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The Bug That Crashed New York’s Wireless Network



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For at least a year, federal officials and technology companies had been warning of the so-called GPS rollover, a once-in-20-year event that had the potential to wreak havoc on computer networks around the world.

The simple remedy involved some necessary upgrades.

Yet somehow, New York City’s technology managers were caught completely off guard, and did nothing to prepare for the calendar reset of the centralized Global Positioning System.

As a result, a wireless network used by city agencies crashed in April, crippling many services that relied on it, including some Police Department license plate readers and a system to remotely control traffic lights. It took 10 days to get the network running again.

Officials at several city agencies, including the Police Department and the Office of Emergency Management, knew about the rollover, according to a report released by the city on Friday.

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But officials at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoiTT), which was responsible for operating the wireless network, claimed “that they were not aware” of the rollover before it occurred, the report said.

After the network went down, confusion, poor communication and a lack of coordination hampered attempts to get it working again, according to the report, which was compiled by the consulting firm Gartner at a cost of $300,000.
A week before the report’s release, the DoiTT commissioner, Samir Saini, resigned. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that Mr. Saini wanted to return to the private sector, and disputed the notion that his departure was connected to the failure.

The report did not name any of the people who were responsible for the missteps, and the city has not publicly disciplined anyone in relation to the incident.

Nonetheless, the report, with its revelations of poor preparation and the chaotic response, could be embarrassing for Mr. de Blasio, who is running for president and has argued that his experience managing the nation’s largest city makes him more qualified than other candidates.

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On the day the wireless network crashed, Mr. de Blasio was in Nevada, an early primary state, as he considered whether to declare his candidacy for president. City Hall initially tried to hide the shutdown. It made no public acknowledgment of the problem and, in response to questions from The New York Times, officials initially characterized it as a routine maintenance issue.

The report does not indicate when Mr. de Blasio was told of the problem or whether he was informed of the confusion surrounding the attempts to get it working again.

In a statement accompanying the report’s release, Laura Anglin, the deputy mayor for operations, who also oversees the information technology department, asserted that “there were no interruptions to city services during the NYCWiN outage,” but acknowledged that “it is critical we learn from this event.”

Ms. Anglin’s statement, however, is directly contradicted by the report, which details several service interruptions. About half of the city-operated signs showing arrival times at bus stops were disabled, as were about 200 cameras that provide online images of traffic conditions; many other tasks handled by the network were knocked offline, requiring city workers to be reassigned to perform the tasks manually.

The report made it clear the episode could easily have been avoided. The wireless network, like many other computerized systems, uses GPS data to keep track of time. The GPS rollover was widely known, and government and industry notices encouraged technology managers to upgrade systems to avoid possible interruptions.

The report’s authors interviewed eight top officials at the information technology department, including Mr. Saini. But the report said that no one at the agency admitted being aware of the approaching rollover. It does not say whether it considered those denials to be credible, given the amount of publicity related to the rollover in the technology industry.

Mr. Saini was hired just a year and a half ago by the mayor and was involved, among other key initiatives, in the modernization of the 911 system. Attempts to reach Mr. Saini were unsuccessful.

According to the report, the system could easily have been upgraded by replacing what is known as the firmware in the dozens of nodes, or antennas, that make up the network.

Northrop Grumman, the contractor that maintains and operates the network at a cost to taxpayers of $37 million a year, also did not alert city officials to the need for an upgrade, the report said.

“Northrop Grumman worked expeditiously” with city officials “to address the GPS rollover event,” said a company spokesman, Tim Paynter, in an emailed statement. Mr. Paynter did not respond to questions about whether Northrop informed the city of the need for upgrades ahead of the rollover.

Many passages in the 35-page report were blacked out, which city officials said was done for security reasons.

The wireless network was built for about $500 million and has been in use since 2008. But today it is used by only about 10 city agencies. The city plans to shut it down in the coming years and shift its wireless needs to commercial carriers, which it says will save money.

But the city has been slow to carry out plans for such a transition. The report recommended that New York review its technology infrastructure and warned that the city “may be exposed to more risk than necessary regarding technology-related incidents.”


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Uber, lyft and other taxis

Adams Clinical removes hurdle to clinical trial participation





How Adams Clinical increased retention and streamlined operations by switching to Uber.

One of the hardest parts of conducting a clinical trial is identifying willing participants. Once a participant is identified, strict qualifications and an often-lengthy time commitment limits who can participate, and a lack of access to transportation can make it difficult for participants to commit to and complete the study. To help improve recruitment and retention rates, Adams Clinical offered taxi rides to their participants. However, this solution became a burden on operational efficiency since taxis were only accessible to participants who lived close by and required the staff to pay at the end of each ride.

Finding the perfect transportation solution with Uber Health

To expand their transportation offering, Adams Clinical became an early beta partner with Uber in 2016. The team started using Uber’s web dashboard to arrange and pay for rides for participants with just a few clicks. Over the three years of this partnership, the switch to Uber Health simplified operational management, while reducing time spent on recruitment with increased retention rates. The easy-to-use Uber Health dashboard tracked all the rides and processed payments from one centralized interface, allowing the staff to arrange rides without the hassle of paying at the end of each trip. This flexibility, plus the extensive reach of Uber driver-partners in the Boston area, provided Adams Clinical with the transportation solution needed to successfully manage their participants in need of rides—which removed the headache from recruiting and retaining their study participants.

