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Humans should drive our transit future, not autonomous vehicles – TechCrunch

John Samuelsen

contributor

John Samuelsen is the International President of the Transport Workers Union of America.

Just like the pilots of a highly automated aircraft, human operators must be on board all people transport vehicles, regardless of their level of automation. Congress has a chance to reaffirm that safety standard as it debates an appropriate federal response to the rapid and hasty emergence of largely unregulated autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies.

Every day, frontline workers safely operate buses, trains and delivery trucks on mass transit systems across America. They respond to emergencies, ensure accessibility for the disabled and elderly, and keep passengers as safe as possible during a deadly pandemic. These workers are trained to perform these tasks simultaneously while driving vehicles filled with passengers.

No level of automation can replace them, although some in the tech industry claim they could eliminate the human operator in “fully” autonomous vehicles. This is a dangerous idea that Congress and the Biden administration must take off the table.

Transportation workers strive to be at the forefront of evolving transportation technologies. For us, innovation is a way of life; We’ve helped implement next-generation vehicles and systems for decades. But what we’re seeing today isn’t just about innovation – it’s about spreading unproven, poorly regulated driverless vehicles onto our roads.

The technology and corporate interests that flood communities with these vehicles are simply not held to the highest safety standards or are subject to strict federal oversight and enforcement. That needs to change.

A highly automated vehicle in commercial environments should never eliminate the skilled onboard operator, any more than we would allow autopilot capabilities on commercial aircraft at 30,000 feet to eliminate pilots in the cockpit.

The AV industry’s business activities are focused on a single goal: to generate revenue and profit without subjecting it to adequate regulatory scrutiny from federal agencies or meeting important security data transparency standards. These companies dodge daylight debates about whether their AV technologies are safe, undermine public transit users or the public interest, meet important equality goals, or eliminate good union jobs. You have to prove your worth.

Still, we need to have this conversation and issue strong policies before our government authorizes the widespread placement of these vehicles on our roads or in our transit systems.

In today’s AV pilot programs, some companies even refer to the drivers they plan to phase out later as “monitors” rather than operators. This is an insult to the workers and a ruse to the passengers. They are not monitors but professionals who ensure the journey is safe. A highly automated vehicle in commercial environments should never eliminate the skilled onboard operator, any more than we would allow autopilot capabilities on commercial aircraft at 30,000 feet to eliminate pilots in the cockpit. Any new AV law passed by Congress must require a human operator on board all passenger transit operations.

Legislation must also mandate federal government action with clear timelines to regulate how or if AVs are deployed. These regulations must create the basis for driverless vehicles to meet the highest safety standards. They must require that the vehicles used are equipped with human intervention and control capabilities according to a high profile dispute between the National Transportation Safety Board and Tesla over the company’s claims of “fully self-driving” capabilities. They must also tighten standards and impose strict limits on the Department of Transportation’s granting of waivers and exceptions to federal vehicle safety requirements. Most Americans would be shocked to know that the AV experiments you see on our streets today are not subject to strict safety regulations.

Minister of transport Pete Buttigieg has taken important steps to shift the debate away from the needs of the AV industry and towards the needs of workers and passengers through the version just released innovation principles. Buttigieg has committed to policies that “empower” workers by expanding access to skills, training and “union choice” and ensure workers have a “seat at the table in shaping innovation.” This represents a sea change by putting workers and broader public services at the center instead of making someone rich. Congress would be well advised to include this approach in AV legislation.

Securing workers’ seats at the negotiating table can be achieved with sensible policy reforms. Transport systems, with their highly unionized workforce, should be required to notify their employees in advance when AV testing or deployment is scheduled. Gaining an employee perspective early on can bring valuable experience and expertise to the process and ensure AV applications are safe and not just tools to eliminate and disqualify employees.

This new approach to empowering workers should not be a claim, but a matter of explicit federal policy. It should be enshrined in AV legislation and this committee’s DOT policy and managed through the negotiation process between labor management and labor management, which has always helped address workplace implications, training needs, safety, and the implementation of new technologies enable.

Congress and the Biden administration have an opportunity to act decisively and ensure that workers and the public interest, and not the profit motives of tech companies and large corporations, drive the future of AV technologies in our transportation systems and on our streets.

Humans should drive our transit future, not autonomous vehicles – TechCrunch Source link Humans should drive our transit future, not autonomous vehicles – TechCrunch