Too Many Cars or Too Few?

Op-Ed by P. Wimsett and A.R. Bunch

Obviously, there is political pressure discouraging everyone from driving their cars, but is it really going to work? Has it already worked? Or is the answer to simply make cars more environmentally friendly? Do the powers that be want us to buy more cars or less? These are some of the questions we’ll look at today.

Carbon emission problems are discouraging folks from driving yet the need for domestic manufacturing jobs means it shouldn’t affect people’s car buying habits. The answer could be electric cars—that seems to be what car manufacturers are planning to do in response to the situation. The environment seems to be leading car production decisions.

Gridlock & Congestion

One issue with simply reducing vehicle carbon emissions is that it doesn’t eliminate gridlock. Unlike traffic jams, which result from accidents or construction, gridlock is that annoying traffic slowdown created by having too many commuters on the road at the same time. Gridlock is named for the grid pattern of city streets where efforts to coordinate traffic flow breaks down when capacity is reached. Clearly, your city doesn’t need a good grid-like layout in order to have gridlock—London and Rome manage to lockup pretty well and their streets meander about in every direction, seemingly at random.

People dislike gridlock but it doesn’t seem to detour them from going out at the prime times of the day when everyone else wants to go out–commuters for instance. Most people start and end work about same time as each other, which creates high demand. The laws of fluid dynamics come into play and suddenly congestion slows you down.

We reference fluid dynamics because that’s truly what governs traffic flow. It’s worth noting that gridlock and congestion don’t occur when traffic stops, they’re already happening when traffic goes under the posted speed. The simple act of having too much traffic causes the roadways to reduce capacity for throughput. Think of it in terms of supply and demand. Since supply can’t increase to meet demand, the price goes up. What are we paying the price with? Not dollars but time. Time is more precious than gold because when it’s spent, it’s gone forever.

Avoiding Gridlock

If you avoid the busy periods like rush hours you can avoid some of the gridlock.

Another way is to use public transport, although it cannot go exactly where the commuter wants to go and runs on it’s own schedule, and let’s face it, services are often delayed or interrupted. Even a gridlocked road may get you to your place of work quicker than public transport. So if you have a problem paying a lot of time to gridlock you may pay just as much for mass transit.

Peak Car

Traffic seems to be shrinking since 2007, also known as “peak car.” (Peak Car is a term that came from Peak Oil, or the theory that oil will become too hard to pull out of the ground, and at some point, no longer be cost effective.)

We know empirically that there are fewer cars on the roads because traffic cameras count the number of cars on high volume roads. But why? The population as a whole has continued to grow.

One possibility is demand reduction people are moving out of cities to rural places that don’t suffer congestion. We’ll return to demand in a minute. Another possible reason would be people using mass transit, but we also know the ridership levels and while they’re on the rise it’s not enough to account for reduced traffic.

Car Prices

The key way to tell if we’re truly diving less or if it just people not using high traffic roads (where they’d get counted), is if people are buying fewer cars. If we really had a peak car situation then you’d see people avoiding new cars in favor of cheap and plentiful used cars. And that has been a trend since 2016.

But as with everything in this article, Peak Car isn’t the only explanation for people buying used over new. As cars become too expensive, drivers are opting to share a vehicle or find an alternate way to get to work. It especially affects the supercar market but even names like General Motors are decreasing in new car sales.

Automakers are trying to respond to car prices by including high class extras, but the customer still needs to be able to afford these extras. Another possible way to counter the “too expensive” issue some auto makers are trying is to make cars less luxurious, cutting corners but not compromising safety.

This may be linked to the bad economy and people using public transit; however, affordability might not be the reason new car sales are down.

Demand Issues

There are demand issues. The baby-boomers are starting to not be able to drive. More people are working from home and the unemployed don’t need to commute to work. The digital age means people don’t need to drive to go shopping.

A big reason both road use and car buying are down is that millennials just don’t seem to want to buy cars, or even get a licence. In 2008 less than half of eligible drivers had a license when in 1998 two thirds of the population used did.

Is the car no longer a status symbol? It seems to be the case with young people and the trend continues: 26% of US 16 years old had a license in 2017. However, many Americans love having a car, even millennials. Vehicle registrations did go up in 2018.

