Stopping Autonomous Vehicle Technology from Replacing Bus Operators and Other Transit Workers

| February 26, 2024


As automated cars and shuttles proliferate, a major transportation union has drawn a line in the sand and is taking steps to protect Bus Operators and other workers from being replaced someday by autonomous vehicle technology.

 The Transport Workers Union’s Technology Task Force recently secured landmark, first-of-its kind contract language with a public transportation agency in Ohio giving the union veto power over the deployment of autonomous vehicles. The contract also says Bus Operators and Mechanics cannot be laid off, or have their wages reduced, because of new or modified technology. 

   The collective bargaining agreement – with the Central Ohio Transit Authority – is part of TWU’s national strategy against job killing technology. It will now serve as a template for the TWU as it negotiates new contracts in cities across the United States. The TWU has 37 transit locals. It also represents Bus Operators in Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, NYC, Akron, Ann Arbor, Omaha, San Francisco, Winston-Salem, and other cities.

    “Big Tech and its profit mongering investors are aggressively trying to foist on Americans a future where everything is automated, including mass transit,” TWU International President John Samuelsen said. “We’re fighting to stop them. If they get their way, hundreds of thousands of Bus Operator jobs would disappear. The economic impact on working communities would be devastating. These are jobs that are the economic foundation of working communities across the country.”

    Bus Operators serve many functions beyond driving, TWU International Administrative Vice President Curtis Tate added:  “Bus Operators have spotted lost children and reunited them with parents, performed life-saving CPR, alerted first-responders to crimes in progress, aided pregnant women going into labor, helped disorientated and confused senior citizens, and more.” Tate said. “You name a situation. They’ve seen it and helped. You just can’t adequately replace the human presence in mass transit.” 

    The Ohio contract says COTA will not use autonomous vehicles without the union’s consent. The language was drafted by The TWU Technology Task Force and TWU Local presidents. Samuelsen and Tate congratulated Local 208 President Jarvis Williams for negotiating the COTA contract and managing its ratification by the membership.

    “We will fight city by city to protect Bus Operator’s jobs – and the safety of the riding public – if necessary,” Samuelsen said. “The technology is not safe. Self-driving cars have killed and injured people, and it’s outrageous that people are being used as crash-test dummies for this technology. But no matter how far technology advances, a human Bus Operator should be on board. They do much more than drive the bus.” 


  Autonomous cars have garnered headlines and are deployed in several states like California, Arizona, and Texas. The next step towards mass transit potentially being automated has begun with the emergence autonomous shuttles with seating for 4 to 15 passengers. Small autonomous shuttles have received less attention but have been deployed, often in pilot programs, in Washington, D.C,  and many states, including: ArizonaCalifornia,  ColoradoFloridaMichigan,  Nebraska˚New YorkNorth CarolinaOhio,  Pennsylvania,TexasWyoming, Virginia, and more.

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