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Self-Driving Cars Have ‘Every Incentive to Create Havoc’



self-driving car

Just 2,000 autonomous vehicles in downtown San Francisco would be enough to snarl traffic as cars will choose to “cruise” instead of pay for parking, a new analysis shows.
Adam Millard-Ball, a transportation planner and an associate professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz calculated the cost a self-driving car would incur in maintenance, wear and tear, and electricity at 50 cents an hour—less than feeding the meter in most towns, and certainly less than the cost of parking in San Francisco. So, as Millard-Ball explains, self-driving cars would instead circle the block again and again and again.

A human driver would eventually give up and pay for a spot in a parking garage. After all, they have somewhere to be, and driving the same block over and over is boring.

A self-driving car has nowhere to be until its owner has need for it. And self-driving cars don’t get bored. So they can circle. Forever.

“It just takes a minority to gum things up,” Millard-Ball said in a statement. As few as 2,000 self-driving cars could bring San Francisco traffic to two miles per hour, he calculated using a traffic micro-simulation model.

“Autonomous vehicles … can get around paying for parking by cruising,” he said. “They will have every incentive to create havoc.”

It gets worse. An AV could decide that it has a few hours to kill, so it’s just going to drive to the Googleplex (maybe say hello to its makers) and back. But that would put more wear and tear on the car. Millard-Ball calculated that self-driving cars will actually intentionally create traffic jams so they can waste as much time per mile as possible. Even if self-driving cars can’t communicate with other cars, they could choose the most congested street, essentially turning it into a parking lot.

ThinkProgress posited on an even more diabolical scenario: A company such as Uber could encourage its unused driverless cars to create congestion, which would maximize revenue for fare-paying passengers stuck with a congestion surcharge.

“The article’s conclusions should motivate public policymakers to require systems using Artificial Intelligence to provide information about how these systems operate,” Cordell Schachter, the chief technology officer for the New York City Department of Transportation, told ThinkProgress.

Banning cruising wouldn’t necessarily help, Millard-Ball said, since cruising is hard to define. What if an AV is delivering a package? The only solution he sees is congestion pricing, which has been politically difficult in the U.S. (New York just recently implemented congestion pricing, but only for taxis and for-hire vehicles, which taxi drivers have called the “suicide tax.”)

The price to deter AVs from cruising wouldn’t have to be as high as the congestion pricing set in other cities, Millard-Ball wrote. “If vehicles can park for $4 per hour but cruise for $0.48 per hour, then a charge of $3.52 per hour would be sufficient to encourage cost-minimizing vehicles to pay for parking.” A more sophisticated model could assign different fees to different streets or charge vehicles per mile traveled.

“This is the time to establish the principle [of congestion pricing],” Millard-Ball said, “and use it to avoid the nightmarish scenario of total gridlock.”


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31 NY airports splitting $23.6M from state for upgrades




airport new york

More than two dozen airports statewide are splitting $23.6 million in infrastructure funding provided by New York state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that the state funding has been awarded to 31 airports to support safety enhancements and modernization efforts. The Democrat says the funds come from an aviation grant program that complements an upstate airport revitalization competition that has provided $200 million in state funding.

The latest round of funding will be used to build new airplane hangars and fuel facilities, improve safety and security, and expand vehicle parking facilities.

The funding is going to airports in the Albany area, central New York, Finger Lakes region, Long Island, Mid-Hudson region, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Southern Tier and western New York.


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New York City lied to FEMA about vehicles damaged in Hurricane Sandy, agrees to pay $5.3 million




thousands of vehicles damaged

A hurricane of lies about city-owned Department of Transportation vehicles supposedly damaged by Superstorm Sandy has resulted in a $5.3 million settlement with the feds.

The agreement between New York City and federal prosecutors was revealed in papers filed Wednesday in Manhattan Federal Court. After the October 2012 storm that killed 43 people and caused $19 billion in property damage, FEMA offered federal money to replace damaged city-owned vehicles.

In 2014, a DOT deputy commissioner, who was not identified in papers, certified a list of 132 vehicles the agency claimed were wrecked by the apocalyptic flood. But in reality, many of the vehicles had been out of commission for years, papers show.

