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The ‘handoff-problem – Who’s to blame for robo-car deaths?

The ‘handoff-problem – Who’s to blame for robo-car deaths?

An interesting comment on Uber’s Tempe-crash in Intelligent Transport: Arizona prosecutors said Tuesday that they wouldn’t charge Uber with a crime after one of its autonomous cars hit and killed a pedestrian last year. Instead, they said investigators should look into what the safety driver “would or should have seen that night.”

One interesting point about the news was raised by Frank Douma, a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies:

“It’s a very conventional way of thinking to say we can expect and we should expect people to sit and monitor technology that is otherwise doing all the decision-making.”

The “handoff problem” — that humans are too easily distracted to safely retake control of an autonomous vehicle in an emergency — is well documented. The Uber accident provided a first glimpse of how the law would deal with that issue. It suggests that, for now, the onus remains on the “driver.”

  • ‘Robo-cars’: the onus remains with the driver – for now.
Transport for London to trial on-demand bus service with ViaVan and Go-Ahead

Transport for London to trial on-demand bus service with ViaVan and Go-Ahead

Transport for London (TfL) is to trial on-demand bus service in Sutton with ViaVan and Go-Ahead (Pickmeup). The trial is expected to last a year and will see areas of Sutton which currently do not have access to public transport connected through the scheme.

Transport for London (TfL) launched a four-week consultation on plans to trial an innovative on-demand bus service in Sutton.

The new service will enable passengers to use an app to book seats on a minibus that will stop at more convenient locations, including areas not currently served by public transport. The on-demand service is proposed to run from 06:30 to 21:30, seven days a week and would carry up to 14 passengers.

Passengers would benefit from a guaranteed seat, free Wi-Fi, USB charging points and flexible stops.

The consultation is asking Londoners for their views on the specific area that the Sutton service should cover and suggested stopping points. The trial, which will last for one year, will help TfL gauge the level of interest for an on-demand service and assess how it would work alongside the existing public transport network.

Sutton was chosen because it has a relatively high car dependency, and TfL believes the service could encourage people to switch to a more sustainable way of travelling. In doing so, it will improve London’s air quality, and reduce congestion. The buses will meet Mayor Sadiq Khan‘s ULEZ standards, and also accommodate accessibility for passengers with reduced mobility.

Alongside the app, passengers will be able to book trips over the phone. The cost of using this new type of transport will be slightly higher than a traditional bus to reflect a better experience for customers.

After a competitive bidding process, ViaVan and Go-Ahead have been chosen to operate the trial. TfL will be tapping into the expertise of the successful bidders’ collective knowledge of app development and many years’ experience operating the largest part of the bus network in London. TfL is also exploring the possibility of delivering a second on-demand bus trial to provide further evidence about the initiative’s viability. Drivers for the new innovative service will receive the same pay and conditions as other London bus drivers. This includes the Mayor’s ‘Licence for London’, which guarantees a pay grade equivalent to their level of service and experience.

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  • ViaVan and Go-Ahead’s Pickmeup to run Transport for London’s demand-responsive trial in Sutton.
Eurostar reports record performance in 2018

Eurostar reports record performance in 2018

Eurostar, the high-speed rail link between the UK and mainland Europe, reported record sales revenues and passenger numbers for 2018, underpinned by a buoyant business travel market, strong US traveller numbers and the launch of Eurostar’s new service between London and Amsterdam.

11 million passengers travelled by Eurostar in 2018, representing a 7% increase compared with 2017 and the highest ever number of travellers in a single year (11m 2018: 10.3m 2017). This year marks the celebration of 25 years of Eurostar with over 190 million passengers since services began in 1994.

Sales revenues increased by 12% year-on-year (£989m 2018: £880m 2017) and the company today reports a preliminary unaudited operating profit of £96.6m in 2018.

The business travel market grew by 12% in 2018, testament to the enduring popularity of Eurostar’s Business Premier service which offers travellers complete flexibility, ten-minute check-in and a range of sustainable menu options on board in partnership with Michelin starred chef, Raymond Blanc, OBE.

The number of US travellers incorporating the Eurostar experience in their tour of Europe also increased in 2018. US passenger numbers grew by 9% year-on-year, with travellers continuing to enjoy the ease, speed and convenience of the high-speed rail link between Europe’s most iconic capital cities.

