The Honorable Frank Pallone, Jr.
House Committee on Energy & Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Greg Walden
House Committee on Energy & Commerce
2322 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Pallone and Ranking Member Walden:
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present our country with unprecedented challenges, we urge you to continue to focus your attention on this ongoing public health and economic crisis. In particular, we believe that continued efforts to pass automated vehicle legislation at this critical juncture in world history would be a grave mistake.
A record 16.8 million Americans have sought unemployment aid due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With rising utility costs, families who were already struggling to make ends meet will now have to decide between putting enough food on the table for their families or keeping their energy on and their water running. Many employees who have been deemed essential during this crisis— healthcare workers and corner market cashiers—are working every day without proper personal protective equipment, putting their own health and the health of their families in jeopardy. Millions of Americans remain uninsured and were already living a day-to-day health crisis before the COVID-19 outbreak, just one injury or illness away from financial ruin. And schools across the country have sent millions of children home for the remainder of the year, yet 4 million households with school-age children lack internet, leaving them unable to participate in online learning.
Despite these unparalleled challenges, Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans published an article last week entitled “Self-Driving Cars Can Pave Way during COVID-19. Let’s do so in the U.S.” While we welcome the debate on the safety and economic effects of this technology under normal circumstances, it is unconscionable to prioritize such a serious and controversial set of regulatory changes over addressing critical services like healthcare, internet, utilities and personal protective equipment. Despite what AV boosters are claiming, there are no realistic opportunities for this technology to meaningfully ease the immediate pains Americans are facing during this crisis.
To be clear, we wholeheartedly agree that more needs to be done in Congress to properly regulate automated vehicles once we have defeated the ongoing pandemic. Their record of safety and their potential to displace millions of good American jobs demands additional hearings and a measured, appropriate legislative response from your committee. We welcome the opportunity to work with the committee on both topics to assist you in your work after the immediate and ongoing needs of the American people have been addressed.
We thank you for your time and consideration on this matter, and we look forward to having further discussions with your committee about this topic at the appropriate time.
Among other priorities, the coalition of transportation unions, of which SMART Transportation Division is a member, is calling for operators to remain on board automated vehicles to ensure safety, respond in emergencies and provide backup in case of technological failure, and for Congress to establish a fund that would supplement wages, health care costs and training or retraining programs of workers affected by automation.
“Driverless technology is coming at a time when the economy is balanced against working people, wages are stagnating, and workers are finding it harder and harder to get by. Not only do transit workers stand to see their jobs changed dramatically or automated away, but serious concerns about safety remain. So far, elected leaders do not seem to be taking these threats seriously,” said TTD President Larry I. Willis. “We cannot allow safety to be compromised or the good jobs in this sector to be steamrolled just so tech companies and Wall Street investors can have their way.”
The eight key policies are as follows:
Transit agencies must give workers advance notice before deploying automated vehicles (AVs).
The collective bargaining rights of transit workers must be preserved. Additionally, transit agencies must negotiate the use of automated technologies with their unions.
Automated transit vehicles must adhere to strict federal safety standards.
Drivers must remain onboard on automated vehicles, regardless of how far technology develops, to ensure safety, respond in emergencies and provide backup in case of technological failure.
Congress should establish a transportation workforce fund to help cover wages, health care costs, unemployment benefits and training or retraining programs for workers affected by driverless technology. This fund will be paid for through a mileage-based user fee of highly or fully automated transit vehicles.
Transit agencies wishing to use AVs must examine the impact they will have on transit workers and issue a report.
The U.S. Departments of Labor and Transportation should also examine the impacts automation has on transit ridership, capacity and employment. This includes examining the direct and indirect impacts automated ride-sharing or ride-hailing services have on transit services.
Before transportation agencies implement automated technology, they must issue a workforce training plan.
These policies on AVs and driverless technology were laid out at the TTD’s Executive Committee meeting in New Orleans.
A pair of BNSF conductors out of Winslow, Ariz., were recently featured in an article by the Arizona Daily Sun talking about their concerns about automating trains.
Legislative Representative Ellis Laird and Wade Carlisle, both of Local 113, talked to reporter Corina Vanek about the dangers an unmanned freight train hurtling through our neighborhoods can pose to the general public.
“It’s a horrible idea for a lot of different reasons,” Laird told Vanek. “Right now, we have two sets of eyes on each train. Humans can react to different situations, I don’t think they will ever be able to program a computer for every different situation.”
The FRA needs to hear from YOU to STOP Self-Driving Trains!
The Federal Railroad Administration has released a request for information (RFI) about autonomous (aka self-driving/zero-person crew) trains.
“FRA requests information and comment on the future of automation in the railroad industry. FRA is interested in hearing from industry stakeholders, the public, local and State governments, and any other interested parties on the potential benefits, costs, risks, and challenges to implementing automated railroad operations. FRA also seeks comment on how the agency can best support the railroad industry’s development and implementation of new and emerging technologies in automation that could lead to safety improvements or increased efficiencies in railroad operations.”
As professionals in this industry, and as concerned citizens about public safety, we need to voice our concerns. The FRA has given us a chance to speak up and we need to take it!
Tell them why autonomous trains are a threat to public safety. You can also remind them of the critical duties of Conductors and Locomotive Engineers.
Speak your mind.
SMART members, now is the time to use our voices to make an impression and weigh in BIG on this issue. Your response is needed!
It only takes a minute. Click on the the link below and tell the FRA why you think autonomous trains are WRONG! Then, forward the link to your family and friends and encourage them to do the same.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said at CES, an annual technology show in Las Vegas, that she plans to take steps toward creating policy guiding the development of self-driving transportation for trucks, buses, transit systems and trains. One of the steps that Chao plans to take toward creating this new policy is to deregulate these industries.
“I also want to take this opportunity to announce that the Department (DOT) will be seeking public input from across the transportation industry to identify existing barriers to innovation. This includes not only barriers that impact vehicles, but also impediments to innovations that can impact our highways, railroads, trains and motor carriers,” Chao said.
In response to Chao’s announcement, SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch wrote in an email, “This rush to autonomous vehicles of all kinds should worry all transportation workers.
“We have been working with Congress to limit legislation on self-driving vehicles to automobiles and to not include buses and trucks. So far our efforts on that front have been successful,” Risch said. “We will continue to work on this issue, but the times they are a-changing.”
As part of Chao’s efforts to deregulate the transportation industry, notices for public comment have appeared in the Federal Register on behalf of DOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Click here to read the Request for Information on Integration of ADS into the Highway Transportation System as published by the Federal Register – to be published 01/18
Click here to read the Request for Comments on Automated Transit Buses Research Program as published in the Federal Register
Click here to read the Request for Comment on Removing Barriers to Transit Bus Automation
Click here to read the Request for Comment on Removing Regulatory Barriers for Automated Vehicles from the Federal Register