TIME Transportation

Taxi App CEO: Uber Is an ‘A–Hole’

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View of taxi board Thomas Bonfert—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Rakesh Mathur wants to help cab drivers disrupt the disruptors

As Uber weathered a storm of bad publicity this week, a relatively small competitor put a new CEO at the helm. Rakesh Mathur is a serial company-founder who worked at Amazon after it bought his e-commerce startup Junglee. He’s now running Flywheel, an e-hailing app that everyday taxi drivers can use to pick up smartphone users and fight back against the disruptors.

Flywheel is in a mere three cities, compared to Uber’s 220 worldwide. And while the company just announced $12 million in funding, Uber is raising rounds by the billion. TIME spoke to Mathur about privacy, the pros and cons of Uber’s creative destruction and how the company plans to take over America despite the competition.

TIME: In a recent email, one of your company representatives described Flywheel as the “non-a–hole” alternative to Uber. Can you comment on that positioning?

Mathur: I think the last couple of days have been pretty shocking, right? Where you’re not just being told, “Hey, I know how to violate your privacy. I do that all the time. But I’m even worse than the [National Security Agency]. I’m going to take that information and do bad things to you.” I think a–hole is probably a mild word. And the fact that across the organization they feel so open using things like their God View, where you can see anybody who rides in an Uber car. Every driver that drives for Uber is tainted.

These transportation startups generally have the ability to know where their drivers are and where customers are needing to be picked up. What is your policy at Flywheel about who has access to that information and when?

It exists for some complaint or something that we’re solving, like disputing a fare. Certainly we can collect all the data on trends, so we know where demands are peaking and so forth . . . No one should have access to this information. It shouldn’t be called out. It should be available to solve consumer-initiated complaints. I don’t think monitoring individual information about people’s individual rides is something that is anybody’s right to know.

How do you see Lyft as a competitor that is different from Uber?

Their corporate philosophy projects as a lot kinder, gentler. Lyft is every bit as fierce a competitor.

Do you see Uber as a more direct competitor, more similar to a taxi service than Lyft, where riders are invited to sit in the front seat and chat?

We don’t need to obsess about Uber and Lyft beyond a certain point. Our primary job right now is to get into this huge supply that is available to us. And that’s going to keep us busy for a few years, making sure we are in all the cabs in America. I would liken worrying to much about Uber and Lyft to driving by looking in the rearview mirror.

What are your plans for expansion?

There’s so much inbound interest right now from markets all over the country. We’re going through them and figuring out which of the fleets in which markets give us critical mass. There’s also a lot of interest from software service providers within the taxi industry. So we’ve got our plate full.

We do you think you’ll go next?

We’re in San Francisco. We have toeholds in Seattle and Los Angeles. And in the next three-to-six months, we should be in many of the bigger cities in the United States.

Are we talking another three cities? Another dozen?

More like another dozen than another three.

I know you said you try to keep Uber in the rearview mirror, but how do you compete with a service that is raising funds a billion dollars at a time?

In terms of capital, I’ve built multiple companies. In the past 20 years, I’ve sold six companies. I’ve got pretty deep connections in the venture, finance and angel world. With any luck, we’re going to raise all the capital we need. The other part is that if I had $100 million right now and I felt compelled to spend it, I could make some terrible mistakes that I haven’t thought through. And it’s very hard to scale back.

You have a lot of advantages in leveraging the already-existing taxi industry. No surge pricing. Allies in some transportation authorities. You may have an easier time getting legal access to airports. What do you see as your key advantage?

Taxi companies offer a more safe and knowledgeable environment. Safe, as in taxi drivers, for all the insults that are hurled at them, have to go through fingerprinting and checks against national databases, including the FBI’s. The standard Uber or Lyft driver is, maybe, slightly more checked out than the general population. I’m fiercely concerned about how unsafe the unregulated part of the industry is. And in many to most instances, you’re dealing with people who know their city very well if you’re dealing with a taxi. . . . It’s a regulated industry with a huge supply. We don’t have to recruit supply. It’s a more stable model.

What do you see as your disadvantage in the market?

At an overall level, the regulatory system is a dual-edged sword . . . We’re on the right side of the law everywhere. That said, we don’t feel that it would make any sense to come up with rules to govern how we price, how we behave, et cetera. To the extent that regulators want to try to regulate us, that would be a bad thing.

How do you plan, as a new CEO, to do things differently at the company?

