Transportation headlines, Tuesday, February 3

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Expo Line at sunset. Photo by @enhancedexpressions via Instagram.

Expo Line at sunset. Photo by @enhancedexpressions via Instagram.

Obama’s budget includes windfall for L.A. transportation (L.A. Times)

As announced on The Source yesterday, President Obama’s budget proposal includes a total of $330 million for the Regional Connector project and both Phase I and II of the Purple Line Extension along Wilshire Boulevard. The Times notes this is the first year the Obama administration included funding for Phase II (La Cienega to Century City), a good indicator of long-term federal commitment, according to city officials. Though there’s reason to be optimistic, the budget still needs to be approved by the House and Senate, which means the budget that’s finally approved could be influenced by some good-old fashioned political wrangling. Excerpt:

Republicans who control Congress have criticized Obama’s spending plan as being excessive and too dependent on additional taxes. And in recent years, budget battles have left many federal spending programs with significant reductions by the time lawmakers struck deals with the White House.

The House has previously approved some funds for Los Angeles subway expansion. But the issue of transportation funds, in general, has split Republicans, with more ardent conservatives in the chamber opposing appropriations that more business-oriented members have backed.

For those of you who need a refresher on the process of getting the federal budget approved, here’s a helpful infographic from the Washington Post.

4G wireless coming to CTA subways later this year (Chicago Tribune)

Chicago’s public transit system is poised to be the largest transit system in the nation with 4G wireless capability in all of its subway tunnels and stations. A 20-year, $32.5 million agreement between the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and the four major wireless carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, will add 22 miles of 4G wireless service on the Blue and Red Lines — the two busiest rail lines in the city. The antennas and necessary equipment will be installed and maintained by the wireless carriers.

Wireless connectivity isn’t an entirely new thing for Chicago transit riders. The new 4G network will be replacing a spotty and overburdened 2G service installed in 2005. According to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the upgraded network will come at no cost to commuters. Instead, the wireless carriers will be banking on riders’ increased data usage to make up the cost and turn a profit.

The companies will pay the CTA a flat amount each year — starting at $500,000 and rising 3 percent a year over the life of the contract — to lease space in the subway tunnels to run the 4G service, Claypool said. The CTA will also save roughly $400,000 a year by no longer having to pay maintenance costs for the wireless network, he said.

As for Metro, installation of WiFi and cellular service in the Metro Red and Purple Lines began last month. WiFi between Union Station and 7th Street/Metro Center Station is anticipated to launch in May of this year, with cellular service expected in June. The entire rollout, which also includes underground Metro Gold Line stations, is currently forecasted to be complete in March 2017. Here’s the full timeline as it was reported to the Metro Board in December 2014.

Transportation Department report gives the outlook for the next 30 years (Washington Post)

The United States Department of Transportation yesterday released its look-ahead for the next 30 years of transportation in the U.S. in a report entitled “Beyond Traffic.” The report uses current data, projections and trends and hopes to predict what the state of transportation will look like in 2045 and to begin discussion about potential future problems to find solutions to them now. The sheer amount of data used in the preparation of the report makes it one of the more comprehensive transit reports in recent years, according to the article.

In the report’s introduction written by USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, Foxx writes that the report is not intended to be an “action plan,” but rather a look at “where we are and where current trends may take us if left unaddressed.”

The WaPo article highlights a few of the forecasts in the report, including the prediction that cars will still be a predominant mode of travel, but vehicle miles will increase at a slower pace than they have in the past. To see for yourself some of the more interesting aspects of the report, you can read the entire 316-page report here (PDF). I found it fairly easy to digest with useful infographics.

Secretary Foxx unveiled the report during a virtual fireside chat with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt at Google headquarters. Some of the key takeaways from the chat include Foxx’s assertions that building highways alone will not improve traffic and that we need to become smarter about building and maintaining infrastructure. Additionally, planning at a local level needs to be in tune to the national guidelines since the FTA exerts little control over the local process.

Uber opens robotics center, fueling speculation on self-driving cars (L.A. Times)

Ride-share company Uber announced yesterday a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to open a robotics research center. Even though fully autonomous vehicles on city streets and highways are likely still years away from becoming a reality, experts believe that in the meantime, Uber could use the technology it develops to improve existing vehicles. The article quotes Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at research firm Gartner. Excerpt:

Koslowski said the idea of Uber replacing its drivers with self-driving cars is “really out there,” and it may be a while before legislation and consumer confidence allow self-driving cars to chauffeur passengers on public roads. In the short term, Uber’s partnership with Carnegie Mellon will lead to technologies that make existing vehicles safer, he said.

It’s safe to say this is not the last time we’ll see the words Uber and driverless together.

10 replies

  1. Uber and driverless cars. You all knew it was bound to happen. There’s a win-win for Uber to get their cars driverless; it gets rid of the human driver factor making it more cheaper for consumers (no human driver = no labor cost needed), gets around the regulation requirements of licensed drivers and all the bad publicity regarding bad Uber drivers. Expect Lyft and other ride-sharing services to follow suit.

