Transportation

Fearing Job Losses, Ohio Transit Union Launches Anti-AV Campaign

Drivers with the Central Ohio Transit Authority have been distributing pamphlets warning bus riders about the perceived safety risks behind driverless technology.

by Mark Ferenchik, The Columbus Dispatch / March 29, 2018

(TNS) — Unionized Central Ohio Transit Authority drivers passed out flyers during Wednesday's afternoon rush hour warning riders about driverless buses, with the flyers depicting a bus fully ablaze on a freeway.

"Riders Beware: Don't Risk Your Safety On A Driverless Bus," the flyers said.

"Bus Drivers Keep You Safe," they said, adding that driverless vehicles should still have operators on board. They ask riders to call Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther to weigh in.

"We're doing this now to get the public understanding exactly about the safety aspect of it," said Andrew Jordan, president of Transport Workers Union Local 208, which represents 872 COTA employees, including about 670 drivers.

Jordan said the union fears job losses too. "We're not against technology," Jordan said, "but we don't want (drivers) to be removed."

The union cited a March 18 accident in Tempe, Arizona, in which a self-driving Uber car struck and killed a pedestrian. A back-up driver was in the vehicle at the time.

Jordan testified before an Ohio House committee in December in a hearing on self-driving vehicles, although no legislation on the issue is pending.

The union is worried because the city and region are involved in Smart Columbus, a partnership of businesses, local governments and research groups exploring new transportation technology.

COTA has no immediate plan to use autonomous buses, authority spokesman Marty Stutz said.

"We're interested in the future of public transit and technologies," Stutz said. "We're also committed to great jobs — well-paying jobs — for all of our employees."

The $50 million in Columbus' Smart City Challenge grant portfolio calls for a pilot project: a self-driving shuttle bus with an operator ferrying people from COTA's Morse Road transit center to the Easton area in 2020, said Brandi Braun, deputy innovation officer for the city of Columbus.

"We're learning about these new technologies," she said.

On Wednesday, Dante Crumbley, 27, was waiting Downtown for the No. 51 express to take him home to Reynoldsburg. Asked about autonomous buses, Crumbley said: "I think buses need drivers. Everything needs a driver."

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.