Category Archives: new trends

Will Waze Carpool App Slow Down Uber?


Waze App for Carpools
Waze Carpool App   https://www.waze.com/carpool

Smartphones have accelerated travel information…notifications of real-time traffic, on-demand transit, and, of course, rideshare. But, can a smartphone app crack carpooling?  Waze, a Google subsidiary, developed a carpool app that will look familar to rideshare users, with features like driver name, cost, and arrival time.  Waze is now taking that app nationwide and providing incentives for new signups.

Carpooling has been the transportation “nut” that smartphones have not pried open.  In Los Angeles and most other US cities, only about eight or nine percent of commuters choose to carpool despite numerous campaigns.  I personally worked on TDM (transportation demand management) in Los Angeles and observed carpools to be the “high hanging fruit.”  (editorial  note:  nuts can be fruits)

where to buy flagyl in uk CARPOOLS: THE HIGH HANGING FRUIT

Why?    First, the ‘real’ number of carpools is inflated and considerably less than the census numbers state. Today’s carpool count includes drivers who ride with a family member, or drop their children off at school. The drivers can legitimately say that they have a passenger, get counted in the surveys, and gain access to faster carpool lanes. But, they are purchase Clomiphene online uk not picking up a casual acquaintance or stranger.  

Carpooling can be inconvenient for a driver who might have to detour during peak-traffic to pick up or drop off passengers. It has been awkward for the driver and passenger to set a price and exchange fees.

http://littleparadisehotel.com/wp-json/oembed/1.0/embed?url=http://littleparadisehotel.com/ HOW WAZE COULD HELP:

In principle, a Waze app could shift the balance.


The missing component for carpooling is the ability to establish trust between strangers.  Hitchhiking fails because strangers meet up with no prior information. An app can close the gap by providing a strongly enforced rating mechanism, like the one pushed to riders and driver after each trip on Uber or Lyft.

Prior to smartphones, there was no systematic, real-time way for riders and drivers to establish trust.  Taxi drivers were considered trustworthy because they were screened through livery boards and medallions. Limo drivers and mini-cabs in the U.K. were subject to similar checks. It is important to note that taxis, limos, and mini-cab drivers all have commercial insurance. Uber and Lyft drivers do too once they secure a passenger trip.

To establish similar levels of trust, a robust carpool app may need to certify that the driver’s DMV driving record and insurance information check-out. Then, passengers will know that they will be riding with a responsible driver in a safe vehicle.

TIME IS OF MATTER AND MORE:

Both time and distance matter for would-be carpools. Here, Waze travel information could play a crucial role. Although detouring to pick up a rider a few blocks away might seem simple there could be significant delays for the driver depending on the roads, time of day, and traffic. The algorithms used by Uber and Lyft account for these issues when they match a driver and passenger. Carpooling apps can use the same tools to minimize the inconvenience for the driver, and keep the passenger informed as the ride approaches.

Second, smartphones plus credit cards solve the monetary transaction that needs to take place between driver and passenger. The passenger does not have to “split the gas” or “share the tolls.” No cash needs to be exchanged. Having a pre-established billing system reduces the uncertainty between strangers and builds trust (#1).

Something that is exogenous,  future increase in gas prices, may serve as an incentive to carpool.  However, transportation researchers have found,  that the travel time saved by using HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes is also an incentive, and as more users carpool, these designated lanes became less productive.

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That said, will the Waze app become as popular as Uber or Lyft, or will there be drawbacks?

  • Unless drivers arrange the carpool before they get in their vehicle, there will be even more reliance by  casual drivers using smartphones in traffic. Mobile phones are an increasing source of driver distraction, and there is mixed evidence, pro and con, of whether hands-free devices are safer.  Potentially, vehicle accidents could increase, but the app can help identify the safest drivers. 
  •  In a personal vehicle, the norms are fuzzy:  Some drivers may have difficulty speaking up about the house-rules and some passengers will flaunt them anyway. A carpool rating system may restore the balance, but because the rating system will be slower (a given driver makes only two or three trips a day) the driver might exit the entire system before there is an adequate feedback loop.  
  • Finally, this may be the most important reason why the carpool app will need time to grow:  “Drivers are turned inward”. The driver is transporting strangers in their personal car. For many, this vehicle is their largest purchase and most prized possession. Millions of dollars have been spent on advertising to remind car owners that “vehicles=freedom + identity + well-being.” 

So, until further notice, the decision to carpool could be overruled by the opportunity to make unannounced stops, do a drive-through for food, and have a sanctuary between the home and office.  It will just depend!

Curious why you see fewer posts here at GrayHomesGreenCars? Follow the  smartphone- centric blog at dearsmartphone.com and join in the discussion!

Rideshare As Niche Transit? (Nice!)

Rideshare and Transit Working Well
Rideshare and Transit as Partners

Can transit be a contender in the race for ‘first-mile last-mile’ and niche travel?  Transit doesn’t have a short, sexy name, like Lime or Bird, but transit does have room to grow if you pair it with rideshare. 

This past week I attended a short workshop held by the Massachusetts  Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) called a ‘Ride-Hailing Parternships Forum. The program showcased local  institutions that have partnered with Uber and Lyft .  It was an interesting weave of legacy  transportation and  the upstarts.  Here are observations, and in italics  my comments (JG).  While I have tried to be journalistically accurate, it is still a good idea to check with the workshop coordinator  before quoting.