New Amsterdam service attracts over 250,000 travellers
Leisure traffic last year was boosted by the success of Eurostar’s new service between London and Amsterdam. The high-speed rail link between London and the Netherlands, which marks its first anniversary next month, has seen over a quarter of a million passengers travelling since launch in April 2018.

To meet consumer demand, Eurostar has put tickets on sale for a third daily service starting in June this year and committed to introducing additional services as soon as the governments have put border controls in place for the Amsterdam-London leg of the journey.

Mike Cooper, Chief Executive, Eurostar, said:
“Over the last 25 years Eurostar has led the way in cross-Channel travel, cementing the links between the UK and mainland Europe. The popularity of our new service between London and Amsterdam shows the growing appetite among customers for international high-speed rail travel and a sustainable alternative to the airlines.”

• Eurostar reports record performance in 2018.

Airports feared losing revenue to Uber and Lyft. Here’s what happened

Airports feared losing revenue to Uber and Lyft. Here’s what happened

Airport officials were understandably nervous when Uber and Lyft drivers began pulling up at terminals across the country a few years ago.

After all, more fliers using the relatively cheap ride-hailing services could mean that fewer would pay for airport parking and rental car services — two significant sources of airport revenue.

“At the time, all we knew was there was some uncertainty around it,” said Ryan Yakubik, deputy executive director and chief financial officer at Los Angeles International Airport.

But a look at Southern California airport budgets shows that the move to let ride-hailing services pick up and drop off passengers — and pay a fee to do it — was not the financial disaster some had feared. Technology-amped gig-economy start-ups have disrupted many industries in the last decade but most of the airports in the region appear to be either unfazed or bolstered by the changes.

And a good thing, too. Although airports are generally self-supporting, a sharp decline in revenue would probably be resolved by increasing other fees, which could get passed along to travelers.

At Los Angeles International Airport — one of the nation’s busiest airports — ride-hailing service drivers pay a $4 fee for every passenger picked up or dropped off at the airport curb. Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies are charged fees of varying amounts by other local airports. Such fees typically are passed along to passengers as a surcharge.

Ride-hailing fees at LAX generated $44.3 million in fiscal 2018 and $33.7 million in fiscal 2017, up sharply from the $8.9 million in fiscal 2016, when ride-hailing services were prohibited from dropping off and picking up passengers in the same trip.

The hike in ride-hailing money more than made up for the decline in revenue from rental car companies, which dropped to $84.1 million in fiscal 2018 from $87.4 million in fiscal 2017, according to LAX budget records.

LAX parking revenue totaled $96.7 million in fiscal 2018, unchanged from 2017, which LAX officials attribute in part to closure of sections of a parking lot for a $4.9-billion construction project connecting the central terminal with a car rental facility, a ground transportation hub and a station on the Metro Crenshaw Line.

“The fact that people are taking Uber and Lyft in such volume is a good thing,” said Justin Erbacci, LAX chief innovation and technology officer. “It shows people like to use them to get to the airport.”

Most of Southern California’s smaller airports have thrived since the introduction of ride-hailing services. At John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana the financial picture has not been so rosy since ride-hailing companies began serving the airport in 2015. The Orange County airport saw parking revenue drop 7.4%, or $3 million, in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017, compared with the previous year, according to the most recent budget reports available. In that same period, fees charged to ride-hailing services generated $1.2 million. Revenue from rental car businesses at the airport was nearly the same as in the previous year.

Airport officials said ride-hailing revenue is expected to rise because the companies last year began paying a $2.25 fee for each drop-off on top of the fee charged for pickups. The fee increased to $3 on March 1. Airport industry experts say there are no recent studies on the broad airport revenue impact of Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing firms, but they say the experience hasn’t been uniform across the board.

Some large and midsize airports have suffered financially in states such as Oklahoma and Idaho where airports are prohibited by state law from charging ride-hailing services for dropping off or picking up passengers at terminals, industry experts said. “Are they taking a financial hit?” said Carter Morris, executive vice president of the American Assn. of Airport Executives, a trade group that represents executives at 875 airports nationwide. “That’s an airport-by-airport picture.”