There are a number of factors which affect car buying, not just finances. Some people think the reduction of cars is cyclical; others think it may be more permanent. This is why e-scooters, e-bikes and mini-motos are trying to gain a foothold.

“Research and forecast firms Cox Automotive, Edmunds and J.D. Power/LMC Automotive expect sales declined about 1% last year to roughly 17 million vehicles compared with 2018. Such results are considered healthy but would mark the lowest sales since 16.5 million vehicles in 2014.”

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/02/americans-bought-fewer-new-vehicles-in-2019-but-spending-to-hit-record.html

Despite research into this field, no one exactly knows what the future holds regarding the car economy.

The Future of Commuting Based on Current Trends:

The way things are going seems to be moving towards self-driving technology and electronic technology and we are moving into SUV, crossovers, and trucks. The kind of car to get away from the crowd, not the urban dweller.

What about taxis and Ubers? 95% of all trips will be made by taxis by 2030. This could be a piece of the answer, if not the whole, no matter what forces are driving the problem. It resolves the gridlock issue and affordability issue, and even the environmental issue. People are using Uber and Lyft – $20,000 a year and many people feel they won’t go back to a private car. Didi, a Chinese version of this kind of service took 10 million.

When we combine the trend toward larger off road vehicle purchases with the increase in rideshare usage the trend is easy to predict—people in cities will increasingly avoid owning a car and people in rural areas will insist on having them so they can “get away.”

Hands free while driving?

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A massive 80% of the American public believe that hands free technology is safer than a normal cell phone and this is simply not true.

Using a cell phone, even a hands free one, is thought to be more distracting than listening to the radio or CD. A study in Queensland, Australia found that the reaction time was 40% longer if they were using hands free mobile, compared to just listening to the radio, the equivalent of 11 meters travelled before reaction, which could be difference between life and death.

The study negated the obvious distractions like holding your phone or looking at pictures, and measured actual conversation while not holding a phone against conversation with people in the car. The findings were shocking, leading to the conclusion that the “cognitive load” or the pressure of the brain having to focus on a conversation elsewhere is enough to cause a distraction. Conversing with people in your car is not so distracting to most people, as people in the car are aware that distracting a driver is equally dangerous to themselves.

A number of rear-end crashes seem to be linked to having a cell phone conversation. It’s possible that having a conversation with someone who’s not actually present activates the imagination more. It all comes down to whether or not you are using the mind to contemplate what is going on in front of you.

The problem is that many phones and devices have created hands-free modes. There is a hands-free Android for example. They have tried to get round this by reducing the “noise” or distraction caused having such conversations. Unfortunately it is still not safe enough. The difference in reaction times is somewhat comparable with alcohol.

road-44407_1280There have been efforts over recent years to create a “Do Not Disturb” period when driving. The difficulty is that the office (or gig work, or the family, or whatever) does tend to impose on quiet times. One idea is to program Siri to answer the phone for you and you simple create a verbal response to the content of the call. But since Siri isn’t a person physically present it’s not likely to be less distracting.

Maybe some research needs to be done in this area? After all both require the driving coming up with questions to phrase and then listening to a response. The plus point is that a Siri will tend to stay focused, rather than a colleague/friend/ relative who has no idea what is happening in the car. Can Alexa be trained in the same way? It’s certainly possible.

The first rule for cell phone use was in 2012 called the MAP-21 Act which prevented the general use of cell phones while driving. As time of writing, there is a growing effort to make rules more effective. This comes in part from the widespread use of rideshare. Drivers have little use other than to use their phones while driving—it’s the method of dispatching them to the next rider they need to pick up. And anyone who’s been a driver for Uber or Lyft can tell you that your rider will text you continuously to ask where you are. Is there a single federal law in the US? Not yet.

New York State law forbids talking on a hands-free completely. (It had already banned such activities as texting and sending an e-mail). Other states may still allow hands free so it is best to check when traveling between states on the laws of distracted driving.

The rule seems to be at the moment when in doubt, don’t answer the cell phone; wait until there’s a safe time to do so. Safety may seem boring but…okay, it is. And it’s useful.