My main charter is scaling, to make sure that the technology that worked in San Francisco is applicable and scales, all while eliminating things like ridestacking [when drivers accept a ride through the app and then pick up a street hail], more integration with other systems inside the cab, making it much more bullet-proof and delightful for the consumer. The other part of it is dealing with the ecosystem in a very aggressive way and making sure our deployment into all the cabs in America goes as fast as possible.

Before they had this new competition, were taxi companies too lax in customer service?

Absolutely. Uber has been a godsend for the taxi industry. They’re starting to realize who they serve, the person who gets into the taxi. The service levels have gone up. The importance of hailing from a smartphone has been recognized. I think they’ve also unified the taxi industry. It’s been good for the taxi industry. Uber and Lyft have delivered very valuable service to everybody, despite the fact that one of them seems to be a company that only has sharp elbows.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

 

TIME

See Where Uber Faces the Biggest Competition

Itching to ditch the ride-sharing app? Your alternatives are limited but growing

For those crying foul this week over Uber’s violation of user privacy and alleged sexism, there’s a growing list of alternatives – that is, if you live in a major U.S. city.

Since its founding in 2008, Uber, the dominant ride-sharing service, has spread to 122 cities of the at least 147 U.S. cities with taxi alternatives provided by ride-sharing companies. Uber faces no major competitor in 57 of those cities.

But Uber’s three major competitors – Lyft, Curb and Sidecar – are catching up. By coverage, Lyft appears to be Uber’s chief rival, with drivers in roughly half as many cities. In three cities, Lyft faces no major rival while Curb operates in 13 cities without a major competitor. Seven cities are now home to all four competitors: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Charlotte, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

Click on the company labels to show cities with that company.

 

Methodology

Cities are taken from Sidecar, Uber, Lyft and Curb websites, and manually edited where different names were used for the same geographic area.

This post was updated on Nov 21 with new cities provided by Lyft.

TIME Science

A Sheep, a Duck and a Rooster in a Hot-Air Balloon — No Joke

Ascent in captive hot air balloon made by Pilatre de Rozier, Paris, 11 October 1783 (1887). Artist: Anon
Illustration of a Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier flight from 'Histoire des Ballons' by Gaston Tissandier Print Collector / Getty Images

Nov. 21, 1783: Two men take flight over Paris on the world’s first untethered hot-air balloon ride

Before subjecting humans to the unknown dangers of flight in a hot-air balloon, French inventors conducted a trial run, sending a sheep, a duck and a rooster up in the air over Versailles.

Anyone who was anyone in pre-revolution France came out for the September 1783 demonstration in the courtyard of the royal palace. According to Simon Schama, the author of Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, the spectators included King Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette and 130,000 French citizens who, six years before returning to the palace to riot over the scarcity of bread, were drawn by sheer curiosity over how the animals would fare in the balloon’s basket.

The eight-minute flight, which ended in the woods a few miles from the palace, didn’t seem to do the barnyard trio any harm, Schama writes: “‘It was judged that they had not suffered,’ ran one press comment, ‘but they were, to say the least, much astonished.’”

The public was similarly astonished when, on this day, Nov. 21, two months after the sheep and fowl made their historic trip, two eminent Frenchmen went aloft themselves in the world’s first untethered hot-air balloon ride.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, a chemistry and physics teacher, and the Marquis d’Arlandes, a military officer, flew nearly six miles, from the center of Paris to the suburbs, in 25 minutes. This time, Benjamin Franklin was among the spectators, according to Space.com. He later marveled in his journal about the experience, writing, “We observed [the balloon] lift off in the most majestic manner. When it reached around 250 feet in altitude, the intrepid voyagers lowered their hats to salute the spectators. We could not help feeling a certain mixture of awe and admiration.”

It was more than a century before the Wright brothers lifted the first powered airplane off the ground in 1903, and more than two centuries before another pair — a Swiss psychiatrist and a British balloon instructor — circumnavigated the globe in an air balloon in a record-breaking 20 days. This first balloon, rather delicately constructed of paper and silk, and requiring a large supply of fuel to stoke the fire that kept it aloft (but also threatened to burn it down), likely wouldn’t have made it so far.

There were still a few bugs to work out in this novel form of flight. The inventors themselves didn’t quite grasp the physics that made the balloon rise, believing that they had discovered a new kind of gas that was lighter than air. In fact, the gas was air, just hotter and therefore lighter than the air surrounding it.

Experimenting with different gases ultimately led to the demise of one of the intrepid voyagers aboard the first balloon flight. Pilâtre de Rozier was killed two years later while attempting to cross the English Channel in a balloon powered by hydrogen and hot air, which exploded.

