The Transport Workers Union of America has announced the formation of a statewide coalition to stop autonomous buses from hitting Ohio’s streets.
Standing in front of a bus stop on North Third Street on Tuesday morning, union members held a sign reading, “A Bus Is Nothing Without Us.”
“The bus operator provides a vital public service that the robot doesn’t,” says John Samuelsen, Transport Workers Union president.
COTA said in the past that they would like to eventually run buses without drivers on their routes, although a COTA spokesperson says they do not currently have any driverless pilot programs.
Samuelsen says the fight against driverless buses isn’t about fear of new technology – it’s about class.
“These rich folks want to pull bus operators off the buses so they can make more money, and they want to do it without any regard to whether or not it provides a better service to the working people that primarily use these buses,” he says.
Bus drivers do more than drive people from place to place, Samuelsen says. According to Samuelsen, drivers call 9-1-1 in an emergency, assist elderly riders and people with disabilities, and sometimes even help reunite lost children with their parents.
Driverless buses would also put roughly 17,000 bus operators out of work across the state, he says. If transportation authorities introduce autonomous vehicles or wages start to fall, Samuelsen says the union will organize a strike.
According to the local union, bus drivers in Columbus earn between $14-28 an hour.
Gov. John Kasich, who has expanded the testing of autonomous vehicles in Ohio, warned last year that self-driving cars could have major consequences on jobs unless the state begins new training initiatives.
Samuelsen's comments came a day ahead of the Smart Columbus initiative's planned announcement of a provider for a low-speed driverless shuttle planned for the Scioto Mile.