When will transport be automated?

Tasks are automated, not jobs.

Passenger and freight road transport will continue to require labour for the foreseeable future. A 2017 study found that by 2045, only 10% of the US trucking industry would be fully automated.[1] Aviation, rail and shipping are already highly automated, with little potential for full automation anytime soon.

Automation of transport is being delayed by the failure to properly enforce regulations designed to protect working conditions and wages. Truck drivers are being trafficked into the EU from East Asia, subcontracted by multinational retailers, and paid less than €200 per month. [2]Labour is too cheap, and this makes automation too expensive. The cost of transport labour is falling in real terms in many of the world’s major economies, whilst the costs of advanced stages of automation will be even higher.

The technology and infrastructure needed for automation remains insufficient or is yet to be developed. Regulatory barriers remain high and testing of highly automated transportation is restricted to controlled environments. Most major economies have not yet settled the important issue of liability and cross-border standardisation. Without this, highly automated transport and trade remains unlikely.

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[1] ‘The Future of Transportation Work’ (Draft), Australia Institute, July 2017

[2] ‘Exploitation of non-resident workers in European road haulage’, International Transport Workers’ Federation, 2017