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We Need a New Term to Describe Uber and Lyft

Companies like Uber and Lyft make any car owner a potential paid chauffeur, and their services are increasingly widespread in American cities.

Is “ride-share” the right term for services like Lyft? Photo: Alfredo Mendez on Flickr

So what should we call these new companies? Abigail Zenner at Greater Greater Washington says the current nomenclature is a bit muddled:

Companies like Uber and Lyft have been dubbing their services “ridesharing.” These companies contract with drivers who can make money by offering rides. Jason Pavluchuk from the Association for Commuter Transportation argued that calling these services “rideshare” made it harder to advocate for other models that more aptly deserve the term, like carpool and vanpool services where people actually ride together.

Uber and Lyft are really new variants on taxi service. They let people use a car they might already own (though Uber is also offering loans to drivers to get new cars), but they are still doing it as a job. If you use such a service, you’re not sharing someone’s car; you’re paying them to give you a ride.

Other companies like Sidecar have envisioned a model where people already driving from one place to another offer rides to someone who happens to be going the same way. That’s a little bit more “sharing” than the app-based taxi-like services.

GGW is asking readers to weigh in on what these services should be called. If not “ride-share,” then what?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Rights of Way reports that Maine DOT still needs to get the hang of accommodating pedestrians and cyclists during construction projects. Naked City writes that North Carolina lawmakers have figured out a new way to potentially derail proposed passenger rail service between Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham. And Strong Towns weighs in on the debate about whether a new sales tax to support transportation projects is the right solution for Missouri.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Mayor Lee, Supe Kim Officially Announce Opening of West SoMa Skate, Dog Park on Parking Lot (Appeal)
  • Hoodline Checks in on Masonic’s Redesign, Still Awaiting Construction Next Year
  • SF’s Quickly Growing Population Means We Need Efficient Transportation More Than Ever (SFist)
  • Mission Bay Neighbors “Cautiously Optimistic” About Coming Impacts of Warriors Arena (Potrero View)
  • Dogpatch Residents Tell SFMTA to Move Already-Approved, Funded Central Subway Loop (Potrero View)
  • Potrero View Provides an Overview of the Upgrades in the Works for Caltrain
  • Stanley Roberts Listens to Coastal Drivers’ Excuses After Being Caught for Various Violations
  • Google to Fund Free Local Shuttles in Mountain View (Business Times)
  • Linshu Ye, 87, of Sunnyvale Dies of Injuries After Being Hit by Driver While Walking (KTVU)
  • GG Transit Proposes Ending Route 80 to Santa Rosa, Increasing Service on Parallel Lines (GMAppeal)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Parking Shared Cars Instead of Private Cars Isn’t Exactly “Privatization”

A flyer distributed in the Lower Haight recently made the absurd argument that converting private car parking into car-share parking is “privatization.” Photo: Amy Stephenson/Hoodline

The SFMTA’s endeavor to reserve on-street car parking spaces for car-share vehicles has yielded complaints from some car owners who, ironically, decry the “privatization” of space currently used to store private cars.

An on-street car-share parking spot in SoMa. Image: Google Maps

These folks don’t seem to acknowledge the extensive research showing that each car-share vehicle replaces, on average, nine to 13 privately-owned cars. They should be embracing the arrival of a program that provides a convenient alternative to car ownership, allowing some of their neighbors to sell infrequently used cars, and ultimately make more parking available.

But the greater point that some folks seem to be missing is this: No use of public street space is more “private” than dedicated storage of private individuals’ automobiles. To decry converting comparatively few of these spaces to welcome a much more efficient form of auto storage – making each space useful for dozens of people, rather than one or two – is absurd.

Yet that’s what Calvin and Michelle Welch argue, in flyers they distributed that protest two on-street car-share spaces in the Lower Haight, as Hoodline recently reported. ”It would privatize a shared, currently free, scarce public resource making it available only to paid members of a car share program,” the Welches wrote. (It’s worth noting that Calvin Welch is a longtime activist who opposes the construction of new market-rate housing.)

Our societal blind spot tends to make it easy to forget that the vast majority of street space has been given over to moving and storing cars, many of them owned and used by just one person each. San Francisco’s 275,450 on-street parking spaces would stretch, lined end-to-end, longer than the California coastline. Ninety percent of this prime real estate is free to use at all times of day.