Niche 1: Rideshare Goes Where Transit Does…But Faster

The Boston region has an older but extensive commuter-rail and bus network so in principle you don’t have to own a vehicle, even if you live in the outer suburbs. However, getting from one locale to another can be exceedingly slow if the travel trip requires connections or transfers. Northshore Community College had difficulty getting students to campus within a reasonable travel time as the classrooms, and campus services were spread over different locales (think of a triangle: public transit often had students traveling the right angle).

The Community College found a solution: they provide enrolled students with access to a rideshare business account. It has a cap of $10.00 per trip and travel is limited to commutes.  Northshore no longer operates a shuttle bus at an annual cost of nearly $100,000, and students seem to reach their classes with less travel time. This means that the campus can recruit from a larger area, retain students who have a family or work a second job, and not make car ownership seem like a prerequisite for getting an education.

JG: From a birds-eye view, rideshare is expanding the transit network in the greater Boston area. Over time, it may help to fine-tune it, and even reduce the number of low-performing bus routes (see Niche #4 below too). A larger question for land-user planners is how to locate future facilities, like a community college, closer to the main lines.

Niche 2: Rideshare Lowers the Cost of Paratransit and Makes Riders Happy

The Ride, which is the paratransit operation of the MBTA, had a purported annual budget in 2016 of  ~ $100 million.  Around 2016  they partnered with Uber and Lyft, and encouraged ambulatory passengers to take rideshare instead of the usual paratransit trip. Each rideshare trip trip would be subsidized, but could not exceed a cap.  What began as a pilot proved to be a win-win for passengers: they said they preferred arriving in Uber or Lyft instead of big, lumbering vans or Ride branded vehicles; they did not have to pre-book for travel often three or four days in advance; and they seemed to enjoy participating in high-tech mobility.

The  travel outcomes are surprising and important.  According to a RIDE spokesman: the pilot reduced the RIDE’s cost the per cost trip from $41.00  to just $17.00. That is a 59 percent decrease. However, it also fueled the number of trips “ordered” by eligible customers by nearly 46 percent.

There have been a few other bumps on the service road. Many  passengers resist taking pooled trips. And, a few Uber and Lyft drivers have been resistant to accommodating  service dogs. The stickiest and most challenging issue seems to be providing a sufficient supply of WAV  (wheel chair accessible vehicles).

JG: Perhaps one of the most vital aspects, still to be measured, is whether both the mental and physical health of RIDE passengers is improved. Does new- found mobility improve the quality of life and are their benefits from the opportunity to be more socially, culturally, and physically active?

Niche 3: Rideshare is the New Link to Medical Care:

It is often cited that 30 percent of patients miss their medical appointments because they cannot get to the doctor . Whether that percentage is too large is debatable (patients might want to cancel for other reasons), but the no-show numbers are staggering.

The Needham Community Council, a private non-profit social service agency tackled the issue several years ago when their Executive Director saw a decline in the number of volunteer drivers. She was the first to identify Rideshare as a back-stop for patients who had difficulty reaching medical services, and went on to negotiate business contracts with both Uber and Lyft (she currently uses only Lyft).  Since her older office staff lacked the facility to dispatch rides with smartphones, the council reverted to summoning rideshare trips via voice calls like the Go Go Grandparent  service.

The Needham service currently averages about thirty-five trips a month at an average cost of $8.00 per ride.  Although each trip is completely subsidized, the council discovered a soft touch so that about 25% of the riders to contribute to the cost of travel. Meanwhile, local hospitals and charities also make small financial contributions.

JG: The Needham program is noteworthy, not only because it was a first in health-care travel, but because it continues to be sustainable. Although many larger corporate players are moving into this space this is an example of how a small grassroots program can do the job well, and make up for the lack of volunteer drivers.

Niche 4: Rideshare is the Missing Link in the Transit Schedule

Bus service is not 24/7 but the needs of riders can be,  particularly on weekends, holidays, and after 6 pm.  With limited service evening riders are stranded along with those working night shifts and low paying service jobs.  In fact, to work a low paying job at night or weekends, you might need have to own a car. The problem is particularly acute in low-density, sprawling suburbs, where workers are more likely to be able to afford to live.

The Greater Attleboro-Taunton Regional Transit Authority (GATRA) operates fixed bus route service from  6 am to 6:30 pm weekdays, and Saturdays, 9 am to 5 pm. To meet the needs of their ‘under resourced’ riders,  community leaders  banded together to provide an alternative. They tapped into an existing transit grant of $30,000 and used the local YMCA as a lead. Now, riders who are opted-in by any of the community leaders (there are currently ten of them) get access to rideshare  outside of the narrow transit service window.

Other regional transit agencies are beginning to investigate the feasibility of this niche service, particularly for routes where headways are long and ridership is sparse (often a confounding problem).

JG: In an interesting twist of data analysis, origin/destination/ and time of day data from Uber and Lyft  might reveal where future bus service is warranted. It has generally been observed in other cities that the highest level of rideshare growth has been in the evenings and on weekends. 