Read about the 1999 balloon trip around the world, here in the TIME Vault: Around the World in a Balloon in 20 Days

TIME Transportation

Looking for a Ride? Here’s a List of Uber Alternatives

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A Lyft car operates in San Francisco. courtesy of Lyft

A lot of companies want to be your driver

Uber has lost some users this week following stories about executives proposing opposition research on critical journalists’ personal lives and tracking a journalist’s use of the service without her permission. Some customers publicly ended their relationship with the company via social media, including humorist-actor-author John Hodgman. “I really don’t want to take that crummy car I was so glad to hang up on two years ago,” he wrote in a post about his decision to delete the app. “But I just can’t get into a car with those guys anymore.”

If you live in certain parts of the world, you might not even have Uber available as an option to walk away from. And you may have no intention of quitting Uber at all, continuing to love the service that is leading the revolution of local transportation around the world, providing an on-demand alternative to calling up a old-fashioned taxi cab dispatcher.

But for those out there into trying new things, here are some of the other players on the road offering smartphone-enabled rides from A to B:

Lyft: The San-Francisco based ridesharing company is the friendly neighbor to Uber’s cool chauffeur. Drivers use their personal cars, grilles adorned with signature pink mustaches, and invite users to sit in the front seat, often offering a fist bump as a greeting. The company has rolled out three additional services, Lyft Plus (fancy SUV version), Lyft Line (carpooling version) and Lyft for Work (commuting version). Lyft operates in about 60 U.S. cities, compared to Uber’s 220 worldwide. In some cities, like New York, Lyft functions very similarly to Uber.

Sidecar: This ridesharing company, also based in the Bay Area, promises the “lowest prices on the road.” Available in 10 major U.S. cities, Sidecar aims to match riders with “everyday people” driving their personal cars. But unlike other services that rack up a fare as you go, Sidecar asks riders to enter their destination and offers a selection of pre-set prices, along with ETAs, which the rider can choose from. The company also offers a cheaper “Shared Rides” carpooling option like Lyft Line and Uber Pool.

Flywheel: Taxi companies are using apps like Flywheel to re-disrupt the disruptors. Currently in San Francisco, L.A. and Seattle, Flywheel allows users to order a taxi on-demand and have payments made automatically through the app. The ride likely won’t be as fancy as an Uber black car or as cheap as an UberX, but there’s no surge pricing and the company is brokering deals to allow scheduled rides to airports, places where ridesharing companies are typically non grata.

Curb: In August, Taxi Magic launched as the rebranded Curb, broadening their focus beyond providing licensed taxis on-demand to include fancier cars-for-hire (like Uber black cars) in some of the 60 markets where Taxi Magic was already working with fleets. Unlike most of the other app-based services, customers have the option of paying with cash rather than through the app. The refreshed company is also working on launching pre-scheduled rides, to the airport and beyond.

Hailo: Another e-hail company that works with licensed cabs, Hailo is focused on the European market, having launched in London in 2011. (betrayed by their slogan, “the black cab app.”) In October, the company announced it would be closing operations in U.S. cities like New York, Chicago and Boston, shifting their eye to growth in Asia and, perhaps, re-entering the U.S. market in a few years. In September, the company launched an innovative feature that allows users to pay for the bill in a street-hailed taxi through the app.

Summon: The rebranded and overhauled InstaCab, Summon is an on-demand service that has a hybrid approach, offering both taxi e-hails and cheaper peer-to-peer “personal rides” with a no-surge-price promise. Summon is currently available only in the Bay Area, but the company said earlier this year they plan to expand to L.A., Boston and New York. The startup offers pre-scheduled rides through their Summon Ahead program, including fixed-rate rides to surrounding airports, with a journey to San Francisco’s SFO costing a mere $35.

RubyRide: Based in Phoenix, Ariz., and founded in 2013, RubyRide is a fledgling subscription-based startup that bills itself less as a taxi replacement and more as a replacement for owning a car. A basic plan that allows unlimited pre-scheduled pickups and drop-offs within certain “zones” like Downtown Phoenix costs $299 per month. The company offers limited on-demand service but plans to expand their options—including replacing rides to and from the dry cleaners, say, with delivering members’ dry cleaning—as they grow.

