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CMU Research Backs Need for Skilled Human Operators on Autonomous Technology-Assisted Transit Vehicles

ATU: There is no substitute for experienced public transit workers

Silver Spring, MD – Skilled human transit workers are needed to supervise, manage, and maintain vehicles and ensure safety with any autonomous vehicle technology adopted for public transportation, according to a new report from Traffic21, a transportation research institute at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

“This report by CMU confirms what we have been saying when there is talk about new technology – there is no substitute for experienced transit workers. Our members know best about the hazards that occur on the road and the current challenges that operators face every single day,” said Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) International President John Costa. “We know the safety concerns that come with autonomous technology, and now, we can conclude that skilled operators and human interaction will be necessary to keep our roads safe.”

The report states that “even with safety-enhancing technologies in place, there remains a need for operators on board to scan for latent hazards or threats to safety that aren’t immediately visible to the system or the driver, but that may be predictable to an experienced operator.”

Researchers also believe the industry must not rely on automated systems and instead recognize the importance of transit workers in ensuring the safety of those on- and off-board.

Safety concerns stem from the complexity of the technology and the unpredictable on-the-road transit environment that can cause miscommunication resulting in life-threatening collisions. Additionally, human operators will still be needed on board to assist elderly and disabled passengers and to manage unpredictable behavior by riders.

Finally, the report concludes that more information is needed to implement advanced automation technology safely and calls for the inclusion of frontline workers and their unions to analyze hazards properly.

“Any hazard analysis conducted as part of an agency’s Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan must include frontline workers and their unions to offer their insight and expertise,” Costa continued. “Our members are the eyes and ears on the streets, and they know transit and safety better than anyone.”

Read CMU's report summary and the full report.