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After most-deadly crash in a decade, limo rules still haphazard as prom season nears

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Last year’s deadly limo crash in upstate New York may be a watershed moment for the industry as it continues to face scrutiny over the safety of its vehicles.

New York has vowed to pass a new round of regulations in the hopes of preventing another tragedy.

And the crash, which killed 20 people, has raised new questions over whether consumers should rely on regulators to ensure the limos they ride in are being properly inspected – particularly as the season nears for proms, wedding and wine tours.

A review by the USA TODAY Network New York found a scattershot system of oversight across the country. States often develop their own rules with limited enforcement over limos that are cut and “stretched” aftermarket and lack the same safety features as passenger vehicles.

“When it comes to stretch limousine construction and oversight, there is an element of Frankenstein involved,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, a nonprofit in Illinois, and a former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The cause of the October crash that killed 17 passengers, its driver and two pedestrians outside a popular country store in Schoharie, a small town outside of Albany, remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

It was the most deadly transportation crash in the U.S. in nearly a decade.

Safety advocates are now warning riders to take extra precautions before they use limos, and businesses that benefit from the trips, such as tourist spots and wineries, are hopeful any backlash won’t hurt their number of visitors.

The crash is on consumers’ minds. Sangita Patel, a parent in Brighton, said she still thinks a limo is a good option for her daughter Aarya heading to the senior prom this year.
But the Schoharie crash has her thinking more about the limo company she chooses.

“Before I think we took limos for granted,” she said. “We thought, ‘Oh, they’re a limo driver, they’re a professional driver, and that’s the safest option.’ But I think the crash last year made you think, ‘We just have to do a little more due diligence.’ ”

What caused the crash?

In the Oct. 6, 2018, crash, the vehicle – a modified 2001 Ford Excursion – had failed multiple state inspections in the months leading up to the crash, and its driver did not have the proper certification to drive the automobile.

The vehicle’s operator, Nauman Hussain of Prestige Limousine in Saratoga County, has been charged with criminally negligent homicide. A criminal investigation is ongoing, as is a probe by the NTSB into the reason for the crash.

Now New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature are looking at a series of new laws as part of the state budget for the fiscal year that starts April 1.

“This crash was a horrific tragedy that shocked this state to its very core,” Cuomo said Jan. 15.
“We are advancing reforms that will give aggressive new powers that will allow authorities to take dangerous vehicles off the roads without delay, hold unscrupulous businesses accountable and increase public safety in every corner of New York,” he said.

Chief among them was Cuomo’s call for a ban on all stretch limousines from being registered in the state.

But the proposal was scaled back last month amid questions over whether it was legal and concerns that it would bankrupt the limo industry in New York.

Robert Palencar, owner of Uptown Limousine Service in Binghamton, called it a “major knee-jerk reaction to a major incident.”

“It’s unfair to many. How would we feel about paying taxes and employing people and now being outcast and banned – that’s unfair.”

Instead, Cuomo now hopes to ban limousines that do not comply with federal standards and impose hefty fines and felony charges against operators who skirt the state’s inspection laws.

“This proposal has been and continues to be focused on increasing public safety – and that has not changed,” Jason Conwall, a Cuomo spokesman, said.

‘An element of Frankenstein’

Stretch limousines have a different set of safety standards than regular passenger vehicles, said Raul Arbelaez, an engineering expert with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a Virginia-based group funded by the auto-insurance industry.

The vehicles, he said, aren’t required to meet the same front and side crash protection standards as regular passenger cars and do not have to undergo any crash testing.
That’s because the vehicles are not constructed as stand-alone units.

They begin as regular vehicles that are essentially cut in half and extended.

Original equipment seats are removed, and new seating is added that typically changes passenger orientation from front-facing to side-facing.

The Schoharie limo began its life with seating for nine. When it crashed, it could accommodate 18.

In the modification process, the side rollover pillars, airbags and other features required in passenger cars to help absorb impact forces and protect interior occupants are frequently removed and not replaced.