What’s News: GM car sharing pulls out of some markets

Maven, the car-sharing service owned by General Motors, is ending operations in several major North American cities. According to The Wall Street Journal, the mobility brand will wind down service in eight of the 17 cities in which it operates, including Boston, Chicago, and New York City. Maven will continue to operate in Detroit, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Toronto.

More here
“We’re shifting Maven’s offerings to concentrate on markets in which we have the strongest current demand and growth potential,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Best of the Web: new rideshare competition starts in Dallas

This Dallas startup just hauled in $14.5 million to disrupt Uber, Lyft

Alto’s business model differs considerably from traditional ridesharing companies.

Dallas natives Will Coleman and Alexandra Halbardier are the driving forces behind the company, which launched in Dallas during the recent holidays.

Alto’s business model differs from traditional ridesharing companies. The firm employs its drivers and manages a dedicated fleet of SUVs. It also gives more control to its customers. For example, Alto members use an app to control the in-car experience, from music to climate. Frog Ventures designed the app and in-car experience.

Link to original article
https://www.dallasnews.com/business/entrepreneurs/2019/01/22/dallas-startup-just-hauled-145-million-disrupt-uber-lyft

Rideshare Driver Stops Road Rage W/ Bullet.

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It’s unfortunate when someone’s temper ends in death, but we can’t really blame the road as much as the temper. The story below makes it clear that we can’t let our rage out without paying a price. For tips on keeping out of this sort of situation, we’ve posted this article on avoiding road rage.

http://video.foxnews.com/v/embed.js?id=5828834450001&w=466&h=263Watch the latest video at foxnews.com

Uber driver fatally shoots man in what sheriff calls a ‘classic stand-your-ground case’originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

In what one sheriff in Florida is calling a “classic stand-your-ground case,” a man arguing with his girlfriend over text messages was shot dead after he was captured on dash cam video threatening an Uber driver, who he thought was driving the woman home.

“This is a justifiable homicide all day long. You have a right to protect yourself. … This was the intent of the law,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a news conference Wednesday detailing Tuesday’s fatal shooting of Jason Boek, 34, of Winter Haven, Florida.

According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, either late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, a woman named Jasmine Meazel had too much to drink at a bar in Dundee, and called an Uber car to take her home. When it arrived, another woman, named Jessica Mazzarella, helped Meazel out of the bar and put her into the car. The two woman did not know each other.

PHOTO: Jason Boek in an undated photo. (Polk County Sheriff's Office)
PHOTO: Jason Boek in an undated photo. (Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

Uber driver Robert Westlake, 38, then set out to take Meazel to her destination.

Police said that in the meantime, Mazzarella, who stayed at the bar, was having an ongoing text conversation with Boek, an “on-again, off-again boyfriend” whom Judd described Wednesday as “explosive.”

(MORE: Florida ‘stand your ground’ shooter Michael Drejka charged with manslaughter)

Judd said that the two had a “rocky” relationship and that Boek thought Mazzarella had gotten into the Uber car. In text messages released by authorities, it appears that Boek and Mazzarella were at the bar together, and then he left.

Although Mazzarella thought he’d left, he tells her via texts that he’s been outside the bar the whole time, saw her get into the Uber and was now going to do the Uber driver harm.

“You know I’m watching every move right now,” Boek said in text messages. “I’ve been watching you the whole time. … I see y’all. … I’m going to f— both of y’all up.”

Boek located the Uber car on the road and started to tailgate Westlake, according to authorities. Boek rode alongside Westlake for a couple of seconds before finally pulling his truck in front of the Uber and hitting the brakes around 2:20 a.m. on Tuesday, police said.

PHOTO: Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd speaks during a press conference, Aug. 29, 2018, in Winter Haven, Fla. (WFTS)
PHOTO: Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd speaks during a press conference, Aug. 29, 2018, in Winter Haven, Fla. (WFTS)

In Westlake’s Uber dash cam video, Boek can be seen exiting the truck with something dark in his right hand. The dash cam video shows Boek pointing the object toward Westlake’s vehicle as Westlake asks: “I say somethin’?”

Boek responded, “You know I got a pistol? You want me to f—— shoot you?”

Westlake, who is a concealed weapon permit holder and previously worked as a security guard in Orlando, took out a gun and shot Boek once in the chest, according to police.

