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Public transit vs. self-driving cars

It's a crowded world for a new form of transportation.

Weekly analysis, news and randomness from the future of transportation.

In New York, a political battle is brewing, and it​ foreshadows a bumpy road for the rollout of autonomous vehicles nationwide.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and progressive New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are battling over how to handle the city's mounting transit problems, with Cuomo reportedly considering congestion pricing for high-trafficked corridors and de Blasio preparing to introduce a "millionaire's tax" to fund improvements to public transit.

Why should high-tech, software-enabled mobility companies care about debates over a clunky, traditionalist public transit system? Because in the Democrat-dominated world of urban transit, funding decisions are viewed as a zero-sum game that touches on income inequality, transit access and upward social mobility. As the private-sector-dominated autonomous vehicle space grows and takes up cities' attention and pocketbooks, the technology that proponents have cast as a replacement for public transit may be pulled into an awkward and divisive debate.

In some cities, that means light-rail advocates get shorted in favor of driverless fleets.

In New York, it means anxious responses to the state's approval of autonomous vehicle testing.

In San Francisco, we're even seeing pushback to a Ford Motor Co. bike-sharing program that some say is elitist.

Wise mobility companies will pay attention to the conversation surrounding public transportation. If autonomous tech comes to be viewed as a toy for the urban wealthy rather than a tool for the wider public, it may fall into a political game that is difficult to win.

 Shiraz Ahmed

The proposed Faraday Future production facility Photo credit: Company provided

What you need to know

Never say never It's hard to scoff at startups that don't quit. Faraday Future, after pulling plans for a Nevada factory because of financial troubles, will be taking over a 55-year-old former Pirelli factory in California, 200 miles north of its headquarters in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Elio Motors is looking to raise another $100 million to fund production of a futuristic three-wheeled vehicle.

As for the geezer of the auto startup scene, Tesla Inc. is issuing $1.5 billion in junk bonds to fund production of its Model 3 sedan and looking into developing autonomous trucking technology.

The incredible, disappearing, reappearing man​ Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick ambitions to retake the top spot again was shot down by co-founder and fellow board member Garrett Camp, who said in an email to staff that, "Despite rumors I'm sure you've seen in the news, Travis is not returning as CEO. We are committed to hiring a new world class CEO to lead Uber."

Kalanick's scheming could even cost him his board seat, if this lawsuit from one of his former allies is successful. 

Meanwhile, the company's controversial leasing program, which worked with dealerships and carmakers to get drivers with subprime credit into cars, is now shuttering. Uber was often criticized for the conditions of those financing deals, and now it has realized it was losing 18 times more money than previously thought — up to $9,000 per vehicle. Head over to The Wall Street Journal for the full report.

Finally, a small update in the ongoing Uber-Waymo patent dispute. Reportedly, Uber drafted an offer to acquire a startup founded by the engineer at the heart of the case ... before he'd even left Google.

The global market for mobility services is growing Didi Chuxing has invested in Careem, of Dubai, a network in the Middle East and North Africa. In Iran, U.S.-led international sanctions have indirectly contributed to the rise of Snapp, the country's Uber equivalent.

A breakthrough in ... the internal combustion engine? Mazda Motor Corp. announced a potential breakthrough that would see 20 to 30 percent fuel efficiency gains for a technology often ignored in the electric era. Meanwhile, EPA documents show details of the Tesla Model 3's battery pack, and BP is in talks with electric vehicle makers to add electric charging to its existing stations. 

These manipulated stop signs can fool self-driving cars. Photo credit: arXiv


Dumb technology: Self-driving cars can't read, and robots can barely walk

Tesla's Hardware 2 may not be as ready for Level 5 autonomous as the company has claimed.

John Deere can't engineer a replacement for the good​ old-fashioned farmer

Lyft's radical idea to charge for free parking.

The rise of flying cars.

Waymo patents the floppy car.

The FBI arrested a famous white-hat hacker in Las Vegas in an incident that concerns cybersecurity advocates.

Sentient seats Photo credit: UCSD DESIGN LAB

Drivers dressed like car seats are freaking people out, but there's a not-too-ridiculous explanation.

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You can reach Sharon Silke Carty at scarty@crain.com
Tags: Mobility

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