Come 2021, drivers will have to pay a toll to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street—the result of New York’s recently-passed congestion pricing plan , which lawmakers say will allow the state to leverage $15 billion in revenue to help rebuild the struggling subway system.
Many details of congestion pricing have yet to be determined. The MTA’s Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority is charged with forming a six-member panel to hash out the specifics, including exactly how much drivers will pay and whether to offer exemptions to certain groups or vehicles, according to state’s plan. And calls for exemptions have been plentiful: police officers want one, truck drivers want one and even the state of New Jersey wants one.
Most transit advocates oppose offering exemptions, on the grounds that doing so will chip away at toll revenue the MTA badly needs. But one subset of drivers pushing for a carve-out argues their exemption would actually help the city achieve several its congestion pricing goals: the owners of electric cars and other fuel-efficient vehicles—including motorcycles and scooters—who say doing so would incentivize those who do drive to swap out their gas guzzlers for less-polluting models.
“We’re part of the solution. We reduce congestion,” says Cheryl Stewart, a longtime motorcycle rider and founder of the group Riders Against Congestion, which is pushing to get two-wheeled vehicles exempt. “It doesn’t make sense to lump us in [with cars].”
She points to Department of Energy data listing motorcycles as more fuel-efficient than cars, as well as a2007 study by transit expert Sam Schwartz which found congestion and pollution would be reduced if more motor scooters filled the city’s streets instead of cars (Schwartz, however, has more recently stated his opposition to any congestion pricing exemptions).
Stewart argues that residents who live in neighborhoods underserved by public transit are forced to rely on driving more than those in other areas. As a freelance sculpture who lives in Red Hook, where there’s limited subway access, she travels to work sites on her motorcycle, which also allows her to transport her tools.
“Advocates who are really adamant that no exemptions would be given at any time, I bet they probably don’t live in a transportation desert as I do,” she says. “Incentivizing motorcycles is a reduction strategy.”
Other cities have made exceptions
For motorcycle usage to be truly effective as means of reducing congestion, New York would need to legalize lane-splitting, which would allow motorcyclists to drive between lanes to move faster through traffic, something Stewart supports and others users havepushed for on the grounds it would free up more space on the road. The practice is legal in California, and seven other states were considering bills to legalize lane-splitting as recently as last year, according to a report from Pew Charitable Trusts. The NYPD has previously stated its opposition to the practice, citing safety concerns.
Other cities that have already implemented road tolling plans have made exceptions for certain vehicles: In Stockholm, for instance, motorcycles and mopeds don’t have to pay the congestion tax. When London introduced congestion pricing more than a decade ago, motorcycles were also exempt from the fee, and drivers of certain electric and hybrid vehicles could get a discount. Since last month, however, all older vehicles that don’t meet certain efficiency standards aresubject to a charge to enter London’s congestion zone.
There are currently almost 8,000 electric cars and nearly 45,000 motorcycles registered across the five boroughs, state data shows.
At least one New York lawmaker, Assembly Member Felix Ortiz, wants lower-emission vehicles exempt from the city’s future congestion fees, citing London as an example. He introduced a bill in March that would exclude clean-fuel and electric cars from the tolls, and another bill to exempt motorcycles.
“This legislation seeks to give an incentive for New Yorkers to help change the ramifications of carbon emissions which is one of the largest contributors to climate change,” both of Ortiz’s bills read. “There should be incentives not penalties for owners who want to contribute to saving our planets [sic] future.”
Others made a similar argument in March at a hearing on congestion pricing hosted by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
“Scooters and motorcycles are much smaller and weigh a lot less than cars, so they use only a fraction of our limited parking spaces and put a lower burden on roads’ surfaces,” said Christine Negra, one of several motorcycle users who testified at the event.
Both the city and state have campaigned—and allocated funding—to get more New Yorkers to switch to environmentally-friendly cars. Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launcheda $250 million initiative to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations across the state, while Mayor Bill de Blasio’s aiming to have EVs account for 20 percent of registered cars in the city by 2025.
Concerns about carve-outs
Last month, a new coalition of environmental and transit advocacy groups launched ElectrifyNY , an effort to get the city and state to switch over to an all-electric public bus fleet and make other carbon emission-reducing changes. In a statement, the collective told City Limits it does not yet have a formal position on congestion pricing exemptions, but that it will be monitoring discussions as the details get hammered out in the coming months.
“Our initial take is that the more exemptions we grant, the less revenue for the subways, which critically need it. While EVs pollute less, they nevertheless contribute to congestion of non-EV traffic,” Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and an ElectrifyNY member, said in an email.
He points out that EV owners tend to be of higher-income, and so exempting them would make the congestion pricing deal “more regressive”—a fear often expressed by opponents of road pricing who worry the tolls would disproportionately burden low-income people (though supporters point to data that shows car-owners are generally wealthier).
To the degree exemptions are considered, in the past, we’ve been open to exempting people with disabilities or folks who have to travel to the zone for doctor appointments (we were also advocates of once-a-day tolling, and generally during the work day),” Bautista added. “Beyond that, it becomes a slippery slope.”