“Oh my God,” both Westlake and the passenger can be heard saying on the dash cam video after the shooting.

(MORE: Florida ‘stand your ground’ shooter had history of gun threats: Complaint)

In a 911 call, Westlake told the dispatcher that he fired one shot from his pistol and was now applying pressure to Boek’s wound.

“He ran me off road. Jumped out of his vehicle. I couldn’t get away. He came towards me shouting he’s got a pistol, reached for his waistband. I fired one shot from my pistol. He dropped his cell phone. I kicked it away. I didn’t realize it was a cell phone at first,” Westlake told the 911 operator.

Original Sources: https://www.yahoo.com/gma/uber-driver-fatally-shoots-man-sheriff-calls-classic-204508267–abc-news-topstories.html

 

Keeping the Car Safe This Flu Season

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By Paul Wimsett

Despite being nearly Christmas it’s also the time of year when flu and colds spread. But maybe the clues to why you start sneezing or coming down with a fever are closer than you thought. They might well be found in your vehicle.

It’s recommended that you empty your garbage frequently this time of year to remove all used tissues so no flu or cold germs spread easily. Given the smallness of the space though, if your passenger has the flu, chances are you will come down with it as well.Wimsett_Christmas car2

It’s also mold season and the presence of molds can make the place seem stuffy. symptoms are exacerbated by the air conditioning so it may be better to open a window for short sprints to air out your car. Molds also collect as a film on the inside of your window which can make it difficult to get the inside of your windshield to clear up. We recommend making your own solution of rubbing alcohol and vinegar (equal parts) to clean your window with. This will often kill the scum that normal cleaners seem to miss.

Once you start to take an interest in your car as regards germs and viruses it may be that you will never stop! After all, there’s no one time fix for the problem. A regular disinfecting shampoo of car seats and carpets is recommended. For the health of those in the vehicle replacing air filters will make the experience much more pleasant.

Something we might also do more at this time of year is eat in cars, may also cause problems. With 70% of drivers admitting to eating something in a car it seems shocking that we don’t consider how unhealthy an environment it is.  It seems that we don’t care about our cars in the way we should.

Wimsett_Christmas Car3It should come as no surprise that the worse place for germs in a car is a trunk’s carpet or liner. 300 to 400 germs were found in each square inch. Most of it comes from dead skin cells from humans or animals. Unsurprisingly, given the amount of garden rubbish that is transported by cars, there were traces of fecal matter found in some trunks.

Many scientists believe that cars should be disinfected or deep cleaned to get rid of germs. Certainly keeping hand wipes in your car and using them regularly will help.

By way of comparison, washrooms have been found to have 60 types of bacteria, while car interiors have 700; this is according to the Queen Mary University in London, reported by USA Today. 

The worse culprits could possibly not be privately-owned cars at all, but the taxis and the Ubers. Measuring the amount of germs that formed colonies or Colony Forming Units, a study in South Florida found that a ride-hailed car had on average 6 million CFUs per square inch whilst rentals had 2 million CFUs per square inch. Taxis did the best though, with just more than 270,000 CFUs per square inch.

It seems nowhere is safe, your car keys, the upholstery of the carpet, the door handle, the steering wheel, the gear stick, the window button and so on. It might give you a complex thinking of the places that germs might hide, though it’s hard to reach a conclusion to the problem beyond just being paranoid about where the germs might hide.

Just don’t forget the little things this Christmas…

 

AVs Autonomous Vehicles (part 10?)

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Progress toward Autonomous Vehicles So Far:

2016 Qualcomm’s purchased NXP Semiconductors for it’s chip tech for AVs ($39 billion)

2017 Intel purchased Mobileye for its AV sensors ($15 billion)

2017 GM purchased Cruise Automation for AV tech patents ($1 billion)

Other companies with AV projects…Apple, Baidu, Google/Waymo, Intel, Tesla, and Uber. Experts are projecting a $7 trillion market for AVs.

 

Predictions about when we can expect them, range from as early as 2019 (Morgan Stanly) to 2032 (ABI Research). The National Highway Trafic Safety Administration predicts 2025. However, there’s a big push to make it by 2020: NuTonomy, Ford, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen. Uber ex-CEO said 2030.

