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TRANSPORT & LOGISTICS | Karen Mesina, Hong Kong

Job losses loom over trucking industry as driverless units start rolling out

What must governments do to brace themselves from the impact?

Governments must consider ways to manage the transition to driverless trucks in order to avoid potential social disruption from job losses, says a new report published by the International Transport Forum (ITF) with three partner organisations.

Self-driving trucks will help save costs, lower emissions and make roads safer. They could also address the shortage of professional drivers faced by the road transport industry, the study says. Jose Viegas, Secretary-General of the International Transport Forum (ITF), predicted that in 10 years driverless trucks will be rolled out across all roads--it could even be slower than expected. But to make sure that roll-out is smooth, he warned: "There has to be a transitionary advisory board that must assist the trucking industry. Infrastructure must and will not be the cause of delay in rolling out driverless transport."

But automated trucks could reduce the demand for drivers by 50-70% in the US and Europe by 2030, with up to 4.4 million of the projected 6.4 million professional trucking jobs becoming redundant, according to one scenario. Christian Labrot of the International Road Transport Union expressed concerns on the current shortage of drivers in the industry across the globe. "We are faced with shortage in drivers at the moment. 10% of trucks in India for example are stuck because there are no drivers. In Germany, only 3% of the drivers are aged 25 and below, while a major chunk of the drivers are 50-year old and above," he said. "We will need qualified drivers in the future as well as driverless transports can not do everything."

Even if the rise of driverless trucks dissuades newcomers from trucking, over 2 million drivers in the US and Europe could be directly displaced, according to scenarios examined for the report.

Mac Urata of the International Transport Workers' Federation added that driverless trucks will have the biggest impact in the sector as it will displace a large amount of workers. "It will make up to 4.4m driving jobs redundant in America and Europe. In the railway industry, we experienced over 100,000 displacement in Argentina and Brazil in the early 1990s, and this era is going to displace more in the truck industry."

Anders Kellstrom of the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association added, "We must avoid a patchwork of solutions as we need transportation to go across all borders." This was in response to queries on how safe and secure the driverless trucks are when rolled out.

The report makes four recommendations to help manage the transition to driverless road freight:
- Establish a transition advisory board to advise on labour issues.
- Consider a temporary permit system to manage the speed of adoption.
- Set international standards, road rules and vehicle regulations for self-driving trucks.
- Continue pilot projects with driverless trucks to test vehicles, network technology and communications protocols

Karen Mesina of the Hong Kong Business is at the International Transport Forum 2017 in Leipzig, Germany. The forum runs from May 31 to June 2, 2017.

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