Automating Transport Still Requires Experienced Workforce

22 September by Lisa Newman


Are smart cities are the future?  Where an app will inform you of the nearest parking space, sensors will be embedded in curbs and buildings to report on air pollution and buses and trains will be driven not by people, but by computers.

This is not as far fetched as it sounds, earlier this month, the French city of Lyon introduced a new driverless minibus service that is being described as a “world first”, and in October 2014  UK Transport for London (TfL) unveiled 250 driverless tube trains, which should come into service from 2022.

But what does this mean for jobs and the people who work in transportation?

In a recent article in The Guardian, Trevor Dorling, director of Digital Greenwich, the council’s in-house smart city programme, said that he is sceptical of companies that pitch automation technologies as a means of cutting staff. “I don’t think that’s our starting point at all,” he says. “We want to embrace technology and improve services, and try to square the circle of increasing demand at a time of severe cuts in public funding.

Likewise, Professor Phil Purnell, who leads the school of civil engineering research team at Leeds University comments;  “What we need is the people who are doing tasks that are fairly dull and don’t need much skill freed up to attack the real infrastructure problems, of which there are hundreds upon hundreds that we’re burying our heads in the sand about.” 

However, tasks are very different to jobs.

Rick Robinson, IT director of smart data and technology at Amey says; “I think we overlook the value of a quality personal relationship between two people at our peril, because it’s based on life experience, which is something that technology will never have – certainly not current generations of technology, and not for many decades to come.”

Speaking recently to the MD of a built environment consultancy who needs to replace 30 years of experience as one of his colleagues is retiring, this knowledge is incredibly difficult to replace.  He is looking at employing two people to replace one experienced person, so how many robots is that?

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