THE ISSUE

TWU Local 208 in Columbus, OH is engaged in a fight to protect the jobs of 650 bus operators who work for the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA). Columbus, like many other cities across the U.S., is introducing autonomous vehicles on a “trial basis.” However, it’s clear that this is just the first step in an effort to eliminate human operators from transit buses in the future.

 

TWU’s Position on Autonomous Buses

 

  • TWU believes there should be a human operator behind the wheel of every transit bus. These are good blue-collar jobs that provide a middle-class income for working families. Thousands of workers stand to become unemployed if we let robots take over. We’re not going to let that happen. This is our work and we intend to keep it.

  • We are not against technology that helps improve operational safety, such as that which eliminates blind spots or avoid collisions. But, we believe the safest approach is to have buses under the control of human beings.

  • Bus operators do much more than drive their vehicles. They also: assist disabled and senior passengers in boarding and off-boarding; give directions; look out for, thwart and report criminal behavior; assist in natural disasters and other emergencies, and much more.

  • Operators are part of the fabric of the community, contributing to and enhancing public safety. We are not going to allow these vital service providers to be displaced.

 

“Smart Columbus”

 

  • In 2016, Columbus beat 77 other mid-sized cities to win the DOT’s “Smart City Challenge,” which included a $40-million grant from DOT and a $10-million grant from Vulcan Technologies.

  • “Smart Columbus” is developed by the City with local and national partners, including government agencies, corporations, educational institutions and community organizations.

  • The “Smart Columbus” plan originally included an autonomous shuttle pilot program to provide transportation between the COTA transit center and a commercial district that includes the Easton Town Center (a retail development) and other employment centers nearby (first mile/last mile solution); six vehicles, each with passenger capacity of up to 12, were proposed.

  • In 2018, the Easton Town Center shuttle was put on hold and a downtown shuttle pilot was announced. The OH DOT and Drive Ohio (an umbrella organization that serves as the state’s “hub for smart mobility”) released an RFP for a private operator to run the shuttle program. Local 208 was not included in the shuttle proposal process.

 

Downtown Columbus Shuttle Pilot Program

 

  • Scheduled to test without passengers starting October 1;

  • Scheduled to test with passengers starting December 1;

  • Includes 2-3 shuttle vehicles;

  • Fixed-route service includes various tourist attractions;

  • Plan includes a series of pilots in different areas of the city;

  • The pilot shuttle will connect to transit services offered by COTA;

  • At least part of the pilot shuttle route overlaps with one or more existing COTA bus routes;

  • The pilot shuttle will have a human “operator;” however, if the vehicle has no seat or steering wheel, it’s unclear what the “operation” entails or if future shuttles will have human operators.

 

The Threat is Real

 

  • In its proposal to the DOT, “Smart Columbus” noted that Autonomous shuttle pilots are planned for, or underway in, cities across the U.S., including: Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Detroit, MI; Arlington, Austin, Frisco, Houston and San Antonio, TX; Gainesville, Jacksonville and Tampa, FL; Las Vegas; Phoenix; the SF Bay Area; Denver; Lincoln, NE; Tulsa; and Madison, WI. Currently, all require a human “operator” on board.