The reason its become such a holy grail is based on a prediction that they’ll be more reliable than humans at driving safely, and allow more cars on the road per mile, traveling faster, which equates to less need to expand or improve infrastructure.city-1487891_1920

Critics point out that while AI’s might drive more consistently that doesn’t always equate to safer, and of course if you need to spend a bunch of money to say, equip every bridge, crosswalk, and road sign with a transmitter broadcasting don’t hit me, that negates the savings on infrastructure.

There’s often a disparity between the potential a new technology represents and how the market responds. Look no further than Electric Powered Vehicles (EVs). President Obama predicted one million EVs driven by 2016 and missed it by 700,000. Look at the initial launch of the personal computer. A lot of Apple 2e’s sat next to kitchens being the world’s most expensive Rolodex/recipe holder until the internet came along and gave them purpose.

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And who do we hold responsible when a crash does happen? The car owner or the programmer that created the algorithm that told the car it’s okay to run over your poodle if it avoids a 27% chance of concussing a passenger? States like Oregon require an attendant to pump your gas for you in order to create jobs. Will the threat of mass professional driver layoffs cause legislature to throttle the spread of AV’s? What happens when some states okay AVs and others don’t. I private owner/driver can simply engage or disengage the feature during travel, but if you’re a package delivery service trying to save money paying CDL drivers for long haul, do you drive around certain states in order to use driver-less trucks?

What about mapping every square inch of the US? Most people assume that navigation has been on the market long enough that virtually everywhere is mapped. But companies like Uber are buying whole other companies for their mapping data. Not how they map but the maps themselves. Road’s change, constantly and we don’t need AVs driving through a building that used to be a road or going the wrong way on a one way street because its maps are 6 months out of date.

Take for example a simple thing. GPS navigation will take you to the front door of a local restaurant where you can get out and walk in. Except that the restaurant has it’s front door on the street instead of the parking lot. So the car will stop in traffic for you to exit because it’s at it’s destination. What happens when a teenage girl hails a ride from a rides hare company and the GPS puts the car in the alley behind her apartment complex? When she walks to meet it and is attacked is the ride share company going to compensate her?

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These aren’t hurtles that can never be overcome, but when a programmer says he’s six months from producing a program that doesn’t mean your seven months from seeing it on store shelves. A lot has to happen in a lot of areas a programmer wouldn’t think about because it’s not his/her responsibility.

Another similarity to electric vehicles is that what makes sense in one setting doesn’t in another. Dense populations in highly developed areas may be early adapters to EVs and AVs where they’d be less attractive in rural Texas (for example). When a technology executive does an interview and says we’re only a year away from having AVs roaming the road around you ask yourself if she’s more intimately familiar with the programming capabilities than the legal implications and if she more likely lives in a dense urban area or a ranch in Montana. Could there be some paradigm blindness going on?

Perhaps one of the most telling indicators is a 2016 Kelly Blue Book Survey. Among EV owners only 53% said they’d re-buy the same car (31% if it only plugged in) compared to traditional engine vehicles where 82% would re-buy. 74% of Americans surveyed felt that AVs weren’t safe. Think about that. Imagine for a second that three out of four people felt you were less likely to die from a crash if you didn’t wear a seat belt. That’s a significant PR problem for companies that hope to sell $7 trillion worth of these cars.

Here’s an aspect seldom covered when pondering the topic, you can’t buy a new car today for less than $8,000 because in part that’s the cost of building it to modern safety standards. Even if the law requires cars be able to drive themselves how much more will people pay for the feature? We actually have some data on this. The Tesla model 3 sells for $10,000 more than cars in it’s class. Certainly Tesla has showed they can sell cars, but Tesla has more going for it than just autonomous driving and it’s not a Traditional Automotive Manufacturer. So you can’t get an apples to apples comparison to establish what consumers are willing to pay $10,000 more for. When surveyed directly they report that their willingness to pay more for automation has dropped by a 30% since 2014 and that they don’t trust Original manufacturers to provide safe AVs to market.

So while most writers on this topic are defending the position that they can get a car to drive itself by a certain date, there remains some doubt as to it’s market viability.