Over the last three years or so, ride-hailing services have become ubiquitous in big cities, especially popular among business travelers. Airports initially restricted Uber and Lyft to dropping off passengers at the terminal curbs but eventually reached deals to let them also pick up rides.

In 2018, Uber was — for the second year in a row — the No. 1 expensed brand among business travelers who use Certify, a cloud-based travel and expense report company. Lyft was ranked as the sixth-most expensed brand last year, behind companies including Starbucks and Delta Air Lines, according to Certify, which based the ranking on more than 50 million expenses filed in North America.

The effect of ride-hailing services on airports is difficult to gauge accurately because ride-hailing gained popularity at the same time that demand for air travel surged.

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  • Airports feared losing revenue to Uber and Lyft. Here’s what happened.
How the internet is clogging up city streets

How the internet is clogging up city streets

Traffic in New York is slowing down. Jams are endemic in Manhattan, especially in its business districts. Daytime traffic in the busiest areas now moves almost 20% more slowly than it did five years ago.

It seems a place ripe for wide use of ride-hailing apps that, you might think, would alleviate some of the congestion.

Except, those apps appear to be making things worse as traffic has slowed in line with the growing popularity of apps such as Uber and Lyft, suggests a study by transport expert Bruce Schaller.

Over the four years of the study, the number of cars in Manhattan seeking ride-hailing fares increased by 81%. There are now about 68,000 ride-sharing drivers across New York city. That’s about five times the number of distinctive yellow cabs licensed to operate there, he found. There are so many, his work suggests, that they spend about 45% of their time empty just cruising for fares. That is a lot of unused cars clogging a lot of busy streets.

Simple physics explains why such a glut of ride-sharing vehicles is causing, not curing, congestion, said Jarrett Walker, a public transport policy expert who has advised hundreds of cities about moving people. “Lots and lots of people are deciding that, ‘Oh, public transport is just too much of a hassle this morning,’ or whenever, which causes a shift in patronage from public transport to ride-sharing services,” he told the BBC. “That means moving people from larger vehicles into smaller ones, which means more vehicles to move the same people. Therefore, more traffic.”

What is clear is that the current situation cannot continue, he said, adding that many urban authorities are keen to clear congestion. “I think we are going to continue to see stronger and stronger regulatory interventions to manage the impact of these companies.”

Data gathered about ride-sharing drivers illustrates how they contribute to congestion, said Prof Christo Wilson, a computer scientist at Northeastern University who has studied the services.

“You can look at the traffic pattern for the Uber vehicles and it perfectly matches the peaks for the rush hour and the peak time of day,” he said. “They are out there in force at the worst possible times.” And, he said, the ability to summon a car via a smartphone app has other unforeseen consequences that are also thickening the jams.

“It is increasing the total number of trips and these are discretionary trips that these people would not have taken if not for cheap, available ride-sharing,” said Prof Wilson. “So, that is almost certainly increasing congestion.”

For their part, ride-sharing firms dispute the claim that they are the main cause of clogging the streets in the busiest cities.

“Congestion is a really complicated issue,” said Andrew Salzberg, head of Uber’s transport policy.

He says other factors at play include economic growth, road construction and the policies cities introduce to streamline traffic.

“The number of drivers we have on the road is one of the easiest things to measure and that often becomes the focal point of the conversation,” he said.

And, he pointed out, it’s not just taxis and private-car owners who are frustrated when they are stuck in motionless traffic.

“We don’t win as a company from congested conditions,” he said. “Road conditions that make it impossible for people to get around are not good for our business.”

Mr Salzberg said it was also a mistake to think that Uber and other ride-sharing firms want to replace public transport.

“We have come out many, many times and said, in the core of dense cities, there is no more efficient way to move people around than public transport,” he said.

The patronage of both ride-sharing services and public transport have a huge chance to grow substantially if people can be persuaded to do away with their own cars, said Mr Salzberg.

Encouraging them to use buses, trams and trains as well as ride-hailing firms could ease traffic.

The question is how to do it? For Uber, said Mr Salzberg, road-pricing is one good approach. As with London’s congestion charge this would levy fees on people who drive themselves to an inner-city destination in their own car. Alongside this, he said, would go partnership schemes that pair public transport and ride-sharing. One such example of this was already operating in and around Innisfil in Ontario.

