Electric cars are finally taking a (tiny) bite out of combustion engine sales

… rocketing beyond the rest of the field. Whether other automakers can conjure the same magic as Tesla CEO Elon Musk for their own models remains …

California’s car buyers are shifting their loyalties from the internal combustion engine to electric batteries—but ever so slowly. Despite car sales declining in the Golden State since 2016, the number of electric and hybrid cars sold continues to rise. In the first half of 2019, sales hit 51,750 and 48,861, respectively. That’s a 40% increase for both over last year.

Chart from TheAtlas.com

Yet overall, the vast majority of car sales in California, one of the US’s most environmentally conscious states, remain gasoline-powered. Pure electric cars account for just 5.5% of California’s vehicle sales (or 13% when including all types of electrification), compared to 81% for petrol cars. But California is the US leader in electric vehicles (EVs). It plans to have 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030 and accounted for about half of the 105,472 electric cars sold in the US in the first half of the year.

Chart from TheAtlas.com

That’s worrisome for automakers banking on explosive EV growth to justify their billions of dollars in new investments. Growth in EV sales has been anemic in most states (just under 1% of US new-car sales on average), and modest but steady only in those with generous incentives and eager customers such as New York and California. It’s not yet the enthusiastic embrace that carmakers need to turn money-losing EVs into profitable endeavors as they retool their factories for the future. Only Norway, which has seen EVs account for 50% to 70% of new car registrations since 2018, has seen EVs dominate national car sales, but again that was the result of generous tax incentive and perks packages.

The brightest spot by far for EV sales is Tesla’s Model 3. The company’s new “mass-market” vehicle, which starts at $38,990 (before incentives), has proven to be a best-seller, outpacing standard sedans in its class such from the likes of BMW or Mercedes, and rocketing beyond the rest of the field. Whether other automakers can conjure the same magic as Tesla CEO Elon Musk for their own models remains to be seen.

Chart from TheAtlas.com

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Transgender Lyft Driver Attacked by Passenger in Portland

A Lyft driver in Portland, Ore., says a passenger assaulted her because she’s transgender, and police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

A Lyft driver in Portland, Ore., says a passenger assaulted her because she’s transgender, and police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Marla Standing-Owl told Portland TV station KGW she picked the passenger up at the Duniway Hotel the evening of September 6. He was drunk and had a problem with how the Lyft app had entered his destination.

“He says something, refers to me, you’re nothing but a man,” she said. “I told him I don’t need bigotry in my car, and that’s when he snapped.” While she was driving, he hit her several times in the head and neck.

She finally pulled over, got out her pepper spray, and sprayed the man. He ran, and police pursued him but could not find him. They are still investigating, and they consider the attack a bias crime.

Standing-Owl said she believes crimes against transgender people are underreported, “because we’re not taken seriously, because we don’t count as people. In most people’s eyes we’re trash.”

She has driven for Lyft for about a year, but said she is quitting now because of the potential danger from passengers. She said the company hasn’t been particularly helpful.

The ride-sharing company released the following statement to KGW: “Safety is fundamental to Lyft. What the driver described is frightening, and the rider’s access to Lyft has been permanently removed. We responded immediately and have been in close contact with the driver since the incident to offer our support. We have reached out to the authorities and will continue to help in any way we can.”

Constant reports of violence against our community are difficult to read, especially as we continue to face historic rates. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can reach out to the Anti-Violence Project’s free bilingual (English/Spanish) national hotline at (212) 714-1141 or report online for support.

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How Austin’s failed attempt to regulate Uber and Lyft foreshadowed today’s ride-hailing controversies

Uber, Lyft, and the places where they operate still can’t quite agree on how to regulate the companies’ relationship with their thousands of employees …


Laboratories of Democracy is a series that looks at the nation’s most intriguing experiments in local policy.


The policy: Background checks for Lyft and Uber drivers

Where: Austin, Texas

In place since: 2016

The problem:

Uber, Lyft, and the places where they operate still can’t quite agree on how to regulate the companies’ relationship with their thousands of employees — sorry, the independent contractors whose cars, time, and energy make the companies run.

Uber has also spent hundreds of millions on marketing to get out from under the #DeleteUber campaign after the company incentivized drivers to work during taxi boycotts after Trump’s travel ban; 14 women just filed a case against Lyft claiming they were sexually assaulted by drivers; and both are pouring tens of millions of dollars into supporting a ballot initiative in California to carve out a special form of non-employment for drivers to help them avoid paying benefits and the minimum wage.