Shuddle: Dubbed “Uber for kids,” this San Francisco startup positions itself as an app for lightening Mom’s load. Parents can pre-book rides to take kids (who aren’t old enough to drive themselves) to sports practice or school. With safety the obvious concern, the company institutes layers of checks beyond thoroughly screening employees: drivers are given passwords they have to use before picking up kids; parents are given photos of the drivers and cars and can monitor the trip through their app. Drivers must have their own kids or have worked with kids. The company’s first 100 drivers, which they call “caregivers,” are all female.

TIME Transportation

Transportation Board Urges Better Sleep Disorder Screenings

Long Island Rail Road; LIRR
A train makes its way to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Jamaica Station in the Queens borough of New York City on Nov. 1, 2012. Frank Franklin II—AP

After a fatal derailment last year in which a train engineer was discovered to have undiagnosed sleep apnea

The National Transportation Safety Board approved sleep recommendations Wednesday for train engineers, following a report that the engineer of a New York train that derailed last year, killing four, had undiagnosed sleep apnea.

The safety board looked at five separate safety incidents and concluded that the Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road should implement regular sleep disorder screenings. The board urged railroad associations and unions to collaborate to create an agreement for how to sleep disorders in personnel and sent recommendations to recommendations to the American College of Physicians and the American Association of Family Physicians to bolster awareness and understanding of sleep disorders in the medical community.

“In the process of preparing this report, we noted a rising trend in incidents and accidents in passenger rail,” said acting chairman Christopher A. Hart in a closing statement. “Today’s recommendations, in combination with those adopted during our investigations and earlier recommendations reiterated today, have the potential to reverse this trend–but only if they are acted upon.”

Since the board does not have the authority to enforce its recommendations, it also encouraged to Federal Railroad Administration to act upon it’s recommendations.

MONEY Airlines

A New Era Has Begun for JetBlue, and Travelers Will Hate It

Customers check in at JetBlue's counter at John F. Kennedy Airport in the Queens borough of New York City.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

At JetBlue, legroom is disappearing and checked baggage will soon cost extra. In other words, the airline you fell in love with is following the playbook of airlines that everyone hates.

When word spread back in September that JetBlue CEO Dave Barger was stepping down from his post in early 2015, two interesting things happened: 1) The company stock soared, rising 5% immediately after the news; and 2) travelers who loved JetBlue for its customers-first policies began to panic.

As Fortune put it, equity analysts tended to view Barger “as being ‘overly concerned’ with passengers and their comfort, which they feel, has come at the expense of shareholders.” With Barger and his pesky, stubbornly customer-friendly policies out of the way, JetBlue—under the leadership of new CEO, former British Airways executive Robin Hayes—could hop on the pathway to higher and higher profits by implementing more fees and cost-cutting measures on par with other airlines.

Consequently, the change at the top was welcomed by investors and dreaded by flyers and travel advocates who loved JetBlue specifically because it didn’t engage in the very nickel-and-diming policies analysts were pushing for. Even before it was announced that Barger was out, Marketwatch foresaw the likelihood that JetBlue would soon begin “putting customers second,” while first and foremost pleasing investors by jacking up fees and cutting back on amenities. Frequent flyer expert Tim Winship described Barger’s departure as “the beginning of the end for JetBlue as we know it,” while noting the risks inherent in the airline’s likely policy shift:

Such changes would be wrenching for JetBlue loyalists, for whom the roomier seating and relative absence of nuisance fees have been key reasons to book JetBlue over the competition. Even the number-crunchers acknowledge that a remodeled JetBlue would jeopardize the considerable brand equity the airline has built up over the years.

Nonetheless, this week JetBlue announced that it is reducing average legroom and introducing a new fare structure that means passengers buying the lowest-price tickets will have to pay extra if they want to check luggage. The changes, which will be instituted starting in 2015, will leave Southwest Airlines as the only domestic carrier to grant free checked bags (two of them, in fact) for all passengers.

Shrinking legroom will come as a result of 15 more seats being added to JetBlue’s Airbus A320 planes. Even after squeezing in the new rows of seats, JetBlue’s average legroom will be 33.1 inches, which is still slightly more than what the typical passenger on Southwest or Virgin America can expect. The real heartbreaker to travelers is likely to be the new “Fare Families” structure, which consists of three bundled options that travelers must choose from when booking a flight. At the low end of the pricing spectrum, tickets do not include a checked bag. Passengers who pay higher fares are entitled to checked bags (one at the middle level, two at the high end), and also get bonus loyalty points.