—–

In our earlier blog, we observed that regulators are quick to jump on the bandwagon to tax the rideshare companies and blame them for increased traffic congestion and reduced transit ridership. In fact, an earlier publication by MAPC, whether correctly interpreted or not, led to the headline that Uber and Lyft were pulling people off public transit and putting them in traffic .

The MAPC workshop, yet organized by regulators, suggests there might be a softening and second look at entirely new and niche travel behaviors.  

Surveys are Simple…Rideshare is Not

Imrix and Traffic
A Traffic Question

Traffic congestion is caused by many factors: population and employment growth, construction activity, deliveries, on-street parking, aggressive lane-shifting drivers, and more.

But, policy makers insist that Uber and Lyft are the primary culprits. This belief has led officials in New York City and elsewhere to propose caps on the number of rideshare vehicles,  in the name of taming congestion. 

READING THE POLLS:

Sometimes policy makers take the polls too seriously or over-interpret the results. An oft-cited poll of rideshare users in Boston, Ma. cites that 42 percent of rideshare users would otherwise use public transit. A 2017 UC Davis study of Lyft and Uber riders in seven major cities reports that fifteen percent said they would ride transit more if ride-hailing was no longer available. A separate  poll in Boston observes that 30 percent of riders have switched from transit to rideshare.  

If you unpack the surveys, there are red flags:

  1. When riders take a poll (i.e. survey) they seek a response which is socially correct and appears reasonable. It is less socially acceptable to say you would use your own vehicle and drive…it is more socially acceptable to say you would have taken the bus or train.                                                                                                                                                   
  2. Some polls fail to report the number of riders who do not currently own a car, or who have decided to postpone the purchase of one.                                                                                                                       
  3.  In most major cities, public transit operates at capacity during peak commute hours. Young people have accelerated the demand for transit because they have a lower rate of car-ownership and live close in. However, transit capacity has not expanded to meet the ridership growth.                                                                                                               
  4. Under real conditions, riders may not take the bus or train on consecutive days of the work week. The decision to ride transit on a particular day depends on multiple factors: weather, if there are kids to pick up or drop off, packages or heavy bags to tote, and the walking distance to and from the bus stop.

INFERENCES:

It is both a statistical error and a social one to infer that all of the people who said they would have used mass transit would have completed their trip that way.

There is recent data from rideshare studies that inform the issue. One of the largest increases in rideshare takes place during late evenings and weekends… times when transit service is less frequent and there are longer waits. On weekends and evenings, car owners find rideshare to be convenient for other reasons too. They can save on the cost of parking, and not worry about DUI’s.

SURVEYS ARE SIMPLE:

The thing to keep in mind is that surveys are simple…but trips are not. If someone decides to drive, instead of taking Uber or Lyft, they might “bundle” the reason for taking that trip with other interim stops. These are called “chained trips” and drivers typically complete multiple stops (or errands) on a single tour. A survey question about a single trip does not get at the nuances of chained travel, and when you ask people specifically about a single transport mode they don’t tell you why they are traveling.

The demand for trip taking is elastic, so adding capacity will encourage brand new activity patterns and travel. The convenience, reliability and low cost of rideshare has surely increased trip taking.  This observation is highlighted  in the op cit. Clewlow/Misha/UC Davis poll: 22 % say they would take fewer trips without rideshare.

NEW PLATFORM= NEW DEMAND:

However, turned around, new travel trips would also have occurred on a different platform… say public transit…if transit had become more convenient, frequent, and reliable. Unfortunately, it has not kept pace with the return of Millennials to cities and most urban systems are hobbled by network and capacity issues. The gain in more personal travel modes, like bicycles and scooters is probably indicative of underlying demand. However, these modes are not safe or practical for many potential users.  Uber and Lyft have taken up the slack.

It’s easy to point to survey results that favor transit and to scapegoat rideshare for slowing down traffic. It’s also easy for lawmakers to then proceed from survey result “A” to outcome “B” and advocacy “C”: namely, a tax or freeze on rideshare in the spirit of trying to rein it in. It is a remnant from the heady days of selling taxi medallions.

It’s harder for these survey pundits to admit that cracks in the existing transit system enabled the demand for more travel trips and hence rideshare… to spring up.

When for Autonomous Vehicles… Follow the Horse

The Rapid Adoption of A New Mobility in NY

 

Many of the uncertainties surrounding Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) circle around dates. “When will AVs move from pilot tests to the open road,” and  “when will they outnumber conventional vehicles?” There is a lot riding on “when”. How can cities that plan transportation projects on a twenty or thirty years cycle evaluate future transit projects like rail when  the “when” is unclear?

Often radically new inventions, like the AV, have to lay-in- wait until components of the technology catch up. The Picturephone, for example, was demonstrated at the 1939 World’s Fair and AT&T showed a prototype in the 1960s. But, picture vision, like Skype, did not become mainstream until advancements were achieved in over-the-air bandwidth and video compression.

Similarly, remote-controlled AVs debuted in the 1920’s, but it took technological advancements in the 1980s to make them scalable. The functional vehicle required fast computing, computer vision, video cameras, and thereafter, neural processing networks and advanced sensors. We are now at the point where companies, specifically  Google,  have logged 5 million miles on the road and 5 billiion more on simulators.