Despite the companies’ efforts, California’s state legislature passed a bill this month forcing companies like Uber and Lyft to reclassify their contractors as employees. Uber, thumbing its nose at lawmakers, said that it would continue its current model of having drivers be independent contractors. Uber’s “usual course of business,” Uber’s chief legal officer Tony West said in press statement, is “serving as a technology platform for several different types of digital marketplaces,” in which the drivers do not participate. This would seem to directly conflict with the California law’s text and intention — the law’s supporters specifically said it was meant to target “gig economy” companies like the ride-hailing services.

At the core of nearly all these controversies is how the companies’ relationship with their drivers should be regulated. As West told the media this month, Uber is “no stranger to legal battles.”

Uber and Lyft today are more likely to pour money into lobbying and marketing to get their way, but in Austin, Texas, in 2016, they tried that, and when it didn’t work, they just picked up and left town.

Four years ago, Austin lawmakers introduced a package of rules and regulations affecting Lyft and Uber that would, most significantly, require fingerprinting for their drivers for safety reasons. The companies claimed that this was an unnecessary precaution that would disrupt their ability to sign up new drivers. The two companies spent more than $8 million in a campaign over a single, confusingly worded 2016 ballot question on background checks and other regulations.


A Lyft van seen during the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at the Austin Convention Center, in Austin, Texas, on March 11, 2016.
Hutton Supancic/Getty Images for SXSW

While far worse PR would soon be coming, the fight over whether drivers in Austin should have to get fingerprinted captured the attention of the national and even international media. The city that’s as well known for its strong sense of distinctive local identity as it is for its yearly tech-and-culture-fest South By Southwest became a notable holdout to the global spread of these ride-hailing giants.

While Lyft and Uber were then experiencing skyrocketing growth, they had also run into regulatory friction in several cities all over the world. When New York City attempted to cap the number of Uber vehicles in 2015 due to concerns about congestion, Uber launched a ferocious political campaign to defeat it, including a feature in the Uber app called “de Blasio view” that would show extremely long wait times for vehicles, implying that that would become a reality if Mayor Bill de Blasio got his way. (Three years later, New York City was able to institute the cap.)

Uber was also effectively banned from the tony New York beach town of East Hampton and its surroundings in 2015 before a state law let them back in 2017, while ride-hailing apps were only legally allowed in Alaska starting in 2017 after Uber left amid a labor dispute three years earlier.

But Austin’s attempt to regulate Lyft and Uber would ultimately have a nationwide impact on how both companies operate today.

How the policy worked:

In May 2016, just days after Austin voters rejected a change to the city council’s ride-hail rules, Uber and Lyft left Austin.

“On the driver side, it really sucked because they were caught in the middle,” said Harry Campbell, the founder of the Rideshare Guy, a website and podcast devoted to the industry. While most people in Austin were able to make do with their pre-Lyft-and-Uber options, of the drivers, he said, “One day they had a job, and one day they didn’t.”

Drivers began flocking to a Facebook group called Arcade City Austin, which was started by the creators of a fledgling ride-hailing app. Passengers would post where they wanted to go in the group and drivers, most of whom had previously worked for Uber or Lyft, would reply, creating an ad hoc ride-hailing system. Drivers would also post screenshots of their Uber or Lyft profiles as a clunky form of background checking, essentially substituting the system that Austin voters had found wanting.

“It was extremely illegal,” Campbell said.

Austin is a car-based city: About three-quarters of Austin-area commuters travel by themselves in cars, and the area’s transit system, Capital Metro, has just under 100,000 “boardings” per day, in a combined metro area of over 2 million, with just under 1 million in Austin itself. “Tourists rely on [ride-hailing apps] because they land in an airport without a car and don’t know their way around the city,” said Kara Kockelman, a civil engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Residents don’t have much of a problem because they don’t have a problem finding other modes. A huge portion was by private car or other mode.”

More legitimate operators rushed into the breach, including Fasten, an established Boston-based ride-hailing company. There was also RideAustin, a nonprofit founded by local entrepreneurs that charged a fixed fee per ride similar to Fasten and gave the rest of the fare to drivers, a stark difference from Uber and Lyft’s notoriously opaque system for split payments between themselves and drivers.

While Austin had definitively rejected Uber and Lyft, the artisanal ride-hailing renaissance showed that there was still an appetite for something beyond the existing taxi system. “Life finds a way,” Campbell said.

