The Beijing city government announced Friday that it would begin allowing self-driving companies to transport passengers in autonomous cars, the latest Chinese municipality to do so.

Why it matters: The move signals that nationwide legalization of autonomous vehicle (AV) testing could be forthcoming.

  • China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said in late October in an industry conference that it was revising regulations governing AV tests along with the Ministry of Public Security (MoPS) and the Ministry of Transport (MoT).
  • Wang Zhiqing, MoT’s chief planner, said that China will allow trial operations in certain areas to push intelligent vehicle services for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Details: Beijing will allow qualified companies to trial the transport of volunteers in self-driving cars on public roads, according to an updated regulation released by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport on Friday.

  • Applicants are required to conduct tests in closed areas for no less than 5,000 kilometers before taking the self-driving cars on public roads. Simulation with virtual vehicles is allowable as part of the solution to meet the targets.
  • Test vehicles must be able to switch between self-driving and manual modes of driving and ensure safety drivers will take over immediately if needed, the rules state, and human drivers must take a break for no less than 30 minutes for every two hours on duty.
  • To win a permit to transport passengers, applicants should also purchase minimum traffic accident insurance of RMB 1 million (around $143,000) for each volunteer under the revised regulation.
  • Chinese major cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Changsha, capital of central Hunan province, have all passed similar rules, though the Beijing regulations are the first to specify rules on working hours and insurance coverage.
  • Commercial operations are not allowed, meaning companies cannot charge a fee for the service.
  • Beijing Innovation Center for Mobility Intelligent (BICMI), service agency for Beijing’s AV tests, declined to reveal when the robotaxi service would begin and where in the city it would take place when contacted by TechNode on Monday.

Context: Beijing became the first Chinese city to green light road tests for self-driving vehicles in December 2017, after which by a set of national policies on governing AV tests was jointly released by MIIT, MoPS, and MoT in April 2018.

  • A total number of 77 vehicles have traveled a collective 883,000 kilometers (around 548,670 miles) on Beijing roads as of November, nearly six times the number last year, according to figures from BICMI.
  • Local authorities have opened 64 roads totaling 256 kilometers in four suburban districts, and granted test permits to 13 companies, including Baidu, Toyota, Nio, and Pony.ai.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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