The result: Improved retention rates, simplified financial records, and an overall lift in team morale

By teaming with Uber Health, Adams Clinical enjoys a number of key benefits including:

• Expanded Recruitment—Using Uber Health cut down the length of enrollment by providing a larger pool to recruit from, resulting in a 5 to 10 percent reduction in recruitment time over the last two years. 

• Centralized Billing—All rides are charged to one company credit card, which is then processed at the end of each month to streamline the amount of administrative effort required.

• Reliable Service—Each ride is tracked in the dashboard so the team knows when the participant will be arriving to help keep the rest of the study on schedule.

• Improved Retention—In the first two years of the partnership with Uber, Adams Clinical estimated up to 20 percent fewer people dropped out of a trial when transportation was arranged to and from the clinic.

• Financial Accountability—Details for each ride are available in the dashboard, and can be downloaded to a spreadsheet, offering convenient management with trial-specific reporting per participant.

• Easy to Use—Using Uber Health has been easy for both staff and participants, even among populations without smartphones or passengers new to Uber.


by Kendall Brown


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Uber, lyft and other taxis

Get a discounted lift to the polls on Election Day




lyft and uber drivers

By Jonathan Sperling

No MetroCard? No excuse to stay home on Election Day.

Ride-sharing giant Lyft is getting in on Get Out the Vote efforts by offering discounted rides to polling locations in New York City on Election Day.

Use code VOTENYC19 between 4:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. on Election Day to receive 50 percent off the price of a Lyft ride, up to $5. The deal is inspired by the fact that more than 15 million registered voters didn’t vote in 2016 because of transportation issues.

“At Lyft, we’re working to improve lives by connecting people and their communities through the world’s best transportation. This Election Day, we want to help make it easier for people in New York City to get to the polls,” said Lyft’s Director of Public Policy Jen Hensley. “Every voice is important, and we’re excited to help make them heard in this year’s elections.”

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Uber, lyft and other taxis

Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash kick off $90 million fight against California’s gig worker law




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Under the ballot measure, drivers could get earnings guarantee of 120 percent of minimum wage

A group of drivers and couriers for Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash launched a new group called Protect App-Based Drivers and Services, which is aimed at passing a ballot initiative in California to counteract the effects of the state’s recently passed gig worker bill. The effort is being supported by the companies, which have vowed to spend $90 million to get the measure passed in 2020.

Assembly Bill 5, which was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on September 18th, enshrines the so-called “ABC test” for determining whether someone is a contractor or employee. Legal experts agree the law will make it more difficult for gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash to classify their drivers and couriers as independent contractors. And the companies have argued that the law represents an existential threat to their business models.

As such, the companies were preparing this contingency plan even before Newsom signed the bill into law. On August 29th, The New York Times reported that Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash would spend $90 million ($30 million each) to pass a ballot initiative that would essentially exempt them from the law. (InstaCart is also involved, but it hasn’t committed to spend any money to support its passage.) The hope was that after striking out with lawmakers and labor groups, the companies could win a reprieve by appealing directly to voters.

The ballot measure would ask voters to approve the following:

  • At least 120 percent of the minimum wage
  • $0.30 per mile for expenses such as gas and vehicle wear-and-tear
  • Health care subsidies consistent with employer contributions under the Affordable Care Act for drivers who work 15 hours a week or more
  • Occupational accident insurance to cover on-the-job injuries
  • Automobile accident and liability insurance
  • Protection against discrimination and sexual harassment
  • Recurring background checks of drivers
  • Mandatory safety training of drivers
  • Zero tolerance for alcohol and drug offenses
  • A cap on driver hours per day to prevent sleepy driving


It’s a new spin on the failed proposal that Uber and Lyft presented to state officials as a compromise to prevent the passage of AB5. The companies had promised to pay their drivers $21 an hour (but only while on a trip), provide them with sick leave, and “empower” them to “have a collective voice” — a nod toward drivers forming a union.


After AB5 passed, though, Uber and Lyft warned that drivers could lose their flexibility to drive when they wanted. “Drivers would not be able to choose when to sign on anytime they want it,” Tony West, Uber’s general counsel, said in September. “They would work in shifts like every other employee works in shifts.” Experts have said there is nothing in federal or state law that precludes Uber from offering its drivers the same flexibility as employees as they have now as contractors.

(West also claimed that Uber could ultimately pass the ABC test because “drivers’ work is outside the usual course of Uber’s business.”)

The ballot measure is a risky — and costly — move for Uber and Lyft, insofar as it could further antagonize labor unions that have been hugely influential over the passage of AB5. Unions championed the bill throughout the legislative process, and have been at the center of the fight over gig work in California.

“This measure is another brazen attempt by some of the richest corporations in California to avoid playing by the same rules as all other law-abiding companies in our state,” Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said in a statement. “California’s unions will join drivers who want fair wages, better treatment and flexibility to defeat this corporate ploy.”

Meanwhile, union-backed groups and other supporters of AB5 are planning to protest outside the homes of key Uber investors, including Uber board member and Benchmark Capital partner Bill Gurley.

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