The Transportation Policy and Planning Board unanimously passed an ordinance to prohibit Personal Delivery Devices on City sidewalks on Monday night.
The Ordinance will allow the city to prohibit the operation of PDD, also known as delivery robots, within the city’s jurisdiction. PDD are defined by Wisconsin State statute as electronic devices operating on sidewalks and crosswalks to deliver food or other items.
According to the ordinance, PDD can operate with the approval of the City Traffic Engineer if they determine the operation of the PDD in certain areas are not “contrary to public interest.” Assistant City Attorney Amber McReynolds said the issue of PDD arose with Starship’s partnership with UW-Madison Housing and Cafeteria Services in September 2019.
“Since [Starship] started in fall 2019, they’ve basically been operating under an informal agreement,” McReynolds said. “Even though they can go everywhere, they limited themselves to specific sidewalks and crosswalks.”
While the original proposed ordinance banned the operation of PDD citywide, McReynolds said Mayor Rhodes-Conway decided to sponsor a substitute which makes an exception for the campus area.
McReynolds said that while Starship contacted the city and made them aware of the delivery service partnering with UW, the rationale for the ordinance is to give the city jurisdiction for future PDD operations.
“So while the current operators are being responsible and respectful, there is no guarantee about whatever operators who come to the city,” McReynolds said. “Right now, without an ordinance, any company can come tomorrow and operate anywhere in the city.”
McReynolds said this version of the ordinance allows for efficient communication between the City Traffic Engineer and the PDD company. McReynolds explained issues with road construction or a certain intersection can be addressed by the City Traffic Engineer instead of going through the process of amending the ordinance.
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Director of UW Housing Jeff Novak spoke in support of the ordinance. Novak said UW has tried other ways to deliver food to its students but has found success with Starship to reach students in facilities across campus.
“[Starship] is helping us deliver our food to our students who are wanting to get it at a very reasonable price,” Novak said. “The students have meal plans and want the option to get their food delivered that they have meal plans for, and this is an opportunity to do that for them.”
Novak said he is not aware of any public interest issues in Madison that have occurred since the delivery robots began operation on campus. Novak said UW has the ability to turn off any route immediately and to alter routes within five minutes.
Alder Grant Foster, District 15, raised questions about an incident of obstruction with Starship robots at the University of Pittsburgh, causing an accessibility issue for a student in a wheelchair. Novak said it was later determined by the cameras on the robot that the student could have passed, though Starship is reviewing the incident to address concerns of future accessibility.
The proposal passed with a slight amendment made by Alder Keith Furman, District 19, making the standard process for the City Traffic Engineer to go through the Transportation Commission while still retaining temporary permission to adjust the prohibited areas.