This uses Uber cars to deliver people from their homes to central points where they then catch buses and trams to reach the centre of Toronto. Innisfil’s local authority also subsidises Uber fares to ensure the system is attractive to those sections of the population who typically don’t own a car, he said.

There is a definite need to manage the changes that are rippling through cities as ride-sharing and autonomous cars develop and mature, said Carlo Ratti, a professor of urban technologies at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). In 2014, Prof Ratti demonstrated how smart routing and car-pooling could cut the amount of traffic needed to move people around cities by 80%.

He stands by that prediction today but said work had to be done to soften the impact of those changes. Prof Ratti said studies had shown it would be “disastrous” to simply swap our existing system of high personal car ownership for one in which everyone owns a robot car that follows them around.

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  • The Internet is clogging up city streets.
2getthere partners with NTU Singapore and SMRT

2getthere partners with NTU Singapore and SMRT

2getthere, the Utrecht-based company specializing in autonomous transit systems, Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) and SMRT Services have joined forces to deploy fully automated Group Rapid Transit (GRT) autonomous vehicles (AV) on the NTU Smart Campus by 2019. The three parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), paving the way for the GRT to be integrated into NTU’s transport network.

The 2getthere silent roadster uses magnetic pellets on the road for autonomous navigation and can travel in both directions. It has a top speed of 40 kilometres per hour and can ferry 24 passengers with seating space for eight.

The new GRTs will be tested on NTU’s campus in a few phases, which will start around the last quarter this year. The vehicles are expected to operate a service route that connects NTU’s halls of residences with the main academic areas, serving 200 to 300 passengers daily.

The collaboration will also involve conducting research to improve autonomous vehicle technologies such as increasing the use of artificial intelligence, developing advanced sensors and sensor fusion algorithms, and improving fleet management technologies.

The trial would be gradually expanded campus-wide, running alongside other autonomous vehicles that have already been undergoing tests since 2012. This latest testbedding of autonomous vehicles is part of the university’s Smart Campus initiative to develop rapidly advancing transport technologies to benefit the NTU community and society.

Mr Sjoerd van der Zwaan, Chief Technology Officer of 2getthere, stated, “It is exciting to be able to work together with NTU and SMRT while capitalising on the synergy of an actual AV implementation and investing in research simultaneously. NTU has ample experience with autonomous vehicles and knows exactly what it wants and what it doesn’t want – in terms of availability, reliability, quality, safety and AV features such as comfort and user experience. In combination with SMRT’s operations expertise, all key ingredients are present to ensure a successful implementation of our AVs at NTU. We look forward to our continued cooperation.”

NTU President Professor Subra Suresh, said, “NTU’s campus is not only a living testbed for innovative technologies, but also the first to test driverless vehicles on Singapore roads. Autonomous vehicles are an integral part of the NTU Smart Campus vision, which leverages tech-enabled solutions to create better living and learning experiences. This new collaboration with SMRT and 2getthere highlights our goal of developing cutting-edge transport solutions that will benefit Singapore and beyond.”

Mr Desmond Kuek, President and Group CEO of SMRT, said, “NTU is a leading research institution in AV technology. SMRT is proud to work with NTU and 2getthere to deploy the first operational AV service in Singapore. This MoU marks the commitment of the three parties in leveraging the latest AV technology for our public transport system and redefine the standard for a world-class transport service.”

The GRT had undergone preliminary tests along a 350-metre route between two NTU halls of residences since November last year. During the trials, close to 4,000 passengers were ferried between the two stops.

  • The GRT was introduced to NTU as part of the Mobility-as-a-Service testbed, a collaboration between NTU, JTC and SMRT last September.
Toyota Connected Europe to bring advanced mobility services to the European market

Toyota Connected Europe to bring advanced mobility services to the European market

Toyota Connected (TC) is expanding the global reach of its technology-driven mobility solutions with the launch of Toyota Connected Europe (TCEU). The new start-up company, based in London, will support the growing adoption of new mobility businesses in Europe with products and services tailored to the unique needs of the market. Toyota Connected North America’s CEO, Zack Hicks, will be the Chairman of the new company and Toyota Motor Europe’s Vice President, Connected Car and Mobility, Agustin Martin its CEO.

