Uber be damned. One of the most iconic sights for visitors to New York City is the vast numbers of yellow taxis that line the streets of Manhattan.
Mathematical modelling from a team led by Mohammad Vazifeh from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, however, reveals that around 40% of the vehicles that comprise the city’s taxi fleet are superfluous.
In a paper published in the journal Nature, Vazifeh and colleagues outline a new model for determining taxi efficiency, based on 150 million trips taken in a single year, that shows that more than one-third of the current fleet could be removed without requiring changes to regulation, business models or customer habits.
The model changes a critical assumption in previous attempts to establish a viable answer to what mathematicians call the “minimum fleet problem”. Earlier approaches have based calculations on ride-sharing – that is, two or more passengers occupying a vehicle at the same time, but being delivered to geographically different locations. Vazifeh’s team ditched that assumption, and used instead the notion of vehicle-sharing – wherein each taxi is in continuous use for 24 hours a day, driven in three eight-hour shifts.
(In this scenario, routine car maintenance is assumed to take place periodically on weekends, when the number of passenger requests drops.)
The researchers approached the problem by identifying the essential variables involved in each taxi journey – pick-up time and location, drop-off time and location, and how much time passes between a passenger being ready for pick-up, and pick up actually occurring.
Journey times were calculated using GPS data arising from real New York City streets rather than an idealised model.
Setting the variable for waiting time turned out to be the greatest challenge in the model, because it also determined a number of other real-world outcomes, including costs to the fleet operator, customer satisfaction, and traffic flow.
At one end of the scale, the researchers explained, setting the waiting time to an impossible zero seconds resulted in the assumption that taxis simply materialise and disappear at the start and end of journeys. This was not only unfeasible but also prohibitively costly.
On the other hand, they show, increasing the wait time into the region of hours results in the need for a much smaller fleet – but also produces what they term, euphemistically, “operational and traffic efficiency problems” – a phrase that could be understood to mean “a very large number of very angry New Yorkers”.
For the sake of the exercise, thus, Vazifeh and colleagues set optimal waiting time at 15 minutes.
Putting all the variables together and running the numbers, based on the previously collected data, the results were impressive.
“The efficiency breakthrough provided by network-based optimisation, when compared to current taxi operation in New York City, [revealed] the number of circulating taxis can be reduced by an impressive 40%, and kept fairly constant through the day,” the researchers conclude.
Two other conditions, however, informed the results – a high level of knowledge on the part of the operators concerning journey destination as well as start-point, and a centralised dispatch system.
The researchers then ran the numbers again, varying these conditions. When knowledge of destinations was absent in a large number of vehicle hires before the passenger is picked up, and when dispatch is through localised hubs, the total taxi fleet could still be reduced by 30% without loss of service.
Uber applies for patent to spot drunken passengers
The technology could spot changes in walking speed, user typos, and swaying motions
Popular taxi app Uber has applied for a patent to use artificial intelligence to determine how drunk a potential passenger may be.
According to the company’s application, made to the US patent office, the new technology would allow them to spot “uncharacteristic user activity” by monitoring customers’ activity as they use the Uber app. These variables could include: walking speed, unusual spelling errors made while typing on the app, the angle at which a potential passenger holds the phone and whether the phone is moving in an abnormal way.
Thought the patent application does not explicitly refer to identifying drunk or otherwise inebriated passengers – it uses terms such as ‘predicting user state using machine learning” and “uncharacteristic user states” – The Guardian points out that vetting intoxicated passengers is the most likely application for a system built to spot typos or unusual swaying motions.
The patent application suggests various ways that Uber may tailor their service if a user is seen to be exhibiting “uncharacteristic user activity”. For example, they may be directed to a well-lit pickup point, or they may be matched with a driver trained to deal with drunk passengers. Uber also suggest that intoxicated passengers may be prevented from “pooling” with other app users.
