The Atlantic posted an interesting article on the effects of automation on people of color in driving occupations, specifically concerning bus drivers. My colleague Cherrie Bucknor and I wrote about the effects of automation on these groups of people in a report last year, Stick Shift: Autonomous Vehicles, Driving Jobs, and the Future of Work, which found that people of color — especially blacks and Hispanics — rely heavily on driving jobs. Hispanic women, black women, and black men have significant employment as bus drivers. Many of these groups also have driving premiums, meaning that driving occupations offer a higher wage than non-driving occupations, on average.
In discussions about how automation could disproportionately affect bus drivers of color, it’s also essential to examine the underlying assumption that these jobs could or should be automated. Whether buses should be completely automated is an open question. After all, bus drivers have socially oriented and varied jobs.
In my recent article at The Minskys, I say that technology and automation should “broadly improve lives and work, not reorient the world around itself or redistribute wealth upwards.” Not considering the social roles or the complexities of jobs does the latter. And as we say in the paper:
There is also the question of more socially oriented driving jobs. Bus drivers are one example. City bus drivers preserve order and safety on buses, provide information, ensure payment, and are generally considered community members and authority figures. School bus drivers have specific responsibilities related to the safety of the children they supervise. For these reasons, it may not be desirable or necessary to replace bus drivers, completely at least, even if the buses were fully autonomous. There is also a chance that in the far-off future, society (especially cities) will rely less on cars and more on walking and public transportation (perhaps still operated by bus drivers), somewhat reducing the need for autonomous vehicles in the first place.
Enthusiastic backers of self-driving technology are likely to dismiss these concerns in a rush to see the technology adopted. But like other contentious issues involving self-driving vehicles — such as safety testing — the value of keeping people in socially oriented jobs needs to be carefully considered.