Autonomous buses are not designed to replace bus drivers, but rather to enhance their roles and work environment.
Next stop, more bus drivers, please! We all have already heard that there is a global labor shortage for bus drivers. One of the solutions that has come up in recent years is launching automated/autonomous transit buses. Unfortunately, when transit workers hear the word “autonomous bus” or “automated bus,” they often think of a robot or machine taking over their job – But that’s not how we – ADASTEC Corp.- see it. In fact, we believe in the opposite - we need bus drivers and will continue to need them in the future!
First and foremost, it is essential to note that from a legislative standpoint, ALL autonomous/automated vehicles (including buses) still require a safety driver. According to NHTSA, “Every vehicle currently for sale in the United States requires the full attention of the driver at all times for safe operation (NHTSA.gov).” Of course, everyone asks, “When will they start allowing it?” And the answer is, “We don’t know.” From ADASTEC’s viewpoint, it will still take several years to pass such legislation. That is a good thing for two significant reasons: one, to give the public time to adjust and trust in automated vehicles, and two, to develop and convert the workforce. Let us explain.
Everyone understands the first point of the public not being ready to trust a bus that drives without a bus driver. Waiting for the legislature to pass allows companies like ours to do many activities to educate the public and bring awareness to the new technology. By doing so, we can earn their trust and eventually carry them as our passengers in the future.
Regarding the second point of converting the workforce, we know we have some more explaining to do. Hear us out! Many of the municipalities ADASTEC is working with want to deploy automated buses NOT because of the labor shortage but because they see it as a workforce retention tool that can enhance the work environment for bus drivers. Yes, you read that correctly.
Currently, many, if not most, transit authorities and bus operators require their bus drivers to work split shifts since driving a public transit bus can be very tasking. However, split shift schedules make it very difficult for some bus drivers, especially those with a family or who wish to have a set working schedule. By deploying an automated bus, bus drivers can be promoted to Safety Bus Drivers. Not only can bus drivers expect higher pay, but they can also work an entire shift without having to take a break (since the vehicle drives itself – duh!). The only time a bus driver may have to interfere is when there is an obstacle on the road or in case of an emergency inside or outside the vehicle. As a result, it would allow bus drivers to earn higher salaries and work better hours to enhance their work-life balance.
What happens when legislature passes and bus drivers are removed from the wheel? Exactly – the bus driver gets promoted again and becomes a Bus Operator (Didn’t see that coming, huh?). This means that bus drivers will now sit in an operation room to monitor five, ten, or maybe an entire fleet of buses. From the operation room, they can communicate with the passengers of each bus (in cases of emergency, for example) and even remote-control drive buses around obstacles on the road. The bus driver can expect an increase in salary in addition to a set working schedule. Also, have we mentioned the safety aspects of working as a bus driver yet? MTA data recently found that 73% of attacks against transit workers are harassment of bus workers, including threats and spitting, among other offenses (Duggan, 2022). Guess what? That will no longer be the case with any bus driver that becomes a Bus Operator.
So, while deploying autonomous/automated buses may sound threatening at first, we at ADASTEC want to spread the word that we DO NOT wish any transit authority or operator to fire any of their bus drivers because we desperately need them. However, we are saying that you won’t have to look for or hire additional bus drivers if you start deploying autonomous buses. We also love the idea of transit agencies and bus operators creating a career path for bus drivers to not only give them opportunities to move up in their careers, but also to offer them better work times and, most importantly, a safer work environment.
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ADASTEC delivers an SAE Level-4 Automated Driving Software Platform for commercial vehicles, enabling OEMs to develop modern, automated, shared, and connected commercial vehicles. ADASTEC flowride.ai SAE Level-4 Automated Driving Software Platform integrated buses are in use on public roads in 5 countries in Europe & North America.
flowride.ai is designed with a fusion of different high-precision sensors available in the global market and complies with ISO26262/ISO17840 Safety standards and regulations.
ADASTEC has technology and operation offices in the US, an R&D and EU Operations office in Turkey, and a branch office in the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.adastec.com