Some of the vehicles on the list — which included passenger cars, heavy equipment and commercial vehicles — had been “junk for years,” a DOT employee wrote the deputy commissioner.
FEMA would not have agreed to pay NYCDOT any of these funds had it known that the certifications were false and that many of the vehicles listed…were ineligible,” prosecutors wrote.
In one example, DOT sought $3 million for seven street pavers that had been designated for salvage years before Sandy.

Of those seven, the agency reported to the NYPD in 2009 that five paving machines “are sitting under the highway in the dump for seven years and were being pick(ed) apart by vandals stealing brass fittings, copper wire harnesses and anything else they could sell for scrap,” according to papers.
Nevertheless, DOT sought FEMA money to replace the pavers.

In another example, the city sought FEMA money for a trash pump and trailer, though both were taken out of service in 2010.

The settlement between the city and federal prosecutors requires the approval of a federal judge. The $5.3 million settlement includes the city relinquishing a claim to $1 million it expected to receive from FEMA.

The agreement notes that the city and DOT “did not undertake a sufficient review” of the list of damaged vehicles. The DOT deputy commissioner also “lacked personal knowledge” sufficient to sign off on the list.

“FEMA serves a critical role in providing emergency relief to those who are tragically struck by disaster. When people lie to FEMA about the cause of property damage in order to reap a windfall, it compromises FEMA’s ability to provide financial assistance to legitimate disaster victims in desperate need,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.

The DOT on Wednesday said it had taken steps to “reduce the risk of this ever happening again.”
“In 2016, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District alerted DOT that reimbursement claims submitted by the agency to FEMA included damaged vehicles that may not have been eligible for reimbursement. We cooperated fully with the subsequent review, and worked together to reach an amicable settlement,” the agency said in a statement.

“As a result of the joint review, NYC DOT has already instituted stronger procedures to reduce the risk of this ever happening again, including a new grants compliance officer and a centralized, comprehensive tracking system for the agency’s thousands of fleet vehicles.”

The nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau estimated that 230,000 insurance claims for vehicle damage were made as a result of the storm.

Sandy left cars tossed across Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel, Queens. In lower Manhattan, cars were piled on top of each other in underground parking decks. Close to 20,000 damaged cars were stored on a tarmac in Calverton, L.I.


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Germany: Taxis denounce Transport Ministry’s deregulation plans




uber germany

Conservative Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) wants to make it easier for companies like Uber to offer their services in Germany and traditional taxi companies aren’t happy about it.

Uber first launched in Germany in 2014, but a string of court rulings and the country’s restrictive transportation laws have limited it and similar companies from offering their ride-hailing services.

In a white paper published on Monday, the Transport Ministry proposed legal changes to inject more competition into the transportation sector.

Chief among them is scrapping a rule that requires private hire drivers to return to a headquarters after every drop-off. The “obligation to return” — which doesn’t apply to taxi drivers — also forbids ride-hailing drivers from accepting new customers during the ride back.
The paper also proposes getting rid of a ban on pooling, which would allow ride-hailing drivers to pick up and drop off additional customers who are traveling on the same route.

Taxis worry about ‘existence’

The Association of German Taxis and Rental Car Services (BZP) quickly denounced the plans as “unilaterally in favor of Uber and other similar services at the expense of taxis.”

BZP’s managing director, Thomas Grätz, told the DPA news agency that changes to the “obligation to return” rule would threaten the sector’s “very existence.”

The association said it would hold a demonstration against the changes in front of the Transport Ministry building in Berlin on Thursday.

Dieter Schlenker, the chief executive of Taxi Deutschland, a cooperative, said the changes could lead to more New York City-style congestion in major German cities.
Consumers want ‘flexibility’

Germany’s leading consumer group, the Voice of the Consumer (vzbv), has welcomed the changes, saying they would inject “flexibility” into the German transportation market.

“The taxi industry and public transport services do not adequately meet the changing demands of consumers,” vzbv expert Marion Jungbluth told the Handelsblatt newspaper.

Any changes should however protect the consumer and the employees of new transportation services, she said.

The coalition government of conservatives (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) is expected to discuss the white paper and publish a full proposal in the next several months.

The parties agreed to reform the sector in their coalition agreement last year. Many lawmakers see a precedent for reform in the 2013 liberalization of the long-distance bus sector.


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