Along for the Ride - Issue #56

Well it’s the end of a decade. A decade which saw faith in self-driving cars fluctuate from utopian salvation to an over-emphasised, unnecessary distractions (and back again). For some, the delayed delivery of the technology appears to be the most disappointing, while for others the delay only emphasises the sheer complexity of AI, transportation, and human behaviour. CNN has a nice piece recapping the decade, and progress made.

Speaking of delays.. this last month has been a doozy, with time spent in Brussels, Cologne, London, Vancouver and Calgary. My sincerest apologies for the delay in news (and a very long newsletter!). I’ll be back at the newsletters in mid-January after a short break in Canada and San Francisco.

If you’re in the bay area and want to meet up, I’ll be in SF from January 6th-9th and it’d be great to meet you! You can send me an email by responding to this newsletter.

Reads of the Week

Uber loses London licence after TfL.

“Uber has been stripped of its London licence after authorities found that more than 14,000 trips were taken with drivers who had faked their identity on the firm’s app.

Transport for London announced the decision not to renew the ride-hailing company’s licence at the end of a two-month probationary extension granted in September. Uber was told then it needed to address issues with checks on drivers, insurance and safety, but has failed to satisfy the capital’s transport authorities.”


Parking lots, the urban opportunity.

“As the lure of urban living pulls more residents from the suburbs, developers are scooping up prime real estate in downtowns across the United States. Soaring property values have created opportunities for owners of an overlooked, underdeveloped asset: the surface parking lot.

Sales of such lots have risen nationwide over the past five years, surging to more than 200 transactions in 2016, according to data from CoStar, a commercial real estate agency. That number is more than double the amount in 2006 through 2014, when fewer than 100 surface lots a year were sold. The majority of these sales have been in urban areas, according to CoStar.”


Chandler changing street scape for AVs.

“The city of Chandler, in partnership with Waymo, unveiled America’s first drop-off and pick-up zone for autonomous ride-hailing cars.

“It is a designated area in front of City Hall off to the side of the road where riders can access the vehicles in a safe location,” Micah Miranda, the city’s economic development director. The zone has a sign that states the area is a passenger loading zone for autonomous ride-hailing vehicles. Five-minute parking is allowed.”


Government and Policy

Senators grill safety regulator over self-driving cars.

“Senators interrogated the nation’s top transportation safety regulators over their efforts to approve rules for the growing self-driving car industry.

Despite the immense promise of automated vehicles (AVs), which the lawmakers on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee acknowledged, the technology has been plagued by accidents during testing.”


Ireland approves legislation to test self-driving cars on public roads.

“The Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was recently approved by the government and will now be amended to allow for testing “under strict guidelines” of autonomous vehicles.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross said the priority is “always the safety” of roads for all users, but this is a developing sector. “It is important that we make the most of these developments for not just transport, but also the wider economy,” Ross said in a statement.”


US turns corner with car‑free housing project.

A property developer is building a car-free estate for 1,000 people in a city said to be the most dangerous in America for pedestrians (unironically, in Tempe Arizona where Eliane Herzberg was killed by a self-driving Uber).

Culdesac Tempe is a $140 million project in Tempe, Arizona, a city of almost 200,000 people east of metropolitan Phoenix.

Residents renting the 636 flats will be encouraged to get about on scooters, bicycles, buses, trams and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft because there will be no residents’ parking on site and they will be banned from parking near by under the terms of their lease.

Hyundai and Seoul set to test self-driving cars on city roads.

Hyundai has signed a MOU with the city of Seoul to begin testing six autonomous vehicles on roads in the Gangnam district this month.


LA explores congestion pricing pilot.

Los Angeles city and transit officials are conducting a feasibility study to examine the rollout of a congestion pricing pilot project in the next two years.

“Traffic congestion is really at a crisis level here in L.A. County,” Phil Washington, CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told the CoMotion LA conference last week. “Now, we know we can’t create a new city, but we can reimagine sort of what we’re doing here in Los Angeles County. In fact, we must reimagine this county and this city. We’ve got to reimagine what we’re doing. Because the cost of doing nothing, to solve our traffic congestion, is just too high.”



Waymo buys British AI firm Latent Logic.

Latent Logic, a spinout company from Oxford University, specialises in “imitation learning”, teaching machines how to act by showing them examples of humans doing the same actions. It was founded in 2017 by the academics Shimon Whiteson and João Messias.

Waymo hopes the company’s expertise can be put to use teaching AI drivers how to deal with complex behaviour such as a car cutting off another at a roundabout, a pedestrian emerging from a parked car, or a cyclist skidding in rain.


