Uber shuts down its controversy-steeped self-driving truck effort to focus on autonomous cars

usatoday – excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber’s self-driving vehicle efforts are now entirely focused on automobiles, a technological challenge that could mean a financial windfall to ride-hailing companies.

The company recently announced it was shuttering its self-driving truck division, which after its founding in 2016 almost immediately became mired in controversy and was the subject of a lawsuit by rival self-driving car company, Google-owned Waymo.

“We recently took the important step of returning to public roads in Pittsburgh,” Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, said in a statement provided to USA TODAY. “As we look to continue that momentum, we believe having our entire team’s energy and expertise focused on this effort is the best path forward.”

Uber’s self-driving efforts took a big hit earlier this year when one of its Volvo SUVs equipped with autonomous sensors failed to detect a pedestrian crossing the street in a Phoenix suburb. The Volvo’s safety driver also did not react in time, leading to the death of Elaine Herzberg, 49… (more)

This is another case of selling products that don’t exist while they are in an experimental design phase to get ahead of the perceived competition. Good to hear they are at least letting go of self-driving trucks.

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Good riddance to Bay Area’s transportation czar

By Mercury News & East Bay Times Editorial Boards : mercurynews – excerpt

Replacement for MTC’s Steve Heminger should bring vision for region’s transportation and housing

Steve Heminger, the executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, announced Wednesday that he will end an 18-year reign by retiring early next year…

The region’s freeways are gridlocked. Public transit systems are in disarray. Commute times continue to increase. Heminger touts his agency as “action-oriented and project-based,” but that has translated into piecemeal construction, pathetic planning and a lack of long-range vision. The agency merely hands out money for one politically popular project after another with little sense of where it will all lead.

Meanwhile, Heminger flew around the world on top-priced airline tickets at public expense; deceived the public and flouted the law to use bridge toll money to fund his badly overbudget quarter-billion dollar regional government building on prime downtown San Francisco real estate; and masterminded his agency’s hostile takeover of the staff of the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The Bay Area deserves better in what is arguably the most important job shaping the region’s transportation and housing. The time for a road project here, a rail extension there and tax increases wherever they can be found is over….

He’s leaving now. It’s time for the commissioners to step up, to show leadership — to make one of the Bay Area’s most critical government hires. For the sake of Bay Area residents and the region’s economy, they need to get it right… (more)

 

Streetsblog Q&A with BART Board Candidate Janice Li

: streetsblog – excerpt

Late last week, Janice Li, Advocacy Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, stopped by City Hall to pull papers and officially begin her campaign for the District 8 seat of the BART Board. District 8, located entirely in San Francisco, includes Balboa Park, Montgomery, and Embarcadero Stations. Li has gotten off to a strong start, with endorsements from Assemblyman Phil Ting, Supervisor Jane Kim, and BART Board Directors Bevan Dufty and Lateefah Simon, among others. If she wins, she’ll be taking over the seat vacated by Nick Josefowitz, who is currently running for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors…

Streetsblog: So what can a bike advocate bring to the table for BART?

Janice Li: I don’t necessarily see myself as a bike advocate first and foremost. When I started at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, I had no professional planning experience. But I was brought on as someone who has done really deep community-based work, who has done membership development, and someone who has established leadership capacity at a nonprofit organization. My roots are community-based work, in marginalized communities in the West End of Buffalo. One of my first tasks was making inroads into Chinatown and other Chinese Communities in SF. There are so many things that are really important to me before I even get on a bike…

JL: A broader issue is we now have different modes of transportation: ferry, Caltrain, and a lot of private and privatized transportation. You can pay for the privilege not to see that. It’s problematic because then you get different tiers of transportation… you don’t want to deal with the smell of piss, [then you] go catch a Lyft, or get on your Chariot. That’s problematic because they’re pulling money away from public transit. I strongly believe that public transit is a public resource. Now you have BART competing with the Google shuttle–guess who’s going to win?

SB: The shuttle.

JL: Right. BART’s not going to win.

SB: But it doesn’t have to be that way…

SB: So is this primarily about resource allocation?