“Even though they’re roadworthy, it doesn’t mean they offer the same crash-worthiness protection as the non-modified vehicle,” Arbelaez said.
Some manufacturers, including Ford and General Motors, have strict programs that ensure vehicles are modified according to the standards of the original manufacturers.

But there are no laws mandating that limousines meet those specifications, and most coach builders make custom vehicles based on customer preferences, according to the trade group Luxury Coach and Transportation.

Critically, the Schoharie limo was missing its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard tag listing the name of the company that modified the original vehicle, records show.

While there has so far been no indication that structural failure was a factor in the deadly October crash, federal rules passed in 2005 say that coachbuilders are legally responsible for certifying their vehicles to meet federal safety standards.

Additionally, limos often aren’t required to have safety features mandated for other large vehicles, such as emergency exits or fire extinguishers.

Improving enforcement

The Schoharie crash has changed the perspective of how the industry is viewed, at least in New York – which already had among the strictest standards in the nation.

Limousines in New York must undergo safety inspections from the state’s Department of Transportation every six months.

A failed inspection can be triggered by anything from a broken tail light to faulty brakes. Depending on the severity of the defect, an out-of-service sticker is placed on the windshield and the vehicle is prohibited from use until a repair can be made and the vehicle passes inspection. But therein lies the rub.

The limo involved in the Schoharie crash had an out-of-service sticker, but it was later removed and put back on the road without being properly inspected.

Gary Buffo, president of the National Limousine Association, questioned why the vehicle was never impounded – a criticism the state transportation department has faced in the months since the crash.

“That vehicle should have never been on the road,” Buffo said.

The Department of Transportation said in a statement the department took “aggressive action” to remove the vehicle from service, but its operator purposefully broke the law.

“The owners of Prestige knowingly and willfully operated this vehicle in violation of state law. Period,” the statement read.

It is unclear how the transportation department currently ensures a vehicle that has failed inspection remains off the road.

The agency declined to comment, citing an ongoing criminal investigation into the crash. There is also at least one civil lawsuit from a victim’s family.

Nevertheless, Cuomo wants to seize the license plate of any vehicle deemed unsafe by the agency and increase the fine for operating a vehicle that has not passed inspection to $25,000.

He also wants to make it a felony to remove an out-of-service sticker from a vehicle.

All that would either need to be approved in the budget by the Legislature or as a standalone bill.

The industry reacts

The new proposals have been received more kindly by industry insiders than Cuomo’s initial call for an outright ban.

But they also have faced pushback from state lawmakers. The budget proposals by the Senate and Assembly stripped most of the measures sought by Cuomo.

Many industry leaders said they want greater enforcement to crack down on operators seeking to circumvent the industry’s regulations.

“The best outcome that can come out of this accident is for the state to come down and just hammer these operators that want to skirt the rules and regulations,” Buffo said.
From a statistical standpoint, limos are generally safe, records show.

Just 93 limousines – 11 in New York – have been involved in fatal crashes between 1994 and 2016, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

More than 40,000 passenger cars and light trucks were involved in similar incidents across the U.S. in 2016 alone, the latest year NHTSA data is available.

And 31 golf carts were involved in fatal crashes that same year, according to data.

“We’ve been a safe industry since I’ve been in the industry – very little accidents, very little incidents that happen, very little passengers that have been injured,” Buffo said.

Other proposals

Passengers in limousines are currently not required to wear seat belts under federal law.

In fact, there is no requirement that such equipment even be installed in the vehicles.

Cuomo is seeking to change that, proposing all passengers, regardless of vehicle, wear seat belts.

It’s a point that the limousine owner’s lawyers tried to make this month in its response to the civil suit, arguing that “the plaintiffs’ injuries, if any, were increased or caused by plaintiffs’ failure to use or wear seat belts at the time of the occurrence.”

Requiring seat belts to be worn in all vehicles, including limos, has been backed by AAA, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Safety Council.

“The seat belt is the No. 1 life-saving device in the vehicle,” Arbelaez, the IIHS engineer, said.
But enforcing the proposal is easier said than done, Arbelaez said.

Seat-belt use across the country is at 90 percent, an all-time high, but a majority of passengers in limousines and ride-share vehicles don’t buckle up, even if a seat belt is available.