“The launch of Toyota Connected Europe shows our commitment to transforming how customers around the world experience mobility,” commented Zack Hicks, Toyota Connected North America’s CEO and Chairman of Toyota Connected Europe.

“It is also clear evidence of Toyota’s success in building a platform to support the future of mobility services. Thanks to the strength and flexibility of Toyota’s Mobility Services Platform, and in coordination with Toyota Motor Europe’s extensive capabilities, we look forward to delivering great services and improving the driver and passenger experience across Europe.”

CEO Agustin Martin added: “Toyota Connected Europe is the next step in Toyota’s continued growth as a global mobility company. The adoption of new approaches to mobility is moving very fast in Europe, and we’re excited to develop and scale the power of Toyota’s mobility services technologies for customers across the region.”

Toyota Connected Europe will be based in London to access the area’s high concentration of data scientists, engineers and software developers. Launching with an initial investment of GBP 4.5 million, the new venture is slated to employ between thirty-five and fifty people. TCEU will partner with Toyota Motor Europe, Toyota retailers and distributors in the region to support the launch of new shared mobility and fleet management solutions for consumers, businesses, governments and other stakeholders.

The company will leverage and extend Toyota’s Mobility Services Platform (MSPF), a cloud-based digital ecosystem that provides the tools necessary to bring to market mobility services including ride sharing, car sharing and remote delivery, as well as manage the European operations of the Toyota Big Data Center.

“Toyota Connected Europe will be an important strategic business unit in Europe when it comes to promoting our connected strategy using Toyota’s unique Mobility Service Platform”, said Shigeki Tomoyama, Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation and head of Toyota Connected’s global operations, “Moving forward, leveraging our state-of-the-art data analysis technology, we will bring a more diverse and rich mobility experience to our customers in Europe.”

  • Toyota launches multi-mobility unit Toyota Connected Europe.
Mobility on Demand: Three Key Components

Mobility on Demand: Three Key Components

Increasingly, mobility customers are turning to on-demand service providers to access an array of mobility options. Mobility on demand (MOD) is an innovative transportation concept where all consumers can access mobility, goods, and services on demand by dispatching or using shared mobility, delivery services, and public transportation solutions through an integrated and connected multi-modal network.

The most advanced forms of MOD passenger services incorporate trip planning and booking, real-time information, and fare payment into a single user interface. Passenger modes facilitated through MOD providers include: carsharing, bikesharing, ridesharing, ridesourcing/transportation network companies (TNCs), scooter sharing, microtransit, shuttle services, public transportation, and other emerging transportation solutions. The most advanced forms of MOD courier services incorporate robotic delivery, app-based courier network services (CNS), and aerial delivery services (e.g., drones).

Fundamentally, MOD is about how people make mobility decisions, how they move, how they consume goods and services, and the stakeholders that make it possible. In this blog, we explore three key components of MOD

1) The principle of commodification;

2) Importance of public-private partnerships and stakeholder groups; and

3) Changes in consumption, goods deliver, and mobility are interrelated and integral to MOD.

Commodification of Transportation Services:

MOD is based on the commodification of transportation services by cost, travel and wait time, number of connections, convenience, and other attributes. Commodification is the transformation of transportation services into tradeable commodities or an economic resource. As part of this transformation, transportation services are assigned an economic value that can be traded or exchanged in the transportation marketplace for other transportation mode(s) or money.

Fundamentally, the USDOT’s vision of MOD emphasizes enhancing mobility options for all users through the integration of on-demand modal services, public transportation, payment mechanisms, traveler incentives, and an array of real-time information services. MOD is about providing travelers with more seamless travel options (i.e., routing, booking, and payment) for all trip segments. This seamless integration improves the user experience and can enable more informed and sustainable transportation choices. See Figure 1 that presents a user-centric view of travel options below.

Importance of Stakeholders and Public-and-Private Sector Collaboration:

To enable a commodified marketplace with seamless physical, payment, and digital integration, public and private stakeholder collaboration is key. The federal government; state and local authorities; public transit agencies; transportation managers; MOD operators; logistics providers; app and mobile service provers; and consumers are all critical. With MOD, everyone can benefit.

