Get the latest market trends in your inbox

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with the Axios Markets newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

An electric autonomous bus in Mainz, Germany. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Public transit agencies are increasingly exploring how autonomous buses could help reduce operating costs, improve service on low-ridership or specialized routes, and bridge gaps at the beginning and end of public transit trips — so-called first- and last-mile connections.

The big picture: The U.S. had an estimated 687,200 bus drivers in 2016, including about 176,000 city public transit drivers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While some union leaders have expressed concerns that AVs could eliminate jobs for bus drivers, it’s more likely that they will continue to require onboard operators for non-driving functions.

While some studies indicate that a rapid shift to autonomous vehicles could lead to millions in job losses across industry sectors, others show AVs will create more than enough new jobs to offset those eliminated by automation.

Moreover, as a recent George Washington University study points out, “City bus drivers preserve order and safety on buses, provide information, ensure payment, and are generally considered community members and authority” required for the successful operation of public transportation.

Drivers for fixed route and paratransit services are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide hands-on assistance to riders with disabilities, such as securing wheelchairs on board and walking passengers to the door. Even in public transit rail operations where full automation has been in place for a decade, such as parts of the New York City MTA, train conductors still help with passenger interactions, tickets and a host of other duties.

In cities such as Las Vegas or Neuhausen, Switzerland, where AV buses are already transporting thousands of passengers, each vehicle still hosts a “steward” who can exercise control over the vehicle if necessary, greets passengers and maintains order on and off the vehicle. In Columbus, Ohio city officials plan to begin testing an autonomous shuttle bus later this year.

The bottom line: While predictions vary on when fully autonomous vehicles will handle 100% of driving, there will be a continuing role for onboard operators in public transit to help passengers with disabilities and assist with safety, fares and information. A bus driver’s human touch will still be needed, even if not behind the wheel.

Paul Comfort is vice president of business development at Trapeze Group and the former CEO of the Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore.

Go deeper

Federal judge orders Trump administration to restore DACA

DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18. Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to fully restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, giving undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a chance to petition for protection from deportation.

Why it matters: DACA was implemented under former President Obama, but President Trump has sought to undo the program since taking office. Friday’s ruling will require Department of Homeland Security officers to begin accepting applications starting Monday and guarantee that work permits are valid for two years.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci says he accepted Biden's offer to be chief medical adviser "on the spot" — The recovery needs rocket fuel.
  2. Health: CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use" — Death rates rising across the country — Study: Increased testing can reduce transmission.
  3. Economy: U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as recovery slows — America's hidden depression: K-shaped recovery threatens Biden administration.
  4. Cities: Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate
  5. Vaccine: What vaccine trials still need to do.
  6. World: UN warns "2021 is literally going to be catastrophic"
  7. 🎧 Podcast: Former FDA chief Rob Califf on the vaccine approval process.
2 hours ago - Health

Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate

Golden Gate Park. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty

Counties around the San Francisco Bay Area will adopt California’s new regional stay-at-home order amid surges in cases and ICU hospitalizations, health officials said Friday.

The big picture: California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a three-week stay-at-home order on Thursday that would go into effect in regions with less than 15% ICU capacity. Despite the Bay Area’s current 25.3% ICU capacity, health officials from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and the city of Berkeley are moving ahead with a shelter-in-place mandate in the hopes of reducing risk.