JL: I feel like it’s hard for me to just be like ‘I know all the ills.’ But past directors weren’t always on the ground seeing what was happening at the stations. So the state of stations not feeling safe or getting cleaned became an okay status quo. I think when Nick Josefowitz and Beven Dufty joined the BART board they pushed a lot of buttons, saying this may be your status quo, but this is an untenable status quo. I want to keep pushing ‘this is NOT okay.’…

JL: I’m unfamiliar with the technology or train operations. But I generally have a lot of concerns around autonomous technology. I would say what I would encourage BART to do is have a work plan for a more autonomous future.

SB: Fare and service integration?…

If I am elected to the BART board, I will find my way onto the MTC commission. But I think individual agencies need to take leadership and force integration if MTC won’t…

I have problems with public agencies, be it BART, or SFMTA, or Public Works, who think that delay is status quo so it’s fine. We have to say ‘we will hold you accountable,’ and if they miss their timelines, ‘why did you set that timeline in the first place,’ and ‘why are you okay with being wrong!’…

I think Lateefah Simon pushes BART staff to do full investigations. Again, that’s the way that BART directors can use their role and power of office to hold agencies accountable and they are great models… (more)

If you need more people on BART, for security reasons, dropping the driver makes no sense. With the presence of a driver, you have at least one human on each train. One set of eyes watching the passengers that should be able to put out an alert when there is a problem. One expert who knows how to deal with emergencies.

If you need more people on BART, for security reasons, dropping the driver makes no sense. With the presence of a driver, you have at least one human on each train. One set of eyes watching the passengers that should be able to put out an alert when there is a problem. One expert who knows how to deal with emergencies.

We will have to see who else is running, but Ms. Li seems to have some good ideas on how to improve the BART system.

 

 

New bus operator offers low-cost routes to LA, SF

By Ben van der Meer : bizjournals – excerpt

Sacramento has another competitor in the space for low-cost travel to other cities without flying or driving.

FlixBus, which started operations in Los Angeles in May, expanded bus service to Sacramento and other Northern California cities Thursday, including several in the Bay Area and Central Valley.

Its strategy is straightforward: Tickets as low as $4.99 to San Francisco and $14.99 to Los Angeles, using buses equipped with Wi-Fi and a full range of movies and other entertainment for every seat.

Three buses will leave from Sacramento daily at 5:50 a.m., 1:10 p.m. and 10:50 p.m., arriving at either University of California Los Angeles or the University of Southern California in about nine hours. Three other buses arrive daily in Sacramento from those starting points. The pickup and drop-off point is the California Automobile Museum at 220 Front St.

Other cities with FlixBus service starting Thursday include Bakersfield, Fresno, Oakland, Reno and San Jose… (more)

One more reason SF needs a robust parking transit hub system to connect people with all the mobile options easily without taking up curb space. This is the only win win possibility we have if we want to clean up the mess and build flexibility into the system for those constant transit meltdowns. Don’t bother to fight it. Just fix it.

Lawsuit targets toll authority over $3 bridge toll increase

By Erin Baldassari : mercurynews – excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO — A taxpayers association, on behalf of three plaintiffs from Vallejo, Vacaville and Lodi, is challenging a recently approved $3 bridge toll increase in state court — a move that could potentially delay or eliminate the measure.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed the suit Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court against the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA). It challenges the notion that Regional Measure 3, which voters approved last month, is a “fee” requiring only a simple majority to pass, rather than a “tax,” which requires two-thirds voter approval.

The suit asks that the toll be invalidated…

That’s not a fair increase for the drivers who will be footing the bill for public transit or bicycle and pedestrian projects, which together account for roughly two-thirds of the planned projects, said Timothy Bittle, a lawyer for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. …

Prop 26, which voters approved in 2010, broadened the definition of a tax to include many payments previously considered to be fees, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Fees that benefit the public broadly — rather than providing services directly to the fee payer, such as garbage fees or state park entrance fees — would be considered a tax under Prop 26, the analyst’s office said…(more)

NOW is the time to DEMAND A PUBLIC HEARING on the privatization of our public streets.