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Toyota Official: Driverless Cars Could Encourage Sprawl

For all the hype surrounding driverless cars, no one knows exactly what their broader implications may be. This week one car designer suggested automated vehicles could deal a setback to trends in the U.S. toward less driving and more sustainable modes.

Will driverless cars promote more sprawl? Photo: Wikipedia

At the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco, Ken Laberteaux, senior principal scientist for Toyota’s North American team studying future transportation, spoke with a Bloomberg reporter about the potential for unwelcome outcomes, including more sprawl.

“U.S. history shows that anytime you make driving easier, there seems to be this inexhaustible desire to live further from things,” Laberteaux said. “The pattern we’ve seen for a century is people turn more speed into more travel, rather than maybe saying ‘I’m going to use my reduced travel time by spending more time with my family.’”

He said tolling could be a potential solution, but then went on to question the political practicality of that approach. “We’ve created an entire culture and economy based on the notion that transportation is cheap,” he said.

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Jon Stewart on the Transportation Funding Crisis: “This is So Stupid”

Jon Stewart devoted eight minutes to the Highway Trust Fund funding problem in last night’s episode and, in our humble opinion, he NAILED it.

If this doesn’t make you want to pound your head against the nearest hard object, you might want to check your pulse.

Stewart concludes that lawmakers’ response to this easily fixable problem is basically summed up as: “F*** it, we’ll probably all be dead in ten years anyway.” Lawmakers just put a solution off again for another eight months.

This video makes great explainer for all your aunts, uncles and co-workers that are dying to get up to speed on one of the most frustrating and long-running problems in transportation in the United States.

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Alta Chief: Bike-Share Expansions Unlikely in 2014

There was no shortage of Bixi bikes at this 2012 conference, but there is now. Photo: Dylan Passmore/Flickr

Despite continually growing ridership, Alta Bicycle Share-operated bike-share systems across America will probably not be adding bikes or docks this year. The bankruptcy of Montreal-based Public Bike Share Company, known as Bixi, which developed and manufactured the equipment that Alta’s systems use, has disrupted the supply chain that numerous cities were pinning their expansion plans on.

“New bikes probably won’t arrive until 2015,” reports Dan Weissmann at American Public Media’s Marketplace. Alta Bicycle Share’s founder and vice president Mia Birk told Weissman that the last time Alta received new bikes from Bixi “must have been pre-bankruptcy.”

That puts expansion plans for cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC on hold. Just those three cities had previously announced fully-funded plans to add 264 bike-share stations in 2014. New York and Boston are also looking to expand their Alta-run systems. Other bike-share systems that purchase equipment from Bixi, like Nice Ride Minnesota, have had no luck buying new kit this year.

The shortage of equipment also means that cities that had signed up with Alta to launch new bike-share systems — notably Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver – won’t launch until 2015 at the earliest. Ironically, new launches that were planned later, like Seattle’s Pronto system, will proceed sooner, as they were designed with equipment not sourced through Bixi.

The good news is that the troubled supply chain for Alta’s bike-share systems looks like it will be rebooted thanks to an infusion of capital. REQX Ventures, a company from New York City that had bid on Bixi, has been in talks to purchase a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, according to a report in Capital New York. This should inject new resources, allowing the bike-share operator to upgrade buggy software and overcome the hurdles imposed by Bixi’s bankruptcy in time for 2015′s equipment orders.

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St. Louis to Pedestrians: Drop Dead

A busy crosswalk has been erased in St. Louis, and the city is doing everything it can to prevent people from walking across the street here. Photo: NextSTL

Here’s a great example of the wrong way to handle a tricky pedestrian crossing in your town.

At the request of a local hospital, the city of St. Louis recently removed a frequently-used crosswalk for at least the next two years, apparently in conjunction with nearby construction. The city didn’t just scrub away the markings — to completely ensure that pedestrians get the message, it installed a barrier and even posted a police officer at the location.

