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Bus drivers' union threatens strike over driverless buses

The international president of the Transportation Workers Union of America threatened a strike if State leaders try to force automated driverless buses onto the streets of Columbus.

“Our folks are not coming off these buses. For the sake of the workers and the working families that ride these buses and for the sake of our own members, we will take strike action in Columbus, Ohio before we come off these buses,” said international president John Samuelsen.

A slow-speed driver-less shuttle service is already being brought to Columbus, and bus drivers are not happy about the prospect of potentially losing their jobs to a computer.

They have serious concerns over the safety of the public without a driver present.

Samuelsen, who was in New York on September 11, 2001, says no computer could do what those bus drivers did that day.

“In the midst of flames and carnage, bus operators went off the road, off their route in ways that a computer could never do using their instincts, their street smarts, to evacuate people to safety,” said Samuelsen.

Those street smarts have been shown here in Columbus too.

Darryl Neal has driven a COTA bus for 10 years. One day he noticed a suspicious package that he thought could be a pipe bomb was left behind on his bus.

And while the resulting flurry of activity to ensure it wasn’t dangerous took several hours to sort out, Neal says it never would have happened with an automated system that wouldn’t be unaware the metal cylinder was left behind.

“It’s always about public safety to us, we care about our community, we care about these people, our passengers and our family members that are getting on these buses,” said Neal.

Neal also says automated systems cannot intervene if there is a physical threat or medical emergency on board, nor can it help the public when they ask for directions or keep an eye on its surroundings while it drives.

“We’re looking out for the community, we’re making sure that a lady that’s walking down the street with her purse is not getting snatched; we’re keeping an eye on little children that are walking down the street by themselves,” said Neal.

Neal also says drivers can use their own judgment and instincts something automated systems simply do not have. He gave an example of stopping a few blocks from a bus stop in front of a senior rider’s home when it was raining and they had bags full of groceries.

Neal says, a computer isn’t going to care about the riders like the human riders do.

Tuesday the union specifically asked if the gubernatorial candidates believed operators should remain on board and in the driver’s seat.

Mike DeWine’s campaign office responded with this answer:

Ohio's next Governor needs to have an eye on the future as technology and jobs change - the states that get this right will prosper and the ones that don't will fall behind. Mike DeWine understands how technology is changing our economy and wants to make sure our state or our people don't fall behind. Through both his prosperity plan and his innovation agenda, Mike DeWine has laid out an aggressive agenda to embrace the jobs of the future while also devoting resources to vocational training to that no workers are left behind.

Conversely, Richard Cordray personally provided this statement:

I think it's important that we keep drivers in buses because of the important role they play in safety, and in helping riders — particularly those with disabilities and in rural areas. As a state, we must work to ensure that we're protecting workers and good-paying jobs even as we seize the opportunities presented by automation and other new technologies. As governor, I'll also work to improve investments in transit so that all Ohioans can easily access jobs and opportunity.

This week, Governor John Kasich welcomes the Midwest Governor’s Association to Columbus and automated vehicles will be a topic that receives a lot of discussion.

In response to the union’s concerns, Governor Kasich’s office pointed us to comments he made earlier this year when asked about the prospect of bus drivers losing their jobs to automation.

“I’m not panicked about it, but I am very concerned about what I’ve said is a tsunami of job change that’s coming at us and we can’t wait,” said Kasich. “These are real people, this is not something that can be brushed over or it all work out. This requires a dramatic and dynamic change in all of our education systems, and they’re very resistant to change. So we’ve got to convince them that it’s for the good of their families and for their neighbors that we need to have businesses more involved directly with the schools, we need to anticipate what’s coming, and we have to give a broader base of education based on the fact that you can be resilient, flexible, and constantly learning.


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