Austin residents who used ride-hailing services since 2014, before the ban, responded to it by using private cars or one of these alternative services, according to research by a group of scholars at the University of Michigan, Columbia, and Texas A&M based on a survey of more than 1,800 former Uber and Lyft riders in the November and December following the May 2016 vote.

“Most respondents switched to either a personal vehicle including sharing personal cars with friends (45 percent) or another transportation network company (41 percent) post- disruption. Interestingly, after the disruption, only 2.9 percent of people took the reference trip via public transit,” the researchers wrote.

Almost 9 percent said they had or were considering buying a car to account for the disruption in ride-hailing services. Researchers observed “a decrease in the average service satisfaction level post-disruption,” and there was a perception Lyft and Uber were higher quality compared to the alternatives that existed afterward, according to the survey.

While some conservative and libertarian media outlets and advocacy organizations claimed that Uber and Lyft’s departure led to an increase in drunk driving incidents, data analysis done by the Austin-American Statesman newspaper showed that driving-while-impaired arrests continued to fall, as they had been since 2012. Looking at data from the six months after the companies left compared to the same period in previous years, the Statesman concluded, “The data showed the number of people charged with driving while intoxicated was the lowest it has been in six years.”

But the most substantial effect may have been politically on the rest of the state. Other Texas cities had already scuffled with Uber and Lyft over driver fingerprinting. Lyft left Houston in 2014 while Uber left San Antonio briefly in 2015, eventually working out a deal with the city.

After the Austin vote, Uber and Lyft stopped operations in Austin and decided to move their fight from the city council to the Texas statehouse, pressuring the legislature to move authority for ride-hailing from the municipal level — which had traditionally regulated transportation like taxis — to the state level.

The companies showered money and manpower on the capitol, hiring dozens of lobbyists and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. In just the first half of 2017, Uber spent somewhere between $820,000 and $1.6 million while Lyft spent between $365,000 and $760,000 in Texas, according to calculations done by the National Employment Law Project and the Partnership for Working Families.


Workers set up in a tent welcome drivers back to the Uber offices in Austin, Texas, on May 26, 2017. Uber and Lyft left Austin in 2016 over local fingerprint requirements for drivers.
Eric Gay/AP

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed the new state ride-hailing law in May and Uber and Lyft returned soon after. “Texas has for a long time been the home for innovation and economic growth, but a patchwork quilt of compliance complexities are forcing businesses out of the Lone Star State,” Abbott said. The bill established licensing for the companies at the state level, including background checks that did not require fingerprinting.

Uber and RideAustin did not respond to Vox’s request for comment.

“They went to the statehouse to get a more favorable response” Rebecca Jones, director of work structures at the National Employment Law Project, told Vox. “In part because at that time state legislators were less familiar with how the companies operate and they were much more susceptible to this is bright and shiny and new and if they opposed it they would be [considered] Luddites.”

It set a national precedent. There are now more than 40 similar statewide laws that take power away from municipal lawmakers and protect the ride-hailing industry, making it easier for the companies to establish themselves all over the country and standardize their operations.

But lobbying efforts aside, data shows that while Austin voters may have voted in the ban because they wanted their own ride-hailing policy — or at least to stick it to large out-of-state companies — they also wanted to ride Ubers and Lyfts.

The competitors couldn’t survive once the ban was lifted. Fasten’s ride volume dropped 16 percent, the company told Curbed, after Lyft and Uber returned. RideAustin, according to data from RideAustin co-founder Andy Tryba, saw a volume drop of “55 percent in 1 week,” from almost 59,000 to just over 26,000, he wrote. “It’s hard to argue that the impact to the current local incumbents (including RideAustin) wasn’t swift and significant.”

Fasten would be shut down and sold off to a Russian technology company early last year while another upstart company, Fare, left Austin soon after Uber and Lyft returned.

While Uber and Lyft did some discounting, Tryba wrote, the deals were “nothing terribly significant,” Tryba wrote. “Despite local ‘anger’ on how Uber/Lyft left the city previously or the troubles Uber has internally — that didn’t seem to matter a whole lot.”

”Since coming back to Austin, Lyft has provided affordable and reliable transportation for riders, a flexible earning opportunity for drivers, and boosted economic growth for businesses and organizations throughout Austin,” a Lyft spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to continuing to partner with the businesses, lawmakers, and the City of Austin.”

The ride-hailing industry, now solidly a duopoly in Austin and across much of the US, hasn’t stopped its fight in state capitols for favorable regulations. The two companies are planning to spend more than $60 million, the Los Angeles Times reported, on a ballot initiative on something even more existential than background checks and fingerprints: a special, non-employee classification for their drivers in California.

