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SELF-DRIVING: What would a taxi driver’s job look like with ‘Level 3’ autonomous driving?

Updated: Jun 3

Image credit: DALL.E (AI generated)

Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is gathering pace and entering transport networks around the world with varying success. Whilst fully autonomous driving may still be a way off, it's not infeasible to think lower level autonomy may enter the UK taxi trade in a driver's working lifetime.

So what would a taxi driver’s job look like as a result? A taxi driver operating a Level 3 automated vehicle would see their role shift from direct vehicle operation to a more supervisory and customer-focused position, reflecting the capabilities and limitations of this level of automation.

Here’s a detailed look at what a tactical driver's job might entail in this scenario:

Primary Responsibilities:

1. Monitoring Systems: While the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving under certain conditions, the driver must remain alert and ready to take over at a moment's notice. This requires continuously monitoring the vehicle’s systems and the driving environment to ensure that everything functions as expected.

2. Taking Control When Needed: Level 3 automation is not equipped to handle every possible driving scenario. The driver must be prepared to intervene in situations where the automation fails or is outside its operational parameters, such as severe weather conditions, unexpected road layouts, or complex traffic scenarios that the system cannot navigate.

3. Ensuring Safety: The driver's role in ensuring passenger safety becomes more critical with automation. This involves verifying that the vehicle's sensors and cameras are clear, systems are fully operational, and no technical issues are present before and during the journey.

Secondary Responsibilities:

1. Customer Service: With the vehicle handling routine driving tasks, the driver can focus more on providing enhanced customer service. This could involve interacting with passengers, offering information about the route or destinations, managing in-cab amenities, and ensuring a comfortable and pleasant travel experience.

2. Route Management: Although the vehicle can navigate on its own, the driver can still oversee the route selection, particularly in complex urban environments or in cases where specific passenger requests need accommodation. They would manage the GPS or mapping systems to optimise the route based on traffic conditions, road closures, or passenger preferences. The Knowledge of London and other topographical testing would still be vital!

3. Emergency Handling: In the event of a system malfunction or failure, the driver must be adept at regaining control of the vehicle swiftly and safely. This requires a high level of skill in emergency driving techniques and a thorough understanding of the vehicle's manual and automated systems.

To excel in this role, drivers would need specialised training that goes beyond traditional driving skills. This training would cover the technical aspects of the automated systems, including how to operate and troubleshoot them, as well as enhanced customer service skills to maximise passenger satisfaction.

There may be an argument that drivers should be equipped with advanced diagnostic tools to monitor the health of the vehicle’s automated systems. They would also use interfaces that provide real-time data on system performance and alerts to potential issues.


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