A Problem to be Solved:

But, to get to the next stage, and solve “when” the technology must either create a problem to be solved, or solve an existing problem. There are useful parallels for problem solving from the time, over a hundred years ago, when the transition was made from horse and carriage to the human driven vehicle (HDV). Many people are surprised at how quickly HDVs displaced horses, particularly in urban areas. But, that’s because, as we will see, the technology was a problem solver.

First, some perspective. At the turn of the century, there were 21 million horses in the U.S.  and only about 4,000 automobiles. But, by 1908, in just eight years, the number of cars surpassed the number of horses in New York City. In more rural areas the diffusion was slower, but by 1922 horses were all but phased out, except in special applications. One of the key factors here was not a lack of interest, but often the absence of infrastructure, namely paved roads.

Infrastructure:

The human driven vehicle (HDV) required an infrastructure quite distinct from the horse and carriage.  Cars operated on paved roads, with painted lanes, signalization, and traffic rules. It is not widely known that a smaller technology, the bicycle, came first and helped transition roadways from rutted road or cobblestone to smooth, bituminous surfaces.

It is likely that we already have that smaller technology in place for the AV. Smartphones enable communication between drivers, vehicle sensors, and maps. The phone also has a different purpose: it is widely used in cars for ‘infortainment’, such that drivers may welcome the transition to AVS so that they can continue to text and talk more safely.

Efficiency:

During the transition from horses to cars, the wealthy acquired the first horseless carriages.  It was a status symbol. However, the real adoption took place, function-to-function. Freight-haulage was one of the later functions, probably because early cars did not have the horsepower, literally .

In the case of autonomous vehicles, freight shippers are on the leading edge because of opportunities to save time and reduce a reliance on drivers.  Autonomous cars may also appeal to suburban commuters, not because they are wealthy, but because they might help solve the problems of spending an average of 52 minutes a day stuck in traffic.

Resources:

The transition from horses to car vastly disrupted the supply chain for farmers and agriculture. A single horse required five acres of hay and grain annually, so vast tracts of farmland were reserved for growing, then transporting, horse feed.

The autonomous car, in this case an electric one, will likewise upend the supply chain. It will greatly reduce carbon emissions if solar energy or wind power are sources for generating the electricity. The electric AV will also significantly reduce emissions wrought by the extended  supply chain to drill, transport, refine, and store oil.

Public Health (1):

Public health is often cited as the core issue explaining why horse-driven transportation met a fast demise, and why cities were quick to adopt  human driven vehicles.

The millions of horses that pulled carriages and moved good and services left behind gigantic volumes of urine and waste.  Each day, the average horse produced 45 pounds of dung and a gallon of urine. Horses often died in service on the streets and their carcasses blocked traffic until they could be carted away.

The resulting public health issues ranged from noxious smells, horse dung passed on the shoes of pedestrians, flies, vermin, and airborne diseases.

Compared to horses, gas powered cars have fewer negative externalities, even with their massive C02 footprint. Electric cars will significantly reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. They will also reduce approximately $190 billion each year in health care costs associated with accidents.

The AV also brings two other distinct advantages under the rubric of public health. First, these cars are quiet and will reduce  decibel levels in public spaces; noise reductions may bring  health benefits. Another improvement, particularly for mental health, may emerge when a transportation mode decreases stress, anxiety, and road-rage.

Public Health (2) :

The incentive in 1900 to move from horses to human driven vehicles had a safety aspect. Although they seem quaint and relatively slow, horse-drawn wagons were not stable and accident prone. Horse and pedestrian fatalities were also common. About the same number of people were killed in New York City in 1900 in horse-pedestrian collisions, as were killed in 2015 by car-pedestrian interactions. Considering the momentous change in population, horses were a clear danger to those on foot.

Although the recent death of a pedestrian in Arizona by an autonomous vehicle  is still topical, people overlook that on that same day (March 19, 2018), 120 people died in automobile related incidents. The push to safety, expressed in campaigns like Vision 2020  is likely to propel the technology. Today, 94% of today’s accidents are attributed to human error. In 2016 there were more than 37,000 fatalities plus  6,827 pedestrian and bicycles deaths. Worldwide, 1.2 million people lose their lives in automobile accidents.  This may be the largest man-made public health crisis we have ever faced.

Conspicuous Consumption Sea-Change?

To the inquiry  of ‘when’ the autonomous vehicle will go mainstream and the problems it will solve, we add a  final footnote.

Wealthy people were  the first to adopt the human operated vehicle, and car ownership was initially known as “the rich man’s toy.”  Cars have continued to be a status symbol, fueled by advertising, at least until now.

Over the next decade there could be a sea-change. Since they began just six or seven years ago, rideshare services like Uber and Lyft have reduced the need, and sometimes the desire, to own personal vehicles. Few rideshare passengers care about the type of vehicle that picks them up; it is the convenience and ease of use that matters. Scooters, a more recent entry, are also shifting perceptions. It is important to watch these trends, because urban mobility could operate in the future more as a service, like electricity or water.

If that is the case, AVs could roll out quickly.  They are to future cities what human driven vehicles (HDV)  are to horses.

 

The Next Big Car App

 

Solving the Parking Crisis in Manhattan- May, 1929. theboweryboyshistory.com

What if you could use your smartphone to make your car trip safer and faster, increase road capacity, and pave the way for autonomous vehicles?

