Why Autonomous Vehicle Technology is Likely to Lead to Job Growth

Autonomous cars are the way of the future. The policies states craft now will determine whether the technology is adopted rapidly, or slowly, in that state. In New York, opposition is already mounting to autonomous technology, with a group called the Upstate Transportation Association is arguing the technology will cause the transportation industry to lose jobs.

Future job loss relating to disruptive transportation companies is an odd concern coming from New York. Even though they increase jobs, the City of New York fought Transportation Networking Companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, tooth and nail. The companies, by and large, are not permitted to operate in the state outside of New York City.  Though job loss is an odd argument, it is certainly one that will thwart the growth of autonomous vehicle technologies in New York.

Contrary to the assertion that automation costs jobs, researchers have found automation increases the number of jobs. Automation also makes workers more efficient. As worker efficiency increases, so does production, which lowers costs and makes it possible for more consumers have access to a product or service. As more consumers have access, demand for those products or services increases requiring companies to further increase capacity.

Applied to the transportation industry, as companies introduce autonomous vehicles, they will lower per-ride costs. As costs decrease, more people will take advantage of the services. As more people take advantage of the transportation services, companies will need to increase capacity. Since the role of drivers will shift, companies will need to hire additional operators.

Contrary to assertions they hurt the low-income or disadvantaged, TNCs actually benefit underserved communities. They go where taxis frequently refuse to go and they offer first and last-mile services to public transportation. They provide greater independence for riders.

Part of what makes TNCs attractive to certain communities is the price. Fares for TNCs are typically far below the fares taxis charge. In some cities, like Washington, D.C., TNC fares are competitive with public transportation if a rider selects a pooling option. For riders in cities like Washington, D.C., TNCs may be more reliable than certain forms of public transportation.

Adding automated technologies as transportation options will continue to drive costs down. Uber, for example, may own its fleet of autonomous vehicles. By owning the fleet of vehicles, Uber will reduce vehicle ownership overhead, passing the savings onto its riders.

This is not to say autonomous cars will eliminate jobs. A number of experts predict fully autonomous cars will not permeate the automobile market until the late-2020s at best or 2045 or later, according to more conservative estimates. From the present day, through a number of autonomous vehicles’ early years, operators will still be required. Uber may own a fleet of autonomous vehicles, but for the foreseeable future, it will still employ people to operate or monitor the vehicles.

States that have either legislative or regulatory frameworks in place require an operator be able to take control of the vehicle at any time. The requirement that operators are able to take control of autonomous vehicle is consistent across various regulatory approaches, including in states where the industry is heavily regulated, such as California, and states with light-touch regulatory approaches such as Arizona.

If current regulatory frameworks apply in ten to thirty-five years, the functions of drivers will simply shift from actively controlling a vehicle to actively monitoring a vehicle.

For the next generation or so, autonomous vehicles will not eliminate jobs, as feared by some in New York. Autonomous technologies, instead, will  continue expanding services to areas underserved by current options, likely change job responsibilities and may increase the number of people employed by the disruptive technologies.

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