, 5, 6, 7, 19, 20, 21
UPDATED 2020 SENATE SESSION SCHEDULE
The Senate is in recess until called by the President Pro Tempore
September 8, 9, 21, 22, 23
October 5, 6, 7, 19, 20, 21
State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists Meeting Schedule
All Board meetings are held at Penn Center, 2601 N. 3rd Street, Harrisburg, PA, at 9:30 a.m.
Remaining 2020 Meeting Dates (Subject to change): September 16, November 10
State Geospatial Coordinating Board
NEW Location: 1 Technology Park, Commonwealth Technology Center (CTC), Harrisburg, PA 17110 • 2020
1:30 PM – 3:00 PM
Remaining 2020 Board Meetings: TBA