Cuomo also is seeking to ban limousines from making U-turns, an idea that has the backing of AAA.

Good for business

Wineries in the mid-Hudson Valley and elsewhere in New York said the business that comes from the limo industry is invaluable to their success. And they fear any new laws or stigma against the industry could trickle down to their operations.

David Bova, the general manager of Millbrook Vineyards & Winery, said in the summer and fall seasons the winery will see limos most weekends.
Many different groups, from bachelorette parties to couples parties, take a limo to the Dutchess County winery to avoid anyone drinking and driving, he said.

He said parties with limousines have gotten a bad rap because of a separate deadly crash on Long Island in 2015 and the Schoharie crash.

“It’s good business,” he said of limousines. “We need all the business we can get.”

But customers have been more cautious of the vehicles in the wake of the crash, said Linda Smith, the owner of Your Day Your Way Wedding Planning in East Greenbush, a suburb outside Albany.

“I wouldn’t say they’re more concerned and hesitant, they’re just asking more questions,” she said. “They’re being more proactive.”

Smith is proactive herself, referring customers only to a handful of local limousine services she has personally checked out.

“Most of the couples realize that the tragedy that took place in October was from a company that took short cuts and tried getting around the laws,” she said.

What to look for
Consumers should be on the lookout to ensure they are getting into a safe vehicle, said Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA in New York.

“I would look for the year, make and model of the vehicle,” he said. “I think the newer the better.”
Customers also should check the safety record of the company and inspect it to see whether the vehicle is equipped with seat belts.

Another thing to look for: a sunroof, which could provide an alternative exit in the event of an emergency.

“Look at any and everything that affects safety as it relates to these vehicles,” Sinclair said.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/investigations/2019/03/14/fatal-crash-limousines-what-know-before-riding-limo/3159917002/

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Optimus Ride will roll out geofenced driverless taxis in New York City and California later this year

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Earlier this year, Optimus Ride, an autonomous technology startup based in Boston, partnered with Brookfield Properties to deploy three driverless cars in the Reston, Virginia mixed-use development of Halley Rise. Now, Optimus is setting its sights on Northern California and Brooklyn.

Optimus today announced that it’ll deploy a small fleet of self-driving cars on private roads in Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300-acre modern industrial park housing over 400 manufacturing businesses, and ​within Paradise Valley Estates​, a private 80-acre assisted living community located in Fairfield, California.

At the Yard — starting in the second quarter of 2019, in what Optimus claims will be the first commercial driverless taxi deployment in the state of New York — cars will ferry riders from the New York City Ferry to Flushing Avenue, just beyond the park’s perimeter. And at Paradise Valley, they’ll provide visitors with self-driving tours of the grounds and allow residents to reserve rides between homes, to Paradise’s community and health center, and to on-property activities.

“We are excited to announce not one, but two self-driving vehicle deployments,” said Optimus Ride CEO and cofounder Dr. Ryan Chin. “Working with leading developments and communities like Paradise Valley Estates and the Brooklyn Navy Yard enable us to further our mission to transform mobility.”

Chin, who formerly led the City Science Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, said Optimus’ cars will be capable of level 4 autonomous driving, meaning they’ll operate with limited human input and oversight in specific conditions and locations (as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers). As previously announced, they’ll tap Nvidia’s Drive AGX Xavier platform, which Nvidia — an Optimus investor — claims is capable of delivering 30 trillion operations per second.

Optimus is an MIT spinout founded by a team of DARPA Urban Challenge competitors and other autonomous driving engineers, and it has flown mostly under the radar since October 2017, when its partnership with real estate developer LStar Ventures brought self-driving car service to the 1,550-acre Union Point neighborhood. Optimus became one of the first companies to secure a driverless vehicle permit from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in 2016, with tests of its 25-plus car fleet starting in Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park in the Seaport District. And it first piloted its software — a suite capable of mapping, controlling vehicles, coordinating vehicle fleets, detecting and avoiding objects, and more — on the campus of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Optimus operates much like May Mobility, a startup that develops an autonomous vehicle stack and works with manufacturers to install it in low-speed, compact fleets, and French company Navya, which has sold 67 driverless shuttles in 16 countries. Like May and Navya, Optimus says it can integrate its white label autonomous system into “any vehicle type” — for now, lightweight cars that fit a handful of passengers — and it sees cities, public transit systems, and ride-sharing services as potential customers.