Exact details on pricing and what specific amenities are and aren’t included in the various fares haven’t been released yet. JetBlue became immensely popular among travelers for perks including free snacks and free entertainment on seatback screens. Presumably, even at the low end JetBlue passengers will get more than the “Bare Fares” of Spirit Airlines, which include with almost nothing other than basic transportation—even water and seat reservations cost extra. But JetBlue’s moves certainly seem inspired by the example set by Spirit, which is widely known as one of the simultaneously most hated and most profitable airlines.

JetBlue’s changes are clearly aimed at pleasing investors—shares of the company stock jumped more than 4% on Wednesday, nearing a seven-year high—but Hayes, currently the airline’s president, still claimed that the company was focused on delivering “the best travel experience for our customers.” In a statement accompanying JetBlue’s press release, Hayes is also quoted saying that JetBlue remains different from the pack. “As we focus on executing this plan,” Hayes said, “JetBlue’s core mission to Inspire Humanity and its differentiated model of serving underserved customers remain unchanged.”

Travelers seem to feel quite differently about the matter. The very active traveler community at the Flyertalk forum has been bashing the changes because they remove what made JetBlue special and worth seeking out, and turn the carrier into just another (hated, annoying, nickel-and-diming) carrier. “Lovely. The ‘We’ll attract more customers by being exactly like every other airline’ move,” commented one Flyertalk member. “Charging for bags and a crappy FF [frequent flier] program? What a combo!” commented another. “Seriously though, they’ve completely lost their appeal.”

Another highlighted how Southwest will soon be the only major domestic carrier including free checked bags with flights: “Now, especially if I have a bag, Southwest will be the way to go…and I hate Southwest.”

TIME Business

A Historical Argument Against Uber: Taxi Regulations Are There for a Reason

Taxi Rank
Yellow cabs waiting in line at LaGuardia Airport, New York City, in March of 1974 Michael Brennan—Getty Images

The author of a cultural history of the NYC taxi — a former cabbie himself — explains why he believes oversight is necessary

New York taxis used to have a reputation for smelly cars, ripped seats and eccentric drivers. Today, New York cabs are nearly all clean and well-maintained. Drivers don’t usually say much unprompted. The cabs feel safe. In other words, they’re boring. And maybe that’s a good thing, because they’re vying against a polished new competitor.

Uber, the ride-sharing app, has grown explosively in the five years since its inception, challenging established taxi services, expanding its annual revenue to a projected $10 billion by the end of next year and attracting drivers away from its competitors. Uber drivers get 80% of a fare, and the company only takes a 20% cut. Uber’s cars are mostly slick, clean and easy to hail via the company’s app.

But a big reason Uber has grown so quickly is that it’s not regulated the same way that traditional taxi services are. Uber proponents say it’s about time for monopolistic, overregulated city cab services to be broken up. Riders deserve options, they say, and better pricing, and more nimble technology. Still, the company is no stranger to controversy, most recently over reports of executives abusing the company’s ability to track riders.

And, says one taxi expert, history shows that the larger reason to be concerned about Uber is that those regulations were established for a good reason.

Graham Hodges is the author of Taxi! A Cultural History of the New York City Cabdriver and a professor at Colgate University — and a former cabbie himself, who patrolled New York’s dangerous streets in the early 1970s for a fare. Hodges is suspicious of upstarts like Uber and says that the cab industry needs to be regulated.

Hodges’ argument? Taxis are pretty much a public utility. Like subway and bus systems, the electric grid or the sewage system, taxis provide an invaluable service to cities like New York, and the government should play an important role in regulating them. They shouldn’t be, Hodges argues, fair game for a private corporation like Uber to take over and control, any more than an inner-city bus service should be privatized.

Without getting too much into the nitty-gritty of taxi rules, what do passengers get out of cab regulation? Regular taxi maintenance, says Hodges, which taxi commissions like New York’s require. “You want to know you’re getting in a safe cab that’s been checked recently,” he explains. “They’re taking a pounding every day.” Knowing your fare is fixed to a predictable formula is important, too, says Hodges. (Uber does that, though the company’s surge pricing at peak hours can really up the cost.) And you want to know that your driver has had a background check, which established taxi services usually require, so that you can be less afraid of being attacked with a hammer, abducted or led on a high-speed chase, as has allegedly happened on some Uber trips.

Regulations have been around for a long time, Hodges says: “Taxi regulations developed out of livery and hansom-cab regulations from the 19th century. They’re a necessary part of urban transportation. They’ve been that way since the metropolitization of cities in the 1850s. And those in turn are based on a long-term precedent in Europe and other parts of the world. From hard-earned experience, those regulations ensure fairness and safety.”