They haven’t escaped their reputation problems entirely. Uber and Lyft are now publicly traded companies that are still reporting billions worth of losses and have seen their stock prices decline since their initial public offerings.

But they’ll be competing to turn themselves into profitable enterprises in a legal landscape largely to their liking. “Uber and Lyft were not messing around about getting their way about regulation,” Campbell said.

Matthew Zeitlin is a writer in New York.

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Uber says ‘no’ to kids, but a growing number of ride apps say ‘yes.’ Parents are a ‘maybe’

And although parents, and teens themselves, use Uber and Lyft, the companies have polices instructing drivers not to pick up passengers under 18.
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Whatever happened to latchkey kids? That group of kids that for short bursts looked out for themselves until parents finished work? Oh, they’re around. But now they’re called free-range kids and that sometimes leads to police investigating a case of neglect.

But letting your child ride unaccompanied in a car with a stranger has become a somewhat acceptable, growing form of outsourced parenting. In Phoenix, two national ride-hailing services HopSkipRide and Zum began operating within a month of each other this summer, joining VANGo, which started in the spring.

“We are seeing tremendous growth in our existing market as well as massive demand to launch new markets,” said Joanna McFarland, CEO of HopSkipDrive, which launched in Phoenix in July.

After Phoenix, HopSkipDrive expanded into Houston to became its 10th market. The service now operates in six states. One of its competitors, Zum, which serves parents and schools in transporting children in the San Francisco area and Los Angeles expanded into Phoenix, Miami, Dallas, Chicago and San Diego this summer.

The ride-hailing services promises a safe ride for kids to and from school, to soccer practice, dentist appointments or anywhere else time-crunched parents need.

While one parent said using the service was better than leaving her child home alone, another isn’t so sure the background checks are enough to prevent crimes. The companies assure parents their services are safe.

How ‘Uber for kids’ services work

The services are often referred to as “Uber for kids.” And although parents, and teens themselves, use Uber and Lyft, the companies have polices instructing drivers not to pick up passengers under 18.

More: Parents, would you let your kid ride an Uber or Lyft by themselves?

Like adult ride-sharing, HopSkipDrive and other kid-transport services like Zum, VANGo, Kango and Bubbl, use apps.

These are the offerings among the various apps:

  • Unaccompanied transportation for children 3 to teens
  • Car and booster seats supplied
  • Price-lowering for car pools
  • A fare estimator
  • Newer, clean cars
  • Ability to track children on their journey
  • Escort door-to-door service
  • Notice of a child’s safe arrival
  • Advance booking or for one service
  • Same-day booking for last-minute trips

McFarland said 90% of parents use the service to get their children, the dominant age being 11 and 12, to or from school and after-school activities.

“With more parents working and bell times being right when parents need to be at work, especially at 3 o’ clock when school ends, it doesn’t mean mom and dad are out of work,” McFarland said. “It can be a huge challenge to manage all that.”

The ride-sharing service for kids are more expensive than Uber or Lyft. The cost for HopSkipDrive is $17 plus $1.50 per mile and 50 cents per minute. Zum charges $19.50 for single rides and $10 for carpool rides per child for a one-way trip.

For comparison, the Uber price estimator for the Phoenix area notes the cost for an UberX would be a base fare of 42 cents, a booking fee of $3.05 plus 85 cents per mile and 18 cents per minute.

What HopSkipDrive does to keep kids safe

Though the circumstances are different, the headline of a South Carolina college student killed after climbing into a car she believed was her Uber has some parents concerned.

But, all the apps promise safety is the first priority.

McFarland, who co-founded HopSkipDrive in 2015 with two other mothers, said it’s service keeps children safe through vetted drivers, a safety team keeping watch, and allowing parents to track their child from point A to point B via their technology.

The driver verification process includes: county, state and national criminal record checks, FBI-approved finger-printing background checks, and driver’s must have at least five years of care-giving experience. Most drivers are female.

The mobile app allows parents to create a code word for drivers to say when picking up the child. Drivers also wear identifiable orange shirts with “CareDriver” on the back.

If a driver is running late or experiences a flat tire, the safe ride support team will notify the parent, the school if necessary, and send a back-up driver to transport the child if needed.

“We cannot leave a child stranded,” McFarland said. “We really think about safety every step of the way.”