A prototype already exists on our phones; it’s the app that helps drivers locate off-street parking.  Some familiar names  are Spot Hero,  Parking Panda, WhereiPark, BestParking, ParkMe and ParkWhiz, but there are more.

Prior to apps, economists led by Donald Shoup  shook up the staid parking business with real-time applications of supply and demand pricing.  Programs like SF Park, reduce both search time and congestion. Pricing algorithms are based on inputs such as the past occupancy level, block size, time, day of week, and so forth. 

Now there is an opportunity to bring a new wave of improvements  through smartphones and location-aware sensors. 

GUIDED PARKING GROWS:

Guided parking apps are still evolving. Simply put, a driver enters her destination before  starting the vehicle trip, and is then routed to proximate parking places, based on preferences for cost and convenience.Upscale car manufacturers, like BMW, are already integrating Parkmobile functions into some of their dashboards . Or, the driver simply reserves a parking space before they get on the road. 

These apps are important because they change the behavior of drivers and make each trip they take more like rideshare.  Drivers do not circle aimlessly hoping to find street parking, they have an upfront knowledge of the full trip cost, and many times they are able to shorten the travel time, even allowing for the last leg on foot. It sounds like a lot, but the changes are subtle…. they sum to a more efficient use of road-travel. An IBM study estimated that up to 30 percent of traffic in a city may be caused by drivers searching for a parking spot and Imrix estimates that American drivers waste 17 hours per year in search of a space.

CHANGING EVEN MORE SPACES: 

Meanwhile, the parking apps also begin to prepare the public for autonomous vehicles. When the guided parking app is programmed to use surface lots and indoor structures, it frees up meters and curb space. Public policy needs to follow suit, and slowly reduce or eliminate street parking. This is vital because curb space is the essential enabler for future transportation: rideshare, demand based transit, and autonomous vehicles.

It may be a while before older drivers, like Baby Boomers, embrace parking apps that guide them to a surface lot or structure. But, there are plentiful reasons why younger people may enjoy them. First, the apps blend transportation with connectivity….just like an extension of the smartphones they live by. Second, being guided to a parking spot is sustainable….it helps to reduce congestion and carbon emissions. And, like rideshare, it can alleviate some of the stress and unpredictability of driving alone.

REDISCOVERING URBAN SPACE

The parking innovation is favored by two additional factors:

The first is the growing surplus of retail space and commercial frontage. As online shopping expands, the need for store-fronts shrinks. Before smartphones, commercial development sprawled along urban strips that encouraged drivers to park for free. Excess store-fronts may bring a return to denser, multi-use shopping centers that favor a more contemporary, leisurely outing centered around foot traffic, bicycles and scooters. The parking structure might have stores at ground-level, and for those needing special assistance, pickup and drop-off by a dedicated shuttle vehicle.

A second trend is also a positive: the app can free up street-side parking and  help foster open lanes. The right most travel lane could then be re-purposed for other modes of transportation, like scooters, bicycles, and motorized wheelchairs, as well as reclaiming the all-important travel curb. For many cities, the real policy issue will not be the supply and demand of parking spaces but rather, the loss of revenue from street side meters and pay-by-space.

While it may seem futuristic, smart mobile applications have already become a standard in the car. Drivers now depend on Waze and Google Maps for navigation and traffic updates.  They use pre-billed transponders to speed through toll booths.   And, when they choose not to drive, the smartphone is the enabler for  Uber or Lyft.

The growing use of smartphone apps for guided parking will add to this list. They are squarely built upon people’s familiarity and trust that telecommunications improves trip taking.

Uber Fast- Rideshare Slow?

J. Gould photo
Senior w/ bum leg meets Uber

Rideshare is fast paced. Yet,  as Uberhealthcare and Lyft Concierge expand into  new markets, and health care  in particular,  I wonder whether they need to slow things down, literally. 

For the past two years my colleagues and I have periodically offered a class  called “How to Rideshare” and it is held at the library or senior center. The course is divided into three sessions, because we have learned that seniors need time to process the information and practice.  These  students are not “digital natives.” It takes time  for them to get comfortable with smartphone basics, store a credit card online, understand cellular data versus WiFi, and position a virtual  pin on a virtual map. We have developed the class from scratch, using seniors to pretest our method, We also discovered the need to spend a lot of time going over the safety issues because seniors come full of worry….you can practically see the furrows in their brow. 

SAFETY AS SENIORS SEE IT

A specific concern keeps many seniors  wary of rideshare…. They fear that the drivers have a criminal record and will physically harm them. I don’t know the source of this anxiety, but I hunch that it originates from two concerns: first, trepidation about new technology, and second, an exaggeration on the part of the taxi industry of the rare rideshare trip that goes bad. Our classroom time dispels this safety issue. We describe the rigorous background checks (particularly in states like California and Massachusetts), we mention that Uber and Lyft provide millions of trips on a daily basis,  and we describe the advantage of cashless payment and an always-on, always trackable GPS.

We dispel the idea that rideshare is not safe for seniors.

THE HIDDEN SAFETY ISSUE

But, there is a different aspect of rideshare that continues to put older people in harm’s way. Seniors are slow, and the rideshare business is fast.

