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✊🏙 Momentum for free transit; micromobility changing urban space; & more evidence AVs are not ready

Hey urbanists, A long issue this week on free public transit proposals, how micromobility allows us t
December 9 · Issue #63 · View online
Radical Urbanist
Hey urbanists,
A long issue this week on free public transit proposals, how micromobility allows us to rethink public space, and the increasingly apparent issues with autonomous vehicles. There’s also a lot on the intersection of urbanism and climate in the great reads down bottom, including a good piece on France’s ongoing protests.
Plus, I’ll be in Washington, DC in January for the TRB Annual Meeting if anyone wants to grab a coffee. Send me an email.
Have a great Sunday!

Momentum for free public transit
Luxembourg’s new coalition government, made up of the left wing Socialist Workers’ Party and Green Party and the centrist Democratic Party, announced that it will make the small country’s public transit system free for all beginning in 2020. Fares are already low, and only bring in 3 percent of the total cost to run the system. It follows similar moves by other cities across Europe, and is part of a larger reform package that includes a higher minimum wage, two more days off, and legal weed by 2023.
But these big ideas aren’t exclusive to Europe. In Los Angeles, Metro is trying to figure out how to complete 28 major transportation projects by 2028, and is presenting a form of congestion pricing as a possible answer. “Corridor pricing” would place a fee on roads with high traffic congestion that have a transit alternative, and even the LA Times gave it a positive report.
However, the plan wasn’t just about paying for transit expansion by placing fees on drivers. The head of Metro went even further, suggesting that the revenue from congestion pricing could be used to make transit free, creating an even greater incentive for people to make a more environmentally friendly commute.
Kane Thornton
Something extraordinary occurred over the past six years - the cost of renewable energy plummeted.
Rethinking urban space
A lot has happened in the past year and a half, but one of the biggest that stands out in urban transportation is the rollout of micromobility services in cities across the developed world. Umair Ifran writes for Vox:
Electric scooters are by no means a complete solution … However, the rise of scooters is forcing some cities to grudgingly reckon with how they allocate public space, particularly how much room cars take for granted.
For me, this is the key opportunity that micromobility presents: the chance to introduce more people to e-bikes and scooters, show them that they may be able to get around without cars (or at least using them less), and to challenge their dominance in urban space.
Patrick Sisson also has a longread in Curbed this week on the rollout of micromobility in Santa Monica and the policy changes that have followed. It’s a fascinating read if you have time. In Seattle, Lime is figuring out how to manage micromobility in winter.
Meanwhile, Oakland and San Francisco are adding new protected bike lanes, and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to do more to stop vehicles from blocking existing bike lanes and to build more protected bike lanes in response to last week’s news on Citi Bike’s expansion and new bills on bikes and scooters.
Stacy Mitchell
@mlynndonahue Dollar General is now by far the biggest threat to local grocery stores. In small towns, Dollar General’s arrival typically causes sales at the local supermarket to drop 30%. That’s enough to put them in the red, and force them to close, though it may take a year or more. 6/
Self-driving disillusionment
Waymo’s “driverless” ride-hailing service launched in Phoenix, Arizona this week, but initial reporting on its rollout suggests the service isn’t really driverless (Waymo put humans back in every vehicle), is still having trouble with the basics, and might not even be taking passengers.
Meanwhile, Uber’s autonomous vehicles seem to have also hit public roads again in Pittsburgh, but this time the vehicles won’t be on the roads at night, in the rain, or be able to drive over 25 mph (40 kph). However, a report from the NY Times shows the company might still be cutting corners as its autonomous systems continue to fail a significant number of the tests they’re expected to pass in controlled conditions—let alone public roads.
Yves Smith has a fantastic piece in NYMag’s Intelligencer diving into the weeds of Uber’s business model to show how hopelessly unprofitable it is and how the only way its improved its margins has been by cutting driver pay, which is causing higher turnover and lower service quality.
Across all its businesses, Uber was providing services at only roughly 74 percent of their cost in its last quarter. … Through 2015, 80 percent of fares went to drivers. In its early years, Uber gave drivers high payouts to attract good drivers and also offered drivers incentives to buy cars. Uber cut that to as low as 68 percent, then partially reversed it as driver turnover became acute to its current, roughly 70 percent level.
Nathaniel Horadam
Uber is not only subsidizing ride cost to the consumer, they're doing it with someone else's $. 1. Drivers, and 2. taxpayers. Even ignoring Uber's negative margins, customers don't pay for deadheading miles. Drivers do. And taxpayers cover road & curb use (bc gas tax is too low).
Other great reads
🚌 US has 1,600 electric buses. China has 50x that number. What’s taking US cities so long to make the switch?
💸 Rent control is gaining momentum in cities across the US
📈 “Cars are becoming as big of a threat to the climate as coal-fired power.” Emissions hit all-time high in 2018. Growth in US and EU fueled by transportation, namely vehicle use.
🤦‍♀️ Meanwhile, new US ambassador to Canada believes “both sides” of climate science. She’s married to a billionaire coal baron.
🇨🇦 Ontario’s environment commissioner just got fired (shocking clip) by new right-wing government. She says Toronto has already warmed 3x the global average. (Full interview)
🚨 After scathing Auditor General report, Ontario fired three Waterfront Toronto board members (including Chair & CEO) over Sidewalk Labs ‘smart city’ project. Toronto Star has an explainer on the controversy. But what’s next?
🌍 Africa’s fast-growing cities have greatest climate change risks
🇮🇳 Curbing pollution isn’t just about climate change. Toxic air killed 1.24 million people in India in 2017.
👩‍💻 Amazon’s HQ2&3 could contribute to “gentrification of jobs
🏘 Minneapolis ends single-family home zoning, abolishes parking minimums, and allows high density on transit corridors
☀️ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is making climate policy exciting, but what should a Green New Deal do for transportation?
🇫🇷 In France, a protest against a fuel tax (for placing the cost of the green transition on the poor) has turned into a country-wide demonstration against President Macron’s neoliberal agenda. Novelist Édouard Louis wrote about it for Jacobin:
There are different ways of saying “I am suffering.” And a social movement is precisely the moment where the possibility opens up that the suffering will no longer say “I am suffering because of immigration and my neighbor who’s on benefits,” but will instead say “I am suffering because of those who rule. I am suffering because of the class system, because of Emmanuel Macron and [prime minister] Édouard Philippe.” The social movement is a moment in which language is subverted, a moment in which the old languages can be destabilized. That is what is happening today. Indeed, over recent days we have seen a reformulation of the gilets jaunes’ vocabulary. At the outset, we only heard talk of petrol and sometimes unpleasant references to “benefits recipients.” Now we hear words like inequality, wage rises, injustice.
Why China is so good at building railways?
✊️❤️ Thanks for reading. You can follow me on TwitterMedium, or Instagram for even more!
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