1) Consumers benefit from increased travel options and a more integrated, efficient, traveler-centric transportation network.

2) Private transportation providers benefit because MOD connects travelers to service providers and provides an integrated and common platform for mobility services.

3) Public transit providers benefit because MOD bridges the gap between public transportation and private sector mobility services.

4) MOD can also bridge gaps in the public transportation network by extending geographic coverage and service times of transit services.

5) Most importantly, a larger pool of travelers and modal options enables a “network effect,” where modal options are in closer proximity to one another (physical and digital), adding collective value.

Each MOD stakeholder, when integrated together, creates a synergy that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Through public and private sector collaboration, MOD stakeholders can work together to:

– Leverage the positive social and environmental impacts of MOD to enhance accessibility, increase infrastructure efficiency, mitigate congestion and air pollution;

– Receive data inputs from multiple sources and provide response strategies geared to various operational objectives;

– Enable transportation system managers to monitor, predict, and influence conditions across an entire mobility ecosystem and for an entire region;

– Embrace the needs of all users (travelers and shippers) across all modes—including motor vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, public transit, for-hire vehicle services, carpooling/vanpooling, goods delivery, and other transportation services; and

– Research and integrate emerging technologies that provide additional opportunities to enhance connectivity among travelers, goods, services, and infrastructure and more efficiently manage the transportation network.

Changes in Consumption, Goods Delivery, and Mobility are Interrelated and Integral to MOD:

MOD is more than just passenger mobility. Today, consumption choice is disrupting traveler behavior. The growth of digital and goods delivery services can substitute for trips, while simultaneously creating demand for new ones. An overbuilt retail marketplace, changing consumer preferences, and growth in online shopping and service delivery are changing consumption patterns. Across the industrialized world, consumers in mass are changing how they shop, make purchases, and access goods and services as a direct result of technological innovations, delivery modes, and business models.

MOD is having a transformative effect on urban goods delivery and solving last mile delivery challenges through:

– Growth of Low-Cost, Flat-Rate Subscription Delivery Services (e.g., Amazon Prime and Shop Runner) are enabling consumers access to on-demand delivery marketplaces—a key factor contributing to induced demand;

– Advanced Algorithms are helping merchants and delivery providers optimize the supply and delivery chain, ranging from order fulfillment to identifying the least expensive or quickest delivery route;

– Locker Delivery, already widely deployed by the US Postal Service (USPS), allows consumers to order and have items shipped to a self-service locker at home, work, or an alternative pick-up location. Locker delivery can help consumers, merchants, and delivery providers overcome a variety of challenges, such as weekend and off-peak delivery services and enhanced security (versus leaving a package at a door); and

– Courier Network Services or apps that provide for-hire delivery services for monetary compensation are enabling on-demand retail delivery. These services use an online application or platform (such as a website or smartphone app) to connect couriers using their personal vehicles, bicycles, or scooters with goods.

Continue reading this article written by Adam Cohen and Susan Shaheen:

Passengers who call Uber instead of an ambulance put drivers at risk

Passengers who call Uber instead of an ambulance put drivers at risk

Sick people are increasingly using ride-hail to get to the emergency room, putting drivers in an uncomfortable position and a potentially tricky legal bind.

Mike Fish was driving for Uber 10 minutes outside of Boston when he picked up a second passenger in his Uber Pool who, he said, seemed “out of it, drowsy — almost sedated.” When the drowsy passenger asked him if Boston’s Mass General hospital was the nearest emergency room, “that set off a red flag,” Fish told BuzzFeed News. “I said, ‘Do you need the ER?’ He said yes. It came out that, over the last few days, he’d been passing out and losing consciousness.”

But instead of calling an ambulance to get the urgent medical attention he needed, the sick passenger called an Uber Pool. The shared ride would save him a few bucks, but it meant he’d have to wait for Fish to drop off the first passenger before he’d get to the ER. “I was a little nervous,” Fish said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Ride-hail drivers are, by and large, untrained, self-employed workers driving their own cars on a part-time basis. They’re not medical professionals. But as health care costs have risen and ride-hail has become more pervasive, people are increasingly relying on Uber and Lyft drivers to get them to the hospital when they need emergency care.

