COTA bus drivers fighting to protect jobs from driverless technology

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COTA bus drivers are trying to convince state lawmakers to help protect their jobs from driverless technology (WSYX/WTTE)

Dozens of COTA bus drivers headed to the Statehouse Wednesday to convince lawmakers to protect their jobs from driverless technology. The Local 208 union representing the drivers demonstrated during the House Transportation Committee as lawmakers figure out how state law can keep up with the new technology.

State lawmakers have said they want driverless technology to be developed in Ohio but they also don't want to destroy driving jobs in the process. The bus operators at the Statehouse said working in public transportation was one of the few good-paying jobs left for people without advanced education.

"It's all about family, keeping your family going and moving through the American dream, achieving the American dream and this job helps a lot of people in the middle class do that," said COTA driver Davon Washington. "It's a lot of questions that come with that word 'driverless' that we're not getting answers to and that's what we're here for, to get those answers."

Columbus will be on the cutting edge of this technology after winning the Smart Cities Challenge but there are people who think the concerns of job losses are overblown.

"The technology is not there to be able to make (driving jobs obsolete) a reality," said Tom Balzer with the Ohio Trucking Association. "It always seems to be something that obviously is an area of high concern."

Balzer said he thinks there will be a need for drivers for the foreseeable future. Even with autonomous technology, he said trucks or buses could someday operate like an airplane on auto-pilot. The airplane still has a pilot manning the controls.

Some people who drive for a living said they simply wanted to be included as everyone figures out where transportation goes in the future.

"We're not against the technology," Washington said. "We know the technology is here. We're just here to get in on the ground floor and grow with the technology, not the technology leave us behind."

State lawmakers are in the middle of a seven-month study on driverless technology.

COTA gave the following statement, "COTA is committed to providing safe, reliable and convenient public transportation in central Ohio. We’re equally committed to providing high quality, good paying and rewarding careers. We look forward to potential new technologies for the delivery of transit that will enable COTA to meet both of these commitments."