Alex Ihnen at NextSTL says the whole thing is a symptom of a myopic mindset that sees people on foot as a problem:

We’re petitioning for the crosswalk to be returned immediately, a pedestrian study to be conducted, and added pedestrian infrastructure to be added to this intersection. Input from those using the intersection should be considered and their voices included in future planning, as well as interim solutions. For some reason, “temporarily” inconveniencing pedestrians for two years while ensuring a clear path for cars appears to be the perfectly acceptable default.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Walk SF to Host a Shared Streets Tour in Hayes Valley Next Month (SFGate)
  • More on the SFMTA’s Plans for a Protected Bikeway on the Embarcadero (SF Examiner)
  • Facebook Billionaire Sean Parker Getting More Attention for Funding “Restore Balance” (Grist, Take Part)
  • With Bike Use on Caltrain Continuing to Grow, So Do Instances of Riders Getting “Bumped” (CBS)
  • People Behaving Badly: Police Find Drivers With Numerous Violations on Peninsula Coast
  • Oakland to Finally Re-Pave Jackson Street, Known for the “Worst” Pavement in the City (Oak Trib)
  • Oakland Mayor Quan Changed the Reported Time of Her Car Crash Twice (KRON)
  • Berkeley Housing Development Would Include 65 Units, Retail, and Just 8 Parking Spots (Berkeleyside)
  • Berkeley Driver in Ped Hit-and-Run Caught After Witness Grabs Wallet Through Window (Berkeleyside)
  • In Richmond, Waiting to Make Left Turn on to Freeway On-Ramp “Annoying” (SFGate)
  • Pay-as-You-Drive Car Insurance Comes to California (KTVU)
  • More on the San Francisco-Fresno Bike Courier Service of 1894 (Gizmodo)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Supes Vote Next Week on Wiener’s Backup Transportation Funding Measure

Supervisors are expected to vote next week on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s backup plan for transportation funding — a charter amendment that, with voter approval, would increase the share of the city’s general fund that gets allocated to Muni, pedestrian safety, and bike infrastructure. That share would be tied to the city’s growing population.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Wiener introduced the measure as a safeguard that would increase transportation funding even if Mayor Ed Lee dropped his plan to put a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot. Lee subsequently did drop his support in June, at least until the 2016 election, so Wiener proposed his stop-gap measure. The legislation includes a provision that would allow the mayor to remove the charter amendment if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016, according to Wiener.

“We are a growing city. We’ve grown by 85,000 people since 2003… and we have not made the investments we need to make sure our transportation system, particularly Muni, keeps up,” Wiener said at a committee meeting last week. “This will help bridge the gap.”

The vehicle license fee increase would have generated about $33 million per year for the SFMTA. The agency’s two-year budget assumed its passage in 2014, along with a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation that supervisors unanimously approved for the ballot yesterday.

Currently, Muni gets about $232 million in general funds annually. If approved, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year, retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Seventy-five percent of the new funds would go to Muni, and 25 percent to “street safety measures,” according to Wiener.

“Muni’s been severely underfunded for years,” said Ilyse Magy of the SF Transit Riders Union, which has applauded Wiener’s measure. “It’s essential that measures based on alternative funding strategies be put into place,” she said, noting that Mayor Lee also cut $11 million annually from Muni operations by repealing Sunday parking meters.

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Dems Grudgingly Approve House Transpo Extension’s Disastrous Timeline

Yesterday, during the one-hour debate period over the House proposal to extend transportation funding through May 31, lawmaker after lawmaker stood up to condemn the bill. America needs a long-term transportation bill, they said. A short-term stopgap only creates more uncertainty.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer was one of just 10 Democrats to reject the House extension.

And then they voted for it.

More Democrats than Republicans voted for it, in fact, despite standing up and declaring that “a short term solution is not enough” or that it’s “just another kick-the-can-down-the-road approach” or that it’s just “a little shuffling around of money so we can pretend… we’re not creating more debt.” But in the end, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act passed easily, with only 10 Democrats and 45 Republicans voting against it.

Peter Welch of Vermont was one of those no-voting Democrats. During the floor debate, he called the bill an “abdication of our responsibility.”

“Some folks are saying we need time to put together a long term bill,” he said. “We’ve had time. What we need is a decision.”

Earl Blumenauer is in favor of an extension, but only through the lame duck period after the election. He voted no as well, criticizing Republicans for failing to have a “deliberate, thoughtful process.”

“We have not had a single hearing on transportation finance in the Ways and Means Committee all year,” he said. “We didn’t have one the year before that. We haven’t had a hearing in the 43 months that the Republicans have been in charge.”

So here’s where things stand: The Senate Finance Committee has passed a largely similar bill, with the same amount of money coming out of slightly different funding sources.

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