In a recent training session, the students, probably age 70 and older (we don’t ask)  had completed a five hours in the classroom, and were now excited to take their first road trip. The students successfully used their smartphone to get an Uber vehicle. For this session our destination was an ice cream parlor  located on a fairly busy street; Uber had provided ride credits, and the ice cream store had provided complementary cones. It was to be a happy graduation.

WIthin minutes a young Uber driver, in a late-model 4 door sedan pulled up, and I hopped into the front seat, while my students, two older ladies, opened the rear doors to settle into the backseat. Except that one of them didn’t. This particular elder had a bum foot and needed to walk with a cane. She was mobile on her feet, but in a dragging sort of way.  Meanwhile, the young Uber driver made a timing mistake- he waited the requisite period of time for an average passenger to load, and assumed that the lady was in the car. Without turning back to look at the passengers, he released the brake. The vehicle  started to lurch forward while our bum-footed passenger had only one leg inside the door. She was in mid-air, suspended between the street and the car.

The story has a happy ending because the Uber driver grasped the gravity, immediately  braked the vehicle before it could roll further, and sprang out to the rear door. There he  lifted the hapless rider  under her shoulder blades and wedged her into the backseat.

It was a fearful trip back to our classroom-  like travel in slow motion. As we waited for the trip to end so we could assess her condition, we distracted ourselves with talk about the Uber driver’s four month only baby boy, aptly named Miles. At the end of the trip, 15 minutes  and  5 miles later, we all breathed a sigh of relief as the lady with the bum foot took a step, then another, and hobbled away intact. No physical damage seemed to have been done, but we were all shaken up.

SLOW DOWN TO SPEED UP

I don’t know that this student will ever ride again…and I certainly know that the experience gave me second thought about how to teach rideshare to elders. Maybe there were safety concerns that I had cavalierly ignored.

Rideshare is clearly a tough business to slow down, because the faster a driver turns around passengers, the more trips and the more revenue. At the end of the day, I do not think that rideshare and older people are incompatible, but I do wonder how to mesh them better. I am reminded that as the rideshare business, Uber and Lyft, reach out to more elderly and medical riders, there is an apt proverb. It goes:  “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Provisional Phones/Provisional Drivers

The Provisional Phone And the Provisional Driver…

Are we needing to reinvent the phone for young people?

It used to be a teenage rite of passage in the U.S.:  At ‘Sweet Sixteen’ you were considered mature and could qualify to take a driving exam. Today, that rite comes smaller and younger. Children, well under the age of 16, have been indoctrinated into the whirl of smartphones, the friends and family of telecom.

According to a heavily reported news story in 2016, the average age (in the U.S.)  for having a smartphone today is 10 years.   That numerical average means that many of the users are actually younger!  Another statistic from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Common Sense Media, cites that 75 percent of low-income children have their own mobile device by the age of four.

Still, despite 100 years that separate their invention, smartphones and automobiles are joined at the hip. They bring similar rewards for young people.  With either technology, teens hang out with friends and meet new people, distance themselves from parental controls, and explore the world at large. However, there are also tragic parallels between the phone and driving a car. Teen drivers, ages 16 to 19 are nearly three time more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash and in 2015 there were more than 2,300 deaths. Meanwhile smartphones and social media use appear to correlate with an increase in mental illness, depression, and suicides.  A recent, large panel study with Gallup data compared offline and online social interactions. The researchers observed a statistically significant relationship between a self-reported decline in mental health and a heavier reliance on Facebook’s social interchange.

While no one is proposing that teens need a DMV (a motor vehicle office) to certify them as smartphone users, “provisional phones” could become a new heuristic. Since the beginning of automobiles there have been age restrictions. From the start drivers were required to be tested, and by 1909 one state, Pennsylvania, established an age restriction of age 18. Connecticut became the first state to lower that to age 16.

Today, smartphones seem to know no age restrictions, probably because children do not literally crash and burn. The impact is subtle. Yet recently, Silicon Valley executives, those who design hardware and software, have rallied for stricter technology use and even regulation.

Meanwhile, there is no scientific knowledge, just speculation, of the appropriate age at which children should have phones. There is an undercurrent (no pun intended) of fear about the health impacts of electromagnetic waves on young, developing brains. Meanwhile, ‘lucky thirteen’ seems to be popping-up as the new ‘sweet-sixteen’.  A Colorado doctor had proposed a ballot initiative to ban the sale of smartphones to kids under thirteen.  A large movement now afoot, in 48 states, is called wait until 8th (when children are approximately 14 years old).

The “right age” is clearly a dilemma for parents. Modern parents feel more secure if their children can be in contact, and they justify mobile phones because there are no longer land-lines. They also recognize that a child without a phone misses out socializing with friends and learning modern tools. Everyone knows that the ability and knowledge to handle electronic tools begins before age 13.

(end of part one)

Robots, Traffic Lights & Autonomous Cars

Johannesburg, photo by W. Riedel, 2011.

Robots, traffic lights, and autonomous cars have a lot in common. 

Ask a South African about Robots, and they will point to the humble traffic signal.  Robot Policemen was the name they gave to  the first traffic signals.  Over time, the name got truncated.  