Many critics have suggested that Uber’s new proposed system may allow drivers to exploit intoxicated passengers. The company has seen several serious data breaches over the last few years, and in 2014 came under criticism for its use of the controversial ‘God View’ software program. The software allowed the company to monitor real-time locations of customers and drivers. In 2016, the company’s former forensic investigator Samuel Ward Spangenberg concluded that the software was abused by employees who used it to track ex-partners and celebrities.
In a statement, Uber said: “We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers. We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features.”
from NME website
New York City Uber Driver Has License Suspended After Kicking Out 2 Kissing Women
An Uber driver who booted two kissing women out of his car had his livery license suspended on Tuesday.
The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which licenses about 180,000 drivers of car services and yellow cabs, called his behavior “ridiculous.”
“It’s 2018 in New York City, and this isn’t the way we live anymore,” commission spokesman Allen Fromberg said.
The women, Alex Iovine and Emma Pichl, a couple in their 20s, were on their way from Brooklyn to Manhattan on Saturday when they exchanged what they called a “peck” on the lips. They said driver Ahmad El Boutari, who’s 35 and lives in Brooklyn, forced them out and a confrontation ensued.
A cellphone video taken by Pichl shows the driver saying that kissing in an Uber is illegal.
“You can’t do this in the car,” the driver says.
“Kissing is not illegal,” one of the women responds. “Why are we not allowed to kiss in an Uber?”
“It’s disrespectful,” the driver says.
Fromberg noted that the city does not regulate behavior in Uber cars and similar services. But he called what the driver did to the women “an unacceptable and repugnant act that will not be tolerated.”
The Taxi and Limousine Commission is investigating.
Uber has behavior rules amounting to, basically, no sex in cars. But Iovine and Pichl said they were doing no such thing.
El Boutari told the Daily News that the women played loud music on their phones and one put her feet on the seat.
But Iovine said that was not true.
“We would never try to upset someone in their own car,” she said by telephone.
Then, “after we had peck-kissed, sitting on opposite sides of the back seat and not even touching, I saw him looking at me in the rearview mirror,” she said. “He was very angry.”
She said they were in lower Manhattan when the driver pulled over, opened a rear door and ordered them to “get out of my car.”
During the altercation, when Pichl started recording the scene, “he grabbed Emma’s arm to try to get her to stop,” Iovine said. “It was kind of a scary experience.”
Uber, which is based in San Francisco, has removed El Boutari’s access to its app, saying it does not tolerate discrimination. It said it is investigating.
Uber CEO says New York City should charge a fee on all ride-hailing trips to help out struggling taxi drivers
The chief executive of Uber said New York City should impose a fee on app-hailed rides and taxis to help taxi medallion owners who are struggling with debt.
CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told the New York Post on Monday that the city should put the surcharge into a fund to help taxi owners who bought their medallions at sky-high prices. He did not say how much the fee should be.
“In circumstances where medallion owner-operators are having a hard time, where technology has changed and demand patterns has changed their environment, we would support some kind of fee or pool to be formed, a hardship fund, call it,” Khosrowshahi said.
Because taxi drivers in New York City are required to own them, medallions were once extremely valuable and highly coveted because the demand for cabs was stable. But in the years since Uber and similar companies disrupted the industry, a medallion’s value has fallen from as much as $1 million to $200,000.
Drivers working for Uber and other app-based companies don’t need medallions, and many taxi owners who thought their medallions would continue to grow in value say they are now hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Advocates have blamed five apparent suicides of drivers since last November on the taxi industry’s woes.
In the most recent case, yellow cab owner-driver Yu Mein Chow was found floating in the East River last month. The city medical examiner has not determined a cause of death, but Chow’s family members believe he jumped to his death.
A livery cab driver shot himself to death outside City Hall in February after writing a Facebook post blaming politicians for the taxi industry’s decline.
Groups that represent drivers blasted Khosrowshahi’s proposal.
“Dara Khosrowshahi’s proposals are a slap in the face to struggling drivers and an attempt to get out of being regulated,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
The Independent Drivers Guild, which represents Uber drivers, said, Khosrowshahi “needs to address the widespread hardship faced by drivers for his own company before considering taking another cut from our sub-minimum-wage pay.”
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