    How does public transit intend to compete if it comes to fruition? As it stands today, Uber and Lyft are now cheaper than cabs in LA and they’re killing off the taxi industry with their low pay-per-mile system. Get rid of the labor cost (human drivers) and the no need for tipping, the cost goes down even more substantially.

    • Public transportation obviously has a place in the future. Sure driverless cars will get rid of a lot of accidents, be better at not creating traffic, and allow riders to work/relax while they ride, but they are still going to be on a road with a 100,000 other driverless cars. They are still going to do damage to the roadways. They are still going to be far more expensive than public transit. Also if you think the driverless uber rides will be cheaper than those with a driver in the first few years they are available (which is still years away) you are crazy. Your tip that you no longer have to pay will be replaced by you fronting money for their R&D costs.

      Also…have you never seen Terminator 2? This is obviously going to end with uber cars chasing us all down the LA river.

      • “Also…have you never seen Terminator 2? This is obviously going to end with uber cars chasing us all down the LA river.”

        Your argument is based on what you saw on science fiction Hollywood movies? The last sci-fi I saw was “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and it sucked and I wanted my money back, but surely no one expects big giant robots running around town.

  2. “Also if you think the driverless uber rides will be cheaper than those with a driver in the first few years they are available (which is still years away) you are crazy. Your tip that you no longer have to pay will be replaced by you fronting money for their R&D costs.”

    Except the difference is that unlike public transit which has a virtual monopoly in transit, there’s competition going on in the on-demand car service industry which is an indicator of a fierce price war which brings down costs for the consumer.

    Uber isn’t the only one interested in driverless cars. So is Lyft, airbnb, and even now Google (who’s also doing their own research in driverless cars) wants a piece of action.

    REPORT: Google plans to compete with Uber with its own on-demand car service
    http://www.businessinsider.com/report-google-has-on-demand-car-service-plans-to-compete-with-uber-2015-2

  3. “Sure driverless cars will get rid of a lot of accidents, be better at not creating traffic, and allow riders to work/relax while they ride, but they are still going to be on a road with a 100,000 other driverless cars. They are still going to do damage to the roadways.”

    If it were me, I’ll take less accidents, not creating traffic, and allowing riders to work/relax while they ride as a positive thing and will deal with the other 2 negatives later. Three out of 5 being positives is better than nothing.

    The other option is waiting god knows when the next bus or train is going to come with constant delays while others can just hop and go, issues with constant fare hikes and service cuts that happens every few years, no eating/drinking rules, smushed to death with over crowded buses and trains, being felt like a sucker for actually paying for rides when viewing others who cheat their way across the system, dirty and smelly stations with no restrooms.

    I’ll take the driverless car option, especially if it became cheap like 10 cents a mile, over buses and trains anyday. Then I won’t have to decide on choosing between walking, bicycling, paying up $1.75 and think in my head if it’s worth it for the distance I’m travelling or planning ahead I should buy a daily, weekly, or monthly pass. Too much thinking involved, the less thought, the easier, the better.

    • The lowest estimate I have seen was 50 cents per mile, and I am veryyyy skeptical of that number. Where do you get 10 cents per mile?

      • A 10 cents per mile rate is very well achievable, not now, but in the near future, if fierce price wars between multiple app-based ride services continue, more so as share-ride services start picking up additional passengers as car-pool services instead of just picking up solo riders, in addition to cutting down human labor costs from automated driving.

        http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarunwadhwa/2014/11/13/will-lyft-and-ubers-shared-ride-service-put-public-transit-out-of-business/

        “But on-demand ridesharing platforms Lyft and Uber see a major opportunity here. Earlier this year, both companies joined a host of other startups offering “shared ride” services (named Lyft Line and UberPool, respectively). The idea is that if two riders are going in the same direction, it is cheaper and more efficient to have them ride together. In exchange for sitting with a stranger, riders can receive a discount of anywhere from 30-60% each, depending on demand. Although they are only available in certain areas thus far, the service is proving to be extremely popular – Lyft reports that in just two months, one-third of their rides in San Francisco are now Lines.”

        The article above is describing that Uber and Lyft are encroaching upon competing with public transit: picking up passengers along a route so fares can be split among multiple riders. And one startup is now actually putting that idea to the next level by actually running shuttles along a fixed route:

        http://recode.net/2014/12/02/loup-the-love-child-of-uber-and-a-bus-service/

        Consider what happened to the cell phone industry. You had multiple competitors back then all competing with each other where cell phone rates once were $3.00 per minute and even more if roaming out of the coverage area. Now after multiple mergers and acquisitions, the price per call on a cell phone is now down to 10 cents a minute on a pre-paid plan nationwide. And by today, people are cutting their home landline phones and are now becoming cell phone only today. And now, it’s not about the call minutes, it’s becoming who provides the cheaper data plan.

        Competition always drives down costs.

    • I’m sure back when the first Ford Model T came off the mass production lines, there were many people who didn’t believe in those darn “horseless carriage” contraptions.