Modern traffic signals are actually catching up to the name. Traffic signals will be an important milestone, past and future, for the autonomous vehicle.  By coincidence, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the interconnected traffic signal and the 103rd year of the electric one.

For just a moment, imagine that you were a driver in 1917. Engineers needed to earn your trust that these new signals would function correctly. If the engineers were wrong, or if the electricity that powered them failed, a collision would surely result.

The handiwork of the engineers could not stand alone. It also required laws and enforcement so that drivers and pedestrians  could share a common framework. The public had to agree to accept the change. Meanwhile, the technology was further codified by insurance regulations. There needed to be clear enforceable rules so that complete strangers, invisible inside cars to each other, could agree when to stop and go.

In 2027, ten years from now, there will be even more pronounced similarities between a robot and the traffic signal. By then, the passengers, formerly called drivers, will have to put their faith in electronic controls. An autonomous vehicle will not proceed until the signal is cleared, just as the driver in today’s conventional car knows  not to step on the gas pedal until the light turns green.

Traffic signals are evolving into a robotic mode, perhaps ahead of cars. Some signals in Pittsburgh, Pa. operate on an adaptive traffic signal system that uses artificial intelligence to change the signal on the fly. Uniquely, each signal is decentralized, and makes its own timing decisions, diverging from the signal standard of the past century. The benefits are less idling and fewer tailpipe emissions.

Similar advanced signaling may also be coming soon to a car near you. Audi and BMW have announced features that count down the time remaining until a traffic light turns green.  In an Audi vehicle, the number reads out on the instrument cluster and the heads-up display. The sensor can also determine whether the driver, at his current speed, will need to stop at a signaled intersection. Las Vegas was the first US city to agree to pilot the technology, and it requires users to have both a new Audi and an Internet like subscription in the vehicle.

Learning to program connected traffic signals used to be one the most mathematically complex aspects of civil engineering. Enabling vehicles, not drivers, to process the traffic signal is a major step on the road to autonomous vehicles. Newer signals are programmed through AI, as robots are.

One hundred years ago, society worried what would happen “if” the traffic light failed and the electricity went down. One hundred years later, drivers  will have an advanced system they must, anew, come to trust.

 

It Takes An Island: Hawaii & Smartphone Distraction

Pedestrian Safety Month
HDOT- 2017

It takes an island to do something about transport and smartphone distraction.

Visitors to Hawaii often take home a colorful shirt or bikini, a lei, or macadamia nuts. Now, however, they can come home with some lessons on smartphones, traffic safety, and multi-modal planning. The island of Oahu is moving forward with  initiatives that will encourage alternative modes of transportation. The first program gives some weight to an issue that National Safety Council advertises every April, but wishes that the public pay attention to all year: distracted driving. With a tropical twist, Honolulu will become the first city to ban walking with a cell phone. The motto for the program is “Don’t Walk and Cross.”  

The initiative prohibits pedestrians from using cell phones and other electronic devices when they are crossing a street. The initial fines are relatively minor, between $15 and $35, with a potential cap of $99. The Councilman who sponsored the bill observed that Hawaii is ranked 13th in pedestrian deaths. Additionally, the Honolulu police supported the legislation.

In public testimony, a high school teacher noted that “students are putting themselves at a high risk for potential injuries because they are being distracted by their devices,” and a young student from Waipahu High School  endorsed the bill because, “using a cellphone while crossing the street is just as dangerous as using a cellphone while driving… the (bill) builds awareness and educates others…” Opponents of the bill wanted to spend public funds on  infrastructure improvements instead and called the bill a government overreach. In their view, motorists should be regulated, not pedestrians.

The second program on Oahu is a bike share. Tourists and residents can now check out 1000 Biki bikes distributed over 100 locations. The cost is just $3.50 per hour or $20.00 for 5 hours. Advocates claim these bikes will cut down on congestion. Critics, on the other hand, argue that the rental bikes could worsen traffic as inexperienced riders share the road with buses, tourist trolleys, cars, mopeds, other bikers, and of course, pedestrians.  

It is unknown whether the smartphone legislation grew in tandem with the biking initiative. The legislation that prohibits smartphone use has a sister clause for vehicles: motorists, including bikers, are prohibited from using handheld phones during their trip (except for GPS), as well as from wearing headphones or other electronics. So, pedestrians  and bikers now have an important role in shifting public opinion on texting and driving. If they are serious about pedestrian safety, Hawaii could also take an island-wide approach to outlaw right on red turns, reduce vehicle speed limits, and increase the length of ped-crossing intervals.

Perhaps the pedestrian cell phone use ban in Honolulu will start a movement. If locals and tourists feel safer and it proves to reduce accidents, the concept will spread. The new legislation may remind smartphone users at large that they need to pay attention to their immediate environment, whether they are on foot or behind the wheel. It is important to note that distracted driving in Hawaii is a considerable offense. Unlike other states, Hawaii takes a tough stance: it bans texting and hand held phones. However, like the mainland, it has yet to prohibit the use of hands-free smartphones in cars. There seems to be a legislative resistance everywhere to the statistical evidence that hands free-devices are dangerous in vehicles.