Convenient, cheaper than a babysitter

For Mesa, Ariz. parent Amanda Ohmer, it was to bring her 11-year-old daughter Emmalee to her work in Phoenix, about 30 minutes away. Her husband had a work function and she was at work so a HopSkipDrive driver transported her.

“She said it was pretty cool and she enjoyed the fact the driver was super friendly and she said it was very adult-oriented,” Ohmer said. “She’s a serious child, so she liked that.”

The cost was $60, Ohmer said, owing to the long drive. “So not something I would do on a regular basis. But for a shorter trip? Yeah, it’s convenient and probably cheaper than hiring a babysitter.”

Even though Ohmer said her family lives in a safe neighborhood, the mom chose the ride-hailng service over allowing her daughter to be a latchkey kid.

“I didn’t want her (home) alone for such a long stretch of time,” she said.

Parents still not comfortable

Scottsdale, Ariz. parent Kathy Ariaratnam said she wouldn’t say she’s adamantly opposed to such a service, but background checks can’t predict future behavior.

“We do gun background checks and people pass and they still go out and commit crimes. We don’t live in a ‘Minority Report’ time,” she said referring to the Tom Cruise movie where people are gifted with knowing who will commit future crimes.

The mom of an 11-year-old son said if she were to consider a ride-hailing service she would lean more toward what Bubbl offers.

The service hires only active or retired police officers, firefighters, military, nurses or other first responders. The vetting process involves in-person interviews, criminal background checks, drug tests and a motor vehicle review. The most interesting safety measures to Ariaratnam are cameras in the vehicle meant to protect the driver and passenger. Videos are deleted after the ride, and there is no live viewing, the company says.

“Technology is pretty powerful in terms of what you can track and how you can use it and how it can be used to prevent people when they know Big Brother and Big Mother is watching,” she said. “I would have to ask a lot more questions before I would be comfortable.”

Kid transportation services

Check websites for availability in your state.

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MAD Architects Designs Pylon Infrastructure for HyperloopTT

MAD Architects have designed a new pylon infrastructure with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HyperloopTT). Created as an elevated rapid …


MAD Architects Designs Pylon Infrastructure for HyperloopTT, Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT

Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT

MAD Architects have designed a new pylon infrastructure with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HyperloopTT). Created as an elevated rapid transport system, the project is made to demonstrate how the artificial can merge with nature through a new urban infrastructure. MAD’s proposal aims to rethink the future of travel and reshape the way we plan and use public space.

Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTTCourtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTTCourtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTTCourtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT+ 7

Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT

Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT

Designed to enhance connectivity between cities and people, the transportation system will also establish a renewed connection between people and the city through car-free raised green walkways along the roof of the tunnels. The scheme aims to activate spaces below in the form of parks and recreation areas. Since 2013, HyperloopTT has been focusing on developing solutions for major urban problems: overcrowding, traffic congestion, and pollution. By designing a low-pressure, high-speed sustainable tube-based transportation, the company aspires to connect people and cities that are distances apart at hyper-speed.

Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT

Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT

MAD was commissioned by HyperloopTT to conceive a versatile pylon design that while acting as structural support for its transportation system. The pylon needed to be easily integrated across diverse environments – from a city center to rural farmland to the remote desert. MAD’s scheme harnesses solar and wind energies to power the HyperloopTT system. The transportation tunnels are outfitted with bendable solar panel skin modules that are used to power the Hyperloop itself, along with LEDs installed along its surface that function as interactive information boards. Bladeless wind turbine forests positioned at certain sections of the HyperloopTT system will harness the vorticity of the wind, creating a main source of power for the transportation network, lowering overall energy costs.

Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT

Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT

Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT

Courtesy of MAD Architects, HyperloopTT

As MAD explains, the pylon design minimizes the system’s physical footprint by lifting its functions almost 7 meters aboveground. The move was made to eliminate the possibility of collision with road traffic, which in turn decreases the cost of land acquisition. It is composed of a single-mold fiber glass structure. At the same time, sustainability is further emphasized through urban farming opportunities. The base of each pylon is conceived to host crop-growing facilities that encourage urban farming. The energy sourced from the solar-powered LEDs allows the plants to be self-sustainable, forming an organic infrastructure.

HyperloopTT has revealed a full-scale 320m passenger system in Toulouse, France, that is currently in the process of integrating its full-scale passenger capsule for human trials in 2020.

HyperloopTT Design Team:

Ma Yansong, Dang Qun, Yosuke Hayano, Dixon Lu, Matthew Pugh, Wang Tao, Chris Nolop, Nathan Kiatkulpiboone

News via MAD Architects

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