If all goes according to plan, it’ll join an exclusive club of companies that have deployed level 4 autonomous passenger cars and taxis. Baidu launched level 4 autonomous shuttle buses in more than 10 regions across China earlier this year, and Google spinoff Waymo has tested level 4 vehicles on passengers participating in its Early Rider Program in Chandler, Arizona. Startup Drive.ai, meanwhile, is operating fleets of level 4 cars in Arlington and Frisco, Texas.

In November 2017, Optimus announced an $18 million funding round led by Greycroft Partners, with participation from Emerson Collective, Fraser McCombs Capital, and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito. To date, it has raised $23.25 million.

Source: https://venturebeat.com/2019/03/19/googles-gradient-ventures-joins-58-million-investment-in-ar-startup-mojo-vision/

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Global Moto Taxi Service Market 2019-2023

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About this market
Moto taxis are a major part of the transportation network in many developing countries. Their demand is high in some of countries across Asia and Africa, where the population is on the rise and transportation options such as buses and light rail are insufficient and do not serve the last mile. Moto taxis are used for both short hauls and long hauls. In most countries, moto taxi drivers are work in densely populated areas, such as outside department stores, by the exit to train stations, and subway stations. Inadequate infrastructure such as poor condition of roads is a major concern in some developing countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, and some parts of Africa and Asia. Moto taxi can be used as an alternative in such conditions to offer easy access to a destination while also improving on last mile connectivity. These benefits of moto taxis over other forms of transport are likely to fuel the market during the forecast period. Analysts have predicted that the moto taxi service market will register a CAGR of over 16% by 2023.

Market Overview
Increase in investments for moto taxi startups
This rise in funding from various companies is likely to boost the operations of moto tab services startups and expand its geographic presence. This will eventually contribute to the growth of the market during the forecast period.
Ban on moto taxi in various countries
Even though the moto taxi services market is booming in some parts of the world, moto taxis are banned and regarded illegal in some other countries. Hence, the ban on moto taxis will negatively affect the profitability of service providers, thereby affecting the market during the forecast period.
For the detailed list of factors that will drive and challenge the growth of the moto taxi service market during the 2019-2023, view our report.

Competitive Landscape
The market appears to be moderately fragmented and with the presence of several vendors. This market research report will help clients identify new growth opportunities and design unique growth strategies by providing a comprehensive analysis of the market’s competitive landscape and offering information on the products offered by companies.

Source: https://www.reportlinker.com/p05756627/Global-Moto-Taxi-Service-Market.html?utm_source=PRN

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Spring 2019: Dairy Queen, Rita’s and more offer freebies and deals to celebrate the season

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The first day of spring is Wednesday, March 20, and there are lots of freebies and deals to celebrate spring!

Dairy Queen is holding its annual free cone day to celebrate at participating stores nationwide. Each customer gets a free small cone of vanilla ice cream.

The fast food restaurant is also accepting donations on behalf of the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. For more than 30 years, the company has raised more than $130 million for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in local communities.

According to Dairy Queen, the free soft serve cones will be available while supplies last. The company said cones are limited to one per customer.

This is the fifth year DQ has offered this deal.

Rita’s is giving away a free Italian Ice. Just show up at your local store from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. to grab your free treat. Last year, Rita’s gave away nearly one million cups of Italian Ice over 9 hours.

If the warm weather has you thinking about getting outside and planting something, The Arbor Day Foundation has you covered. They partnered with Community Canopy and a number of power companies to give homeowners a free tree that you can plant to maximize your energy savings. All you have to do is enter your address, pick the variety you want and the online program will help you decide the right placement for the tree! You then decide if you want to pick up a 3-gallon potted tree or get a 1-gallon version mailed to you.

Source: https://abc7ny.com/society/free-ice-cream-and-other-deals-to-celebrate-spring/5205510/

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