Cruise's vision of life ‘beyond the car’.

This is actually really worth reading, especially if you are a local authority / transport enthusiast.


Wayve to launch self-driving car trials in London.

Wayve, a UK startup applying artificial intelligence to mobile robotics, has raised a $20 million Series A round led by Eclipse Ventures, with participation from Balderton Capital, existing investors and several leaders in machine learning and robotics. The investment will help launch a pilot fleet of autonomous vehicles in central London; self-driving cars are the company’s first commercial application of its technology.


May Mobility gets a $50 million lift from Toyota.

It’s also been selected as one of the automaker’s partners to develop autonomous transportation-as-a-service.


Uber to Pay $4.4M to "resolve" harassment and retaliation charge.

A U.S. agency overseeing labor-related discrimination complaints said Wednesday it found a “reasonable cause to believe that Uber permitted a culture of sexual harassment and retaliation against individuals who complained about such harassment.” Uber said it would pay $4.4 million to compensate any female employees who were harmed between 2014 and today.


Uber nears deal for Foresight.

Uber is in advanced negotiations to acquire the team behind a small Silicon Valley-based startup, Foresight develops simulation software to help test self-driving car prototypes. Foresight has raised only one round of venture capital funding in a seed round worth $3.4 million, according to PitchBook data.


AutoX applies for driver-less test permit in California.

Chinese startup AutoX, backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba, has applied to test self-driving vehicles without an in-car backup driver in California.


Waymo celebrates first year of self-driving taxi service.

To mark the one-year anniversary of its commercial autonomous taxi service, Waymo announced it will expand the ridership base of Waymo One. That includes releasing its app on the iOS store, rather than keeping it only on the Google Play store.

The Google-backed service has delivered more than 100,000 trips to more than 1,500 monthly riders in the Phoenix area, according to a blog post. The number of weekly rides has tripled since its first full month of service in January 2019.


Research and Academia

Pathways for sustainable personal transportation.

Insights into Future Mobility is a multidisciplinary report by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), exploring how individual travel decisions will be shaped by complex interactions between technologies, markets, business models, government policies, and consumer preferences — and the potential consequences as personal mobility undergoes tremendous changes in the years ahead.

Why the electric-car revolution may take a lot longer than expected.

A subsection from the above research from MIT warns that EVs may never reach price parity so long as they rely on lithium-ion batteries, the energy storage technology that powers most of today’s consumer electronics. In fact, it’s likely to take another decade just to eliminate the difference in the lifetime costs between the vehicle categories, which factors in the higher fuel and maintenance expenses of standard cars and trucks.

The findings sharply contradict those of other research groups, which have concluded that electric vehicles could achieve price parity with gas-powered ones in the next five years.


How a week with chauffeurs showed the major flaw in our self-driving car future.

Interesting perspective from research out of the University of Washington which used 13 volunteers (a very small sample size due to budgetary constraints) from the San Francisco Bay Area who owned cars. The team studied their travel patterns using GPS trackers on their cars and phones for one week, then gave them a chauffeur for a week who would drive the participants’ personal vehicles for them. Finally, the researchers observed the subjects for a final week to look for any changes returning to their chauffeur-less life.

For the week they had the chauffeur, the participants could use them for 60 hours total (again, budget constraints), including for journeys in which the subject was not in the car. This was to simulate the potential use of an AV as a kind of personal robot. The subjects increased how many miles their cars covered by a collective 83 percent when they had the chauffeur versus the week prior.



Against self-driving cars.

“There are also much easier, cheaper, and more sensible ways, of reducing vehicular deaths: reducing or eliminating cars in areas with high pedestrian traffic and creating more car-free zones; investing in more and better green buses, shuttles, and trains, so it’s easy to weave public transportation into our travel plans; paying a decent wage and enforcing strict health and safety rules for drivers, particularly long-haul drivers.”


Social equity must be central to urban tech innovations.

“The Sidewalk Labs saga shows that companies entering new markets without consulting local communities open themselves up to severe risks. Failure to bring the public into public innovation immediately surfaces the possibility of citizen activism that impacts profits and project timelines, the development of local regulations that aim to curb specific business models in question, and the exposure of practices that vault companies into the public spotlight.”


That’s all from me folks. Have a lovely holiday season ahead!


By Sarah Barnes

This weekly newsletter on cities, transportation and technology is curated weekly by Sarah Barnes, a transport nerd based in San Francisco, CA.

The newsletter encourages new conversations about advanced transportation technology, primarily autonomous vehicles, which focus on people, equity, design and the cities we want to (and need to) be building for the future.

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