COTA bus stop sign for Neil Avenue Local

Union balks as COTA considers driverless shuttles for future

Many of the conversations about autonomous vehicles focus on safety, and this is a legitimate concern. But in Columbus, the union representing bus drivers for the Central Ohio Transit Authority is raising another issue — what will happen to their jobs?

Columbus was selected as a USDOT Smart City and COTA’s long-range plan supports this vision for the future by including some form of driverless transportation.  The NextGen plan envisions a transportation network in 2050 where smart mobility options like driverless shuttles and app-based ridesharing complement high-capacity transit services like bus rapid transit, light rail, streetcar, and/or commuter rail.  The plan also calls for improving and expanding the bus network.

But drivers are worried.  “These are real jobs. These are real people,” said Andrew Jordan, president of Local 208 of the Transportation Workers Union. “It’s jobs lost.  They want to know that COTA is investing in them rather than automation.”

COTA CEO Curtis Stitt said automation is not “right on the horizon.” But transit should take advantage of technology innovations, he added, saying that jobs will evolve with the introduction of autonomous vehicles.  “The demand for certain types of employees will shift,” he said. “Certainly, we’ll need the folks who’ll provide the shop support, the IT support for these vehicles.”

But transit union representatives were not reassured.  “We don’t want to be left out and left behind and picking up the pieces,” Jordan said. He added, “We’re not against automation.”  But he wants to make sure that COTA trains bus operators for the kind of jobs that support new technology. “It’s definitely a crossroads. We want to be pioneers,” he said. “We are partners in the growth of COTA.” Link to full story in The Columbus Dispatch.

Photo credit: Sam Howzit/Flickr

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