It will be interesting to see how Honolulu chooses to roll out the smartphone ban that begins on October 25th. Will they publicize the new legislation widely, and make people aware of it through a soft-sell approach, perhaps a parody on “enjoy Oahu, hand in hand, not hand on phone”.  The statewide poster (see image) from Pedestrian Safety Month and the Girl Scouts gives some indication that a soft-sell approach can be successful. Alternatively, Hawaii could promote the new law with a campaign that focuses on the health-risks, akin to anti-smoking messages from the American Cancer Society. Initiating the message at school crossings may be the first priority.

As the program gains momentum, pedestrians need to believe that Honolulu is strict on safety for all transportation modes, not just singling out lowly walkers. Tourists will surely be surprised if they end up with an official warning, or perhaps a small fine, as they stroll Honolulu. These smartphone wielding tourists might learn a new lesson and carry it with them back to the mainland along with their other souvenirs.

Distracted Driving Needs a Slogan- MADD II

We don’t get in cars with drunk drivers, but why do we persist in driving with someone talking on a cell phone?

April was ‘Distracted Driving Month’ and most drivers probably encountered at least one public service ad or safety warning. While the advertising campaign is thirty days long, the problem persists throughout the year. Over a twelve month period, there will be nearly 3,500  traffic deaths, and 400,000 traffic injuries associated with distracted driving per the National Highway Traffic  Safety Administration.

The real accident rate, the underlying numbers, are much larger. It is difficult for police officers at a traffic scene to code for distraction. Unlike wearing a seatbelt or testing for alcohol use, cell phone distraction is not obvious. There is no simple way to know whether a cell phone was involved in a crash and it is difficult to obtain telco calling records. Drivers often forget, or are unwilling to talk about their phone use, and witnesses are not a good source of information.

Whatever the coding, traffic deaths are the number one public health issue and take a larger toll than we realize. One sobering statistic comes from Israel, which is positioning itself as a leader in autonomous cars: since 1948, 35,000 people have died on Israel’s roads compared with 25,000 in war and terror attacks.

While cars are getting safer,  accidents due to distracted driving are on the increase. Yet the outcry about distracted driving seems to be fading (except in April). Most people would think twice about getting in a car with someone who has been drinking, yet someone using a cell phone is more at risk. A widely quoted study in Human Factors cited that a driver talking on a cell phone is more impaired that someone with a blood alcohol level exceeding 0.08.

At least three methods have been used to control distracted driving, none of them fully successful. The first method, which might be called a countermeasure, works directly on the source, the phone. The app is able to control and halt incoming calls and text messages. The apps also turn off notifications and alerts that could distract a driver or tempt to use their phone. Most of these  apps are free, but have found few followers. Even parents of teenagers, who could track their teenager’s cell phone use in real time, seem resistant to the counter-measure.  When Auto-Shut Down apps were recommended by the former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in 2010, critics countered that the police use text when they drive, and the apps represented an over-reach of federal government.

A second approach has been public awareness campaigns, like the one in April from the National Safety Council. There is an advantage here as people can be reached where the distraction is occurring; namely in their cars. Billboards and radio seem to be an underutilized medium. Distracted driving has not received resources that have gone into publicizing similar, year-long,  in-vehicle campaigns like “Buckle Up for Safety” and “Don’t Drive and Drive”. The NHTSA has responded with the U word: “U Drive, U Text, U Pay.”

A third approach has been legislation. The key problem is that cell phone bans are hard to enforce and traffic officers seldom pull over offenders. No state outlaws all cell phone use for drivers, despite a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board to ban texting while driving, and the placing of hands-free calls. 38 states ban all cell phone use by new drivers, and 14 states prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. That legislation is perhaps drafted by public servants who observe their own behavior in cars, and anticipate that if it safe for them, it is safe for others.

One reason legislation lags is because people intuitively like to use their phones in cars, and they want to believe that hands free technology is safe. The counter argument, from research in cognitive science, is that cell phone conversations are detrimental to driving. Cell phone conversations keep drivers from paying full attention to the road and it also reduces their visual field. After following 100 vehicles over one year with specially equipment, researchers at the Virginia Tech Transport Institute  found that nearly eighty percent of crashes and sixty-five percent of near-crashes involved driver inattention up to three seconds before the event. Their in-car cameras recorded the source of the distraction, and, of course, it was frequently the cell phone.

There is currently a push to install hands-free phones that would eliminate the need to reach for a phone, or text while holding the steering wheel. While these intuitively seem to help, they do not reduce the cognitive burden for drivers. Vehicle dashboards with speech-recognition and  touch-screen systems distract drivers, in new and unknown ways.  It could be argued that over time, these systems will become more intuitive and drivers will get more fluent using them. In a previous blog, we compared this to the early days of car radio. An equilibrium may be reached but until then, there will be several generations of dashboard technology. Until that point, dashboard tech may cause teeth gnashing and accidents, as a humorous story in the Wall St. Journal recently noted.

Going forward, perhaps “Distracted Driving Month” will evolve into something with more staying power. “Mothers Against Drunk Driving”  might someday expand their mission to reflect the current problem, and they would not even have  to change their acronym (MADD). Meanwhile, the road to driverless cars will be filled with more distraction as drivers try to manage the intermediate dashboards.  When a fatal accident occurred in a self-driving Tesla vehicle last year, the driver was said to be in the ultimate state of distraction- watching a movie.