Fully autonomous city buses might be years away, but the coalition People Before Robots is already voicing concerns about safety and jobs. The statewide group met Thursday night in Linden.
The Transport Workers Union of America represents about 650 COTA bus operators, who say replacing them with driverless vehicles is unsafe.
"We have seen when someone opens up a car door that vehicle in order to avoid that door, it will automatically go left of center to avoid that door," says Jarvis Williams, president of TWU Local 208.
Smart Columbus is planning to launch a "driverless" shuttle this fall in the Linden area, serving the Transit Center and various communities centers. The shuttles run at 15 miles per hour, can hold 15 passengers at a time, and include an operator who can take control if necessary.
Williams says bus drivers can provide directions, secure wheelchairs and call for help in an emergency. The union is concerned about drivers who earn a good living losing their jobs.
“Most of our operators do live in the community," Williams says. "These are good paying jobs for the community. It creates economic value for the community.”
COTA officials have repeatedly said they have no pilot programs for entirey driverless buses.
“We want to embrace the technology as long as the technology is to enhance safety, not to eliminate the operators off the buses," Williams says.
TWU hosted a Transit Town Hall Thursday evening at the St. Stephen's Community House, which is one of the planned stops for the autonomous shuttle route.