If fuel efficiency exemptions were instituted, the TBTA panel tasked with crafting the state’s congestion pricing plan would have to decide exactly what kind of vehicles would qualify for the carve-outs. The state’s current standards for its Low Emission Vehicle Program includes battery electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles and electric hybrids, according to the Dept. of Environmental Conservation.
Stewart of Riders Against Congestion argues that failing to create any exemptions for motorcycles and lower-emission vehicles is placing the need for toll revenue over the goal of reducing street traffic.
“I feel like, frankly, some of or many of the lawmakers who’ve signed onto this, they’re not thinking about congestion,” she says. “It’s all about the money.”
But others argue that it makes sense to prioritize funding, considering the dire state of the city’s public transit system, where the subway has operated in a state of emergency for the last two years.
“New York’s congestion pricing is, in large part, about revenue,” says Nick Sifuentes of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which is also a member of ElectrifyNY. While he feels reducing congestion is still “incredibly important,” the ultimate goal is get more people on public transit and out of vehicles altogether.
“We’re trying to encourage people to take mass transit, not flood the streets with EVs or motorcycles,” he says.
Sifuentes says there are other tactics outside of congestion pricing exemptions that the city and state can undertake to incentivize the switch to electric and fuel-efficient vehicles, including expanding the number of EV charging stations. He also points to policies like one in Los Angeles, which rewards drivers of certain environmentally-friendly cars by letting them use carpool lanes even if they’re driving alone.
But someday, he adds, it might make sense for New York to exempt electric and other less-polluting vehicles from congestion pricing—but for now, raising revenue to save the public transit system should come first.
“Let’s say 10 years from now, we’ve done Fast Forward and the subways are brilliant and they’re up to modern standards again and the bus network is humming along,” he says. “Maybe then we’d tweak our program; maybe that’s when we say we’ll allow [exemptions].”
The six-person Traffic Mobility Review Board charged with hammering out the details for congestion pricing, including any exemptions, is required to submit its recommendations sometime after Nov. 15 of 2020, the MTA says. The board’s members will be appointed by the TBTA, with the exception of one member, who will be appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. No actual appointments have been announced yet.
Stocks making the biggest moves premarket: Lions Gate Entertainment, Legg Mason, Lyft & more
Lions Gate Entertainment — Lions Gate received an informal offer from CBS to buy its Starz cable network, according to sources who spoke to CNBC. No deal is imminent, however, sources say. CBS had made an offer for Starz before it was bought by Lions Gate in 2016.
Legg Mason — Legg Mason is near a settlement with activist hedge fund Trian Management, according to Dow Jones. People familiar with the matter say the money manager would gave Trian three or four seats on the board, and that a deal could be announced soon.
Lyft — Lyft was sued by a group of investors over its initial public offering. The suit said Lyft misled investors about its market position and labor matters, and that the company’s “false and misleading” statements inflated the company’s share price. The stock has lost 25% since going public.
Target — Target was upgraded to “equal-weight” from “underweight” at Morgan Stanley, which said its concerns about Target’s medium term profit margins now appear to be reflected in the stock’s price. The retailer is scheduled to report its quarterly earnings on Wednesday morning.
Tesla — An analyst report at Wedbush is raising concerns about underlying demand for the automaker’s Model 3 in the U.S. and said Tesla faces a considerable uphill climb in achieving its second half profitability goals.
T-Mobile US — T-Mobile is set to announce asset sales and other concessions to win approval for its deal to buy wireless competitor Sprint, according to a Bloomberg report.
Uber — Uber’s initial public offering was undermined by big investors, according to The Wall Street Journal. The paper said BlackRock, Tiger Global Management, and other pre-IPO investors passed on buying more shares in the offering, and that some tried to sell stock before or as part of the IPO.
GrubHub — GrubHub was sued by a Philadelphia restaurateur, seeking $5 million in damages and class action status for the suit. The New York Post reports the delivery service is accused of charging restaurants for phone calls even if no order was made. GrubHub said it disputes the claims and that the suit is without merit.
Boeing — Boeing won a wide-body jet order from Air New Zealand, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter who spoke to Reuters. That would end an 18-month competition for Air New Zealand’s business between Boeing and Airbus.
International Game Technology — The maker of slot machines and other gambling products reported adjusted quarterly profit of 12 cents per share, well short of the 23 cents a share consensus estimate. Revenue also came in below Wall Street forecasts. The company managed to return to profitability, however, after reporting a year-ago loss.
Canada Goose — The outerwear maker was rated “buy” in new coverage at HSBC, which thinks the brand has strong growth prospects and that the company is successfully shifting itself to a retail-driven focus.
Huawei responds to Android ban
Fresh off the sledgehammer blow of having its Android license revoked by Google in response to US government demands, Huawei has issued its first, limited response, which leaves more questions open than it answers. In a statement emailed to The Verge, Huawei underscores its contributions to the growth of Android globally — which most recently saw the company’s Android phone sales growing by double digits while every other leading smartphone vendor was shrinking or stagnant — and reassures current owners of Huawei and (subsidiary brand) Honor phones that they will continue to receive security updates and after-sales service. That promise also covers phones that are already shipped and in stock at stores globally, but no additional promises are made beyond that.
“Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry.
Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products, covering those that have been sold and that are still in stock globally.
We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally.”
Google has already said that owners of Huawei phones will retain their access to the Play Store and continue being able to update their apps. The big thing that’s being written out of their future, however, are further Android OS updates from Google. To get those back, Huawei phone owners and fans will have to hope for a resolution in the US-China trade dispute, which has been the trigger for Huawei’s current blacklisting by the US government.
For its part, Huawei has been making preparations for an eventuality of losing access to software from US companies like Google and Microsoft, and it has been developing an in-house operating system alternative to Android. That may be what the company hints at in the final paragraph of its statement when it says it will “continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem.” Sustainable being the key word.
Lilium Flies Full-Scale Prototype Of Powerful Electric Air Taxi
Lilium has gotten off the ground. The German air taxi startup has completed a hover test of a full-scale prototype of its ambitious electric aircraft, which is powered by tilting ducted fans designed to allow it to take off and land vertically while cruising with the efficiency and speed of a winged aircraft.
Lilium says its aircraft will be capable of carrying four passengers and their luggage plus a pilot 300 kilometers (186 miles), roughly the distance from New York to Boston, at a speed of 300 kilometers per hour, farther and faster than most of the scores of other electric air taxi startups.
The Munich-based company envisions knitting regions together more tightly with a transportation service it plans to run itself, enabling quick, affordable on-demand travel between major cities and ones that currently aren’t connected by airlines.
“How far can you get in an hour? We want to fundamentally change that for everybody,” Remo Gerber, Lilium’s chief commercial officer, told Forbes.
Lilium has raised $101 million in venture capital, making it one of the best-funded air taxi startups. However, it’s going to need a whole lot more money to execute its vision say analysts who rate the aircraft’s design as ambitious, but its business model even more so.
One thing Lilium seems to have in spades: raw power. The company, co-founded by four German engineering students in 2015, has developed a proprietary electric engine with just a single moving part that drives a small ducted fan. The aircraft has 36 of the engines mounted over the main wing and a forward canard that the companys says generate 2,000 horsepower—a “massive” amount, says Philip Ansell, an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who’s working on distributed electric propulsion systems. By comparison, a four-seat Robinson R44 helicopter has 245 horsepower.
Lilium may need all those horses to get off the ground with its envisioned passenger payload and a heavy rack of batteries, says Ansell—batteries have an energy density about 40 times lower than jet fuel, giving electric aircraft a poor power to weight ratio. Once the aircraft transitions to forward flight, the lift generated by its wings will allow it to use less than 10% of its horsepower, the company says. The aircraft will control its position in the air by varying power engine by engine, allowing the designers to dispense with a tail and steering flaps.
Lilium isn’t disclosing the aircraft’s weight or battery specs, making it hard to evaluate the company’s payload and range claims, which Ansell says are on the high end of what he considers possible.
Whether the aircraft is really a jet, as Lilium brands it, is debatable, but it lends a sexier image than the propulsion systems of its VTOL competitors, most of which are using propellers. Propellers can achieve faster speeds at the tip due to their greater length, generating more lift on takeoff, but one upside to Lilium’s smaller enclosed fans is lower noise. Gerber says the aircraft will be four to five times quieter than a helicopter, and won’t be audible to people on the ground when it’s flying at 1,000 feet. That will help the company’s chances of getting approval to operate in urban areas, where helicopters’ operations have been severely restricted due to their loudness.
The company plans to launch service in 2025, and it envisions taking advantage of existing heliports and helicopter flight corridors to start. Gerber says the company aims to offer intercity service for a price on par with airline airfares plus the cost of airport taxi service, which its passengers won’t have to pay since Lilium will fly from city center to city center.
Its pricing claims raise eyebrows among aviation analysts. An electric aircraft with fewer moving parts may have lower operating costs than a similarly sized conventional plane, but Richard Aboulafia of Teal Group says it’s a head-scratcher how a piloted aircraft with four passengers could match the economies of scale of a 150-seat airliner with two pilots. All urban air mobility startups have the same problem, he says: “It’s not clear how they’re significantly less expensive than helicopters,” which are beyond the budget of the average traveler.
That Lilium aims to operate its own transport service rather than sell its aircraft to others significantly increases the amount of capital it will need and delays the day when it might turn a profit, says Ernie Arvai of the consultancy AirInsight. Arvai estimates Lilium will need in the range of a half-billion dollars to get through certification to production of its fleet, and without an open market for its vehicles, it will have a harder time getting financing for them. Developing a network of landing pads and terminals for its transport service will cost even more.
“If you’re going to build and operate the planes yourself, that’s a high-risk strategy in my view,” Arvai says.
To this point Lilium has raised funds from an array of tech investors, including China’s Tencent and Atomico, the venture capital fund of the billionaire Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom.
Lilium flight-tested a two-seater version of the design in 2017, which validated its ability to shift from vertical to forward flight. Next up, Gerber says Lilium will build a final version of the aircraft that it will take through further flight testing to safety certification and production.
The company is working on autonomous control systems for the aircraft, but Gerber says its business model doesn’t depend on going pilotless.
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