“Lyft’s Big Bike-Share Buy Is About Ruling the Streets”.

This is the headline running on Wired after the recent announcement that Lyft acquired Motivate, and the Gobikes. According to the article, Lyft would not discuss the terms of Motivate’s exclusive contract with the SFMTA, but they have talk to San Francisco City authorities and voters if we demand they do.

The contract was brought to our attention at and reviewed a few months ago at a SFMTA Board of Directors hearing on alterations on Bayshore. The contract was reviewed by a number of people at that time and alarms were set off but few people paid attention, although the media has done a decent job of covering these issues. This program will turn into the Airbnb disaster on the streets and it could be stopped now before any more damage is done.

Has SFMTA sold us out to Lyft, Uber, Ford and GM and their plans to control our streets? We know they will replace human jobs with robots. How does this fit into MTC’s expansion plans for more public transit and the environmental argument for dense cities along transit corridors in the Bay Area that SPUR is pushing?

How SMART is it to sell our streets to private corporate giants that plan to robotize our streets killing thousands of human jobs­­? Isn’t this what everyone complained about the last time GM bought the rails and dismantled them? How much support are the on-demand entities getting from our public transit agencies in their efforts to take over our streets again?

The public needs to decide how we want to use our streets while they are still ours!  Now is the time to put a stop to the removal of public parking while we figure out how well the SFMTA programs are serving us and our needs.

We insist on an investigation into the relationships between our public transportation department and these private entities. These contracts between private and public enterprises look suspicious when we see that the public is paying to supplement these private enterprises that claim they are taking over our streets as described here: Chariot adds commute routes for UCSF employees, with public funding

Who made this deal to use public funds to supplement the Chariot rides for UCSF employees living in the East Bay. Where are the public funds coming from? Does Chariot get Bay Bridge toll exceptions too while the rest of us pay more to cross? Who gets exceptions to those tolls?

We have been complaining about the separation of powers within the SFMTA and now we see there is a problem of separation of powers and interests between our public and private transportation entities. 

ENUF already! Demand they stop removing pubic parking now. This is Airbnb on the streets. Merchants and residents are already having problems with delivery services with the curb parking that we have left now. We cannot afford to loses more curb parking.

Who is on our side? Ask your supervisor and those running for the office in November what they plan to do about the privatization of our streets by the SFMTA. Some supervisors have already taken a stand on our side. Public parking has been restored and saved. Thank the supervisors who have acted in our behalf and ask them how you can resolve parking problems using Ordinance #180089.

GM Quietly Working On Launching its Robo Taxi Service in San Francisco

By Eric Waltz : futurecar – excerpt

Since General Motors acquired San Francisco-based autonomous driving startup Cruise Automation in 2016 for $1 billion, the two companies have been laying the groundwork and testing autonomous technology for a commercial launch of a robo taxi service using an autonomous fleet of Chevy Bolt EVs. Now, more details of the project have been revealed.

Automotive News has reported that Cruise installed 18 fast EV chargers in a parking facility near San Francisco’s Embarcadero, a bustling waterfront district popular with tourists that includes Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building Marketplace. GM’s self-driving car unit has been testing its own ‘Cruise Anywhere’ ride-hailing app and fleet-management system, said people familiar with the matter.

GM is planning to start its own ride-hailing business using self-driving cars outfitted by Cruise in 2019, but the company has remained silent on when the robo taxi service would start or whether it will work with a partner. Now it appears that San Francisco will be the first launch city.

(more)

Interesting that they picked the Embarcardero area to develop their “driverless taxi service”. I was just down at the Embarcadero Center and almost all of the the retail spaces are empty. Most restaurants, shops and bars seem to have closed. All the street parking was taken up by construction trucks. Is this the future of our humanless city? Empty robocars driving around in search of a human rider? A better question is, has the SFMTA signed a contract with GM to launch a progam in SF without bothering to inform us yet? And how does the voting public take away their pen? I this another PUC product? How does the voting public take away the state’s right to control local affairs?