A recent (yet to be peer-reviewed) study found that, after Uber enters new markets, the rates of ambulance rides typically go down, meaning fewer people call professionals in favor of the cheaper option. People have always taken taxis to the hospital — there’s the classic example of the woman going into labor in the back of a cab — but ride-hail technology makes it much easier, especially in less densely populated cities. This money-saving tactic might make sense for people in noncritical condition, but it puts ride-hail drivers in an uncomfortable position. They’re forced to choose between assuming potential legal liability if something goes wrong, or dealing with a sense of guilt and the fear of getting a lower rating if they decline or cancel the ride.

Fish didn’t have much of a choice about taking the man to the emergency room — by the time he learned where the rider was going and why, they were already on their way. This happens frequently. But in another instance, Fish willingly agreed to take someone to the ER, a restaurant kitchen worker who’d sliced his hand open while working.

“With Boston traffic, it was probably quicker than calling an ambulance. If you call an Uber, chances are there’s going to be one within a block or two. An ambulance won’t be as close,” Fish said. “I’m not recommending people do that, but in that case, it worked out pretty well. I got him there in six minutes, and he didn’t need attention from a paramedic, so that actually ended up being pretty efficient.”

But legal professor and gig economy observer Veena Dubal told BuzzFeed News that by allowing the injured man into his car and pressing the button to start the ride, Fish may have exposed himself to serious legal liability.

“You’re not liable if you refuse to take them,” Dubal said. “You’re under no legal obligation to care for them until they get in your car, and then you’re a proprietor conducting business.”

If Uber drivers were employees of Uber, then Uber would be liable if something bad happened to a passenger en route to the hospital. But because drivers are independent contractors, they could be held responsible for any failure to provide care during the business transaction.

“There have been cases where business owners haven’t protected people from violence who walk onto their property, and the courts have said there’s a special relationship between the business owner and customer, and the business owner acted negligently by not keeping the customer safe,” Dubal said. “In this case, the business owner would be the Uber driver, once the rider gets into the car.”

As independent contractors, Uber and Lyft drivers can turn down any ride that makes them uncomfortable. The companies also charge riders for cleaning fees and repay drivers for the expense, though drivers say this process is a major headache that can take weeks. Both companies said low ratings or demerits for canceling on a rider experiencing a medical emergency could be expunged from a driver’s record. “Uber is not a substitute for law enforcement or medical professionals,” an Uber spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “In the event of any medical emergency, we encourage people to call 911.”

Lyft said the same, adding, “If a driver encounters a passenger with an emergency situation, they should contact 911. After that, they should report the incident to our 24/7 critical response line so we can take appropriate action.”

But drivers told BuzzFeed News that neither Uber or Lyft have provided them with direct guidance about what they should do when a passenger expects to be taken to the ER. “As far as ambulances or medical emergencies, to my knowledge, Uber’s never said anything about it,” said Russ Fisher, a ride-hail driver in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “They just vaguely say any ride is your decision, use your common sense.”

When Fisher picked up a young woman whose destination was Mercy Hospital, he didn’t immediately suspect that her ride was urgent. In fact, he’d gotten a ping from her during surge pricing, only to have her cancel the ride and rebook it a few minutes later when the surge went away. So he was surprised when, a few minutes into the trip, she asked him to pull over so she could throw up on the side of the road. Later, she told him she could barely walk and was experiencing the worst pain of her life.

“I was a little nervous when she got out to vomit,” Fisher said. “I haven’t been in a situation like that. I haven’t trained for that. I was torn between whether to call 911 or continue to the ER, but since I was only two minutes away, I figured I’d get there quicker than an ambulance.”

An Uber might have been the speediest solution in that particular situation, but ambulances and the paramedics are prepared to handle emergencies, while ride-hail drivers aren’t. Sirens and lights allow emergency vehicles to bypass traffic and red lights, and the EMTs on board are trained and able to start providing medical care as soon as they arrive on the scene.

