June 4, 2018

Searching for Scooter, Man — It’s For the Birds

From Slate, a fun take on one Santa Monica resident’s attempt to make a buck as an electric scooter charger.

These little suckers from Bird (not unlike LimeBike, pictured above in San Francisco) could be considered dock-less, as they can be picked up and dropped off anywhere, within prescribed boundaries.

However, they do need docks, for charging. And that’s where you can earn a little side cash. Take a stroll, scoop up some scoots, take them to a charging station, and there’s a little side cash.

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From Bloomberg: “Who’s Winning the Self Driving Car Race?
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicts that robo-taxis will help the ride-hailing and -sharing business grow from $5 billion in revenue today to $285 billion by 2030. There are grand hopes for this business. Without drivers, operating margins could be in the 20 percent range, more than twice what carmakers generate right now. If that kind of growth and profit come to pass—very big ifs—it would be almost three times what GM makes in a year. And that doesn’t begin to count the money to be made in delivery.

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By Laura Bliss — Pacific Standard
Earlier this month, Lyft announced that all passenger rides will be carbon neutral, indefinitely. The plan is to cancel out vehicle emissions by investing in carbon offset projects, while eventually folding electric and autonomous vehicles into its fleet. The move bolsters the company’s image as a greener, more socially conscious alternative to Uber, its major competitor, which has not made such a pledge. …

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More news (it comes in daily) on the emergence of Transportation Service Providers – this time a data-sharing project between the public (Washington, DC) and private (Uber) through an intermediary (NACTO).  This suggests TSPs may be some mix of both.  Maybe.  (Check the last paragraph for where this is going.)
From Wired:

Today, the curb represents the most contested space in the urban world. Cyclists pedal through bike lanes, cars battle for parking spots. Taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts pick up and drop off riders. Delivery trucks unload Amazon Prime boxes and buses pull in and out of stops. People on foot scuttle through it all, trying not to get hit.

The people running cities believe there should be a place for all these things.  … But before city governments can start reallocating that space (too long given over to private, parked cars), they need information.

“The autonomous age is upon us but most cities really don’t even have the network password to log in,” says Janette Sadik-Khan, a former New York City transportation commissioner and the chair of National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).  …

You know who does have that data? Private sector companies like Uber, which collect piles of information on who goes where, and when. And historically, they’ve been loath to let it until the sunlight. …  

Until now, perhaps. In January, NACTO quietly rolled out a data-sharing project called SharedStreets. And last week, it landed a very important private sector partner, in Uber. The ride-hail company has started using the project as an intermediary, to share sensitive pick-up and drop-off data for Washington, DC.

DC is pleased. “Data today is worth more than gold, oil and cryptocurrency,” says Ernest Chrappah, the director of the city’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles, which oversees taxi, limos, and ride-hail companies in the district. …

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I’ve been predicting the rise of the TSP – Transportation Service Providers: potentially huge integrated companies providing consumers with transportation options and replacements for personal car ownership. Like Ford fleets:
From engadget:

Ford’s Jim Farley told the Financial Times in an interview that the automaker’s self-driving car network will be running “at scale” in 2021. It launched its recent Miami pilot precisely so that it “can scale [by] then,” the executive said, not to merely get the ball rolling. Farley also stressed that this would be a truly Ford-run service. While Ford does have self-driving car partnerships with companies like Lyft, it intends to “own the fleet” for its own services.
… it’s not entirely surprising that the company would push for a large, in-house driverless network. Its leadership has repeatedly talked about preparing for the decline of car ownership, and that means a shift toward services (such as its on-demand commuter vans) instead of pure car sales. If it runs its own fleet, it has a reliable business even if vehicle sales to other customers eventually dry up.

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From South China Morning Post, via Thomas Beyer:

A Chinese carmaker has launched a vehicle sharing service in Shenzhen by offering a special deal on rental prices that works out cheaper than bike sharing.

GoFun, a car-sharing platform backed by state-owned Shouqi Group, said has put 300 new energy vehicles into service in the southern Chinese city, considered to be China’s Silicon Valley. 

The rental cost is just one yuan (US$0.16) per kilometre plus 0.1 yuan per minute, which works out at about half the cost of using Chinese ride hailing service Didi Chuxing. However, new customers can take advantage of a special deal of one yuan for three hours of driving, which is even cheaper than bike-sharing services in the city.

“It is a common strategy for technology companies to use low prices or even free services to attract new users,” said Zhao Ziming, a senior analyst at Beijing-based consultancy Cyzone. “The price will go back to normal when the companies gain a certain market share.” 

Carmakers like Shouqi Group are looking to develop vehicle sharing services based on the assumption that future consumers would rather make short-term use of those assets than owning them outright. In February, Didi Chuxing teamed up with 12 Chinese carmakers to develop an electric-vehicle sharing platform.

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From Vox, by way of Doug Clarke:

(There is) a growing concern among urbanists that AVs will, by making personal-vehicle travel so much more convenient, induce more of it. They worry that AVs will increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT), further clogging America’s already congested city streets. … There are reasons to believe that any private autonomous vehicle industry will not just increase VMT, but will pursue more VMT aggressively.

… a new company called Vugo… has contracts with about 3,500 Uber and Lyft drivers in New York City to install video screens in their vehicles. The screens will display video advertising and, at least initially, cannot be turned off or completely muted. … The money the drivers receive from Uber and Lyft, from direct fees charged to passengers, is barely getting them by. They need supplemental income. Thus, advertising.

