How Automation Could Worsen Racial Inequality

Articles | January 24 2018

By Alexis C. Madrigal

All across the world, small projects demonstrating driverless buses and shuttles are cropping up: Las Vegas, Minnesota, Austin, Bavaria, Henan Province in China, Victoria in Australia. City governments are studying their implementation, too, from Toronto to Orlando to Ohio.

And last week, the Federal Transit Administration of the Department of Transportation issued a “request for comments” on the topic of “Removing Barriers to Transit-Bus Automation.”

The document is fully in line with the approach that federal and state regulators have taken, which has promoted the adoption of autonomous vehicle technology as quickly as possible. Because most crashes are caused by human mistakes—and those crashes kill more than 30,000 Americans per year—self-driving-car proponents believe that the machines will eventually create much, much safer roads. For example, some researchers contend that fatalities could drop 90 percent, which would be a public-health triumph.

As people consider the negative repercussions of such a change, the obvious problem is that many people drive for a living. Much of the discussion has focused on truck and taxi drivers. In part, that’s because of the scale: there are more than 3 million truckers of various kinds in America. In part, it’s because Lyft and Uber have concentrated attention on the ride-hailing labor market. Transit operators, however, have rarely entered the debate, even though there are more than twice as many bus drivers (687,200) as taxi drivers (305,100), at least as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  (Read more)