And it’s not just the patients who are put at risk when they opt to call a car rather than an ambulance. When drivers give rides to sick people, they’re exposed to germs and the possibility of infection. One driver remembered with horror picking a patient up at the hospital whose colostomy bag exploded on the way home. Another said he had to wipe down the backseat of his car after driving a woman in labor to the hospital. Experienced drivers recommend getting leather or plastic, never fabric, seats.

“If someone leaves bodily fluids, it’s up to me to clean,” said an Uber driver named Jamie.

Jamie was driving Uber in Pittsburgh around 2 a.m. one morning when he picked up two riders headed to the hospital. One of them looked very sick. “I was nervous, but I didn’t say anything. He was in bad, bad shape,” Jamie said. He dropped the couple off at the hospital without incident, but later he found out the sick rider had died of a long-term illness. Jamie was sympathetic, but he wondered why they didn’t call an ambulance. “I drive my kids in the car,” he said. “I don’t want deathly ill people in my car, to be honest.”

Uber and Lyft didn’t create this problem. Emergency medical transportation is expensive, with ambulance rides costing patients hundreds or even thousands of dollars, even if they have health insurance. More than half of Americans say an unplanned $1,000 expense would put them in debt.

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  • Uber or an ambulance?
A damning MIT study shows ride-hailing drivers make median profit of $3.37 per hour.

A damning MIT study shows ride-hailing drivers make median profit of $3.37 per hour.

You’d have to be living in one pretty effective bubble not to have heard the justified criticism that has been leveled at Uber and, to a lesser degree, Lyft over the past several years.

Its sexist workplace culture eventually led to the resignation of cofounder and CEO Travis Kalanick last year, but there have also been many stories about how Uber tracked journalists, developed tools to deceive authorities, remotely locked computers to stop police officers from obtaining the information they needed for an investigation, and so much more. Lyft has benefited recently by presenting itself as the anti-Uber that donates to the ACLU and provides free rides to gun reform rallies, but, in truth, its business model is fundamentally the same as Uber’s.

Both companies treat their drivers as contractors instead of employees, which means they don’t get basic labor rights and benefits such as minimum wage, sick days, paid vacation, and health insurance. Since they have no guaranteed earnings, they can be available on the app for a long period of time and make very little money if there aren’t many people looking for rides or there are too many other drivers on the road.

Uber says that their model allows workers to choose their own hours, but the reality is that if they aren’t driving at peak times, their chances of earning a reasonable wage are infinitesimally low. And over the years, Uber has consistently cut driver earnings so they need to spend more time on the road to try to make the same amount of money — which they aren’t always successful in doing. The stories of Uber drivers sleeping in their cars seem to be ever more common.

A new study from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology paints a dark picture of the economic reality of driving for ride-hailing companies. After surveying over 1100 drivers, they found that 74 percent of drivers earn less than minimum wage and the median profit was $3.37 per hour before taxes. Once vehicle expenses such as insurance, maintenance, fuel, repairs, and depreciation are taken into account, 30 percent of drivers are actually losing money while driving for Uber and Lyft in the United States.

The use of Uber and Lyft has already seemed morally bankrupt with the information we’ve known about how they operate for some time, but given the damning new details from the MIT study, there’s no denying that people who use Uber and Lyft are active participants in the exploitation of a group of people who are stuck in a precarious economic situation as a result of an economy ehich enriches the wealthy while punishing the poor and leaving the middle class to fend for itself.

The #DeleteUber campaign that emerged in the aftermath of the first Muslim ban was a good start, but people need to realize that it’s not particular actions of ride-hailing companies that are reprehensible, but the very nature of their operations. Exploitation is fundamental to the business models of Uber and Lyft, and unless you support drivers making $3.37 per hour, you should delete both apps right now.

Oh, and before you respond with how driverless vehicles will eliminate this problem, remember that the technology necessary for their mass rollout is still years and years away. Even Uber’s CEO admits that when they finally start using driverless vehicles — maybe in eighteen months, and that’s a big maybe — they’ll only be able to handle less than five percent of all rides for quite a while, and that’s only under ideal weather conditions.

Ride hailing is not the future of transportation, and the sooner we delete the apps and let the companies go belly up, the sooner we can get back to making cities that work for everyone, not just the well-off, college-educated young people who are most likely to use Uber.

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  • A damning MIT study shows ride-hailing drivers make median profit of $3.37 per hour.