If shared fleets of autonomous vehicles come to be funded primarily by advertising, we will end up with an auto industry even more committed to auto supremacy than the current one — at best a reluctant partner in any effort to make cities denser and more livable, at worst a committed foe. …

Transportation is going to become more like an app, and we know how most apps are funded

One thing transportation experts have come to agree on is that transportation is evolving into more of a service than a commodity. Rather than buying cars, consumers will buy miles.

Three trends are converging in transportation: electrification, autonomy, and sharing. Anyone who claims to know exactly how that will play out, the timing of those changes, is probably selling something. But the logic of all three trends leans toward transportation as a service (TaaS). …

Barring the unlikely event that cities take ownership of these fleets and begin offering transportation as a public service (TaaPS?) funded by taxes, private industry is going run this process. Competition will be relentless, and with it the drive to reduce subscription or per-mile prices charged to customers. …
Eventually, someone will think to offer upfront charges of $0. Transportation as a free service (TaaFS)! …
So we have to at least consider the possibility that the future of transportation could be dominated by large fleets of shared, electric, autonomous vehicles funded by revenue from advertising — that our smart vehicles could become our next smartphones, tools to deliver our attention to advertisers. …

The only way to spend time with a car is to drive somewhere in it. Insofar as they get revenue from advertising, owners of shared vehicle fleets will want more people to go more places in cars. Their revenue will rise with VMT, so they will strive to maximize VMT.

Hitching ad revenue to VMT would put the industry squarely in opposition to other, non-car modes of transit and make it an enemy of good urban planning. It would strengthen short-term gratification and weaken long-term foresight — and foresight is already difficult enough to come by in transportation planning.

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From Planetizen:

Multiple Studies Find Ride-Hailing Contributes to Congestion and Transit Losses

Surveys on ride-hailing conducted by regional planning agencies, academic institutions, and public transit agencies throughout the U.S. reviewed by the Associated Press largely led to the same conclusion: more traffic and reduced use of transit.
One of the most comprehensive studies on ride-hailing which surveyed 4,000 users in seven major metropolitan areas was released last October by UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) …
The study “found that a large portion of travelers are substituting ride-hailing in place of public transit, biking, and walking trips, or would not have made the trips at all,” wrote Clewlow
A ridership study [pdf] also released last October by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority … found that “30% of passengers across all modes report that using [ride-hailing] services reduces their use of the MBTA.”
The two studies were among many reviewed by Steve LeBlanc of the Associated Press on Feb. 25. All but one conducted by Seattle-based firm INRIX that evaluated traffic congestion in London found transportation network companies (TNCs) contributing to traffic congestion and transit ridership reductions.
“The emerging consensus is that ride-sharing (is) increasing congestion,” said Christo Wilson, a professor of computer science at Boston’s Northeastern University who has analyzed Uber’s surge pricing.

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This proposal for New York City isn’t likely to be passed, but it raises the question: What should be the surcharge for ride-hailing services to use public infrastructure and to control congestion?
From the New York Times:

With Uber and Lyft cars taking over Manhattan streets, a state task force has proposed a surcharge of $2 to $5 on rides in for-hire vehicles as part of a broader congestion pricing plan to keep traffic moving and raise money to shore up public transit.

But now a prominent transportation expert, Bruce Schaller, contends that those fees are simply too low to deter most passengers from calling cars, and in any case, would result in only a temporary reduction in congestion before being offset by the rapidly growing ride-hailing services.

In a new report on Wednesday, Mr. Schaller calls instead for charging all for-hire vehicles — including yellow taxis and Uber and Lyft cars — $50 per hour to drive in Midtown Manhattan during weekday business hours, and $20 per hour in Lower Manhattan, the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side. Mr. Schaller, a former city transportation official, said he based the fees on current parking garage prices in Manhattan.

“It takes high parking fees to really discourage people from driving into Manhattan,” said Mr. Schaller, who advised to the state task force. “Uber and Lyft and taxi passengers need the same price signals.”

The hourly fee would be passed along to passengers. By his calculation, the average fare for a ride that begins and ends in Midtown would more than double to $24 from $10. The average fare for rides from Midtown to other Manhattan neighborhoods, or vice versa, would increase to $28 from $14, he said.

It would also apply to vehicles even when they are not carrying passengers to discourage drivers from just circulating around Manhattan streets looking for business. Mr. Schaller said those fees would be billed to ride-hailing companies and taxi owners, who could pass that on to passengers through higher fares.

The result would be an immediate reduction in Midtown traffic since for-hire vehicles would make fewer trips, according to Mr. Schaller. He estimated that daily trips during the weekday would drop 11 percent to 64,000 from 72,000. He added that the top fee of $50 per hour would be charged in only a tiny fraction of the overall trips. …

Jon Orcutt, a spokesman for TransitCenter, a research and policy foundation, said that he supported Mr. Schaller’s approach of using an hourly fee rather than a per-ride fee to manage congestion “because I think we’re going to need tough measures to keep the streets moving.” He expressed doubt, though, that a $50 hourly fee would win approval from state officials, given that congestion pricing already faced significant hurdles in New York …

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Further to the February 20 post about Transportation Service Providers, there is this from The Guardian:

London-based transit app Citymapper is today launching Smart Ride, a hybrid bus and taxi service that will take riders around a fixed network in the capital.
The company is operating the service under a private hire licence from Transport for London, following a pair of trial “smart bus” routes in the capital. The new licence limits the firm to operating vehicles that can carry eight or fewer people, but frees it to run future routes that can change dynamically as demand shifts, rather than being legally mandated to stick to specific timetables and stopping patterns.
“We believe in the future of shared transportation in cities, there is no way we’re going to solve for congestion and pollution otherwise,” Omid Ashtari, Citymapper’s president and head of business, told the Guardian. “But the regulations we see are not stacked in the favour of the bus industry to make sure that works.


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