In the 1970s, when Hodges drove, those regulations ensured that a driver made a decent living, and could comfortably choose his or her own hours. (“I made $75 the first night I was out,” he says. “I felt fantastic.”) The golden days of cab driving, Hodges continues, were even earlier, in the ’50s and ’60s. Think sometime before seedy New York full of troubled men like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976), and more like the omnipresent, wise-seeming driver of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).

“Back then, drivers stayed on for a long time,” says Hodges. “They were beloved. They were culturally familiar. That’s where you get the classic cabbie and someone who was an encyclopedia of the city. Those are guys who dedicated their lives to the job and owned their taxis. They had a vested interest in a clean, well-managed auto that lasted a long time.”

Today, Uber drivers do enjoy some of those benefits. Though they’re hardly known for an encyclopedic knowledge of the cities they drive, or as cultural touchstones, they own their own cabs and have a lot at stake in driving. What’s more, they get a large cut of each fare and have a lot of freedom. And regulation doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to: even after the Taxi and Limousine Commission started more closely regulating taxi drivers in the 1970s, riders were often in for a surprise. Taxis were rusty tin-bins and drivers were erratic.

In 1976, TIME offered a sardonic view of the New York cab ride:

A taxi ride is the chief means by which New York City tests the mettle of its people. A driver, for example, is chosen for his ability to abuse the passenger in extremely colorful language, the absence of any impulse to help little crippled old ladies into the cab, ignorance of any landmark destination, an uncanny facility for shooting headlong into the most heavily trafficked streets in the city, a foot whose weight on the accelerator is exceeded only by its spine-snapping authority in applying the brakes. Extra marks are awarded the driver who traverses the most potholes in any trip; these are charted for him by the New York City Department of Craters, whose job it is to perforate perfectly good roadways into moonscapes.

The taxi machines are selected with equally rigorous care. Most are not acceptable until they have been driven for 200,000 miles in Morocco. After that, dealer preparation calls for denting the body, littering the passenger compartment with refuse, removing the shock absorbers, sliding the front seat back as far as it will go, and installing a claustrophobic bulletproof shield between driver and passenger—whose single aperture is cunningly contrived to pass only money forward and cigar smoke back. All this is designed to induce in the customer a paralytic yoga position: fists clenched into the white-knuckles mode, knees to the chin, eyes glazed or glued shut, bones a-rattle, teeth a-grit. To a lesser extent, the same conditions prevail in other taxi-ridden U.S. communities.

In the end, Hodges says, cabbies and passengers have always wanted the same things — “We don’t want to have hyper competition, we don’t want reckless driving, we don’t want drivers about whom we don’t know very much,” he says — and, whether or not it always works perfectly, he believes that history has shown that regulation is the best way to get there.

TIME Aviation

JetBlue Is Cutting Legroom From Its Planes

JetBlue Airways Corp. planes sit docked at the gates of Terminal 5 as another of the company's jets lands at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Jan. 28, 2014.
JetBlue Airways Corp. planes sit docked at the gates of Terminal 5 as another of the company's jets lands at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Jan. 28, 2014. Craig Warga—Bloomberg/Getty Images

And the base fare will not include a checked bag

Jetblue said Wednesday it will reduce leg room and add bag fees for fliers who buy tickets on base fares.

The traditionally low-cost airline, under pressure from investors to boost profits, announced in a call with analysts that it is adding fare levels next year. The new base fare will not include a checked bag.

The airline also said it will reduce average legroom from 34.7 inches to 33.1 inches—still, it says, an industry leader—to allow it to add 15 seats to its standard A320 aircraft beginning in 2016.

JetBlue and Southwest Airlines have until now been the only large U.S. airlines that provide a free checked bag for all fliers, the Wall Street Journal reports.

TIME Transportation

What Happened to the Car Industry’s Most Famous Flop?

A 1958 Edsel Convertible
A 1958 Edsel convertible made by Ford Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Market researched failed in a major way

Any crossword puzzler knows there’s a five-letter word for a Ford that flopped: Edsel.

At the heart of any big flop–like when Ford ended the Edsel 55 years ago, on Nov. 19, 1959–lies high expectations. The Edsel was named after Henry Ford’s son, no small honor, and it had its own division of the company devoted to its creation. As TIME reported in 1957 when the car debuted, the company had spent 10 years and $250 million on planning one of its first brand-new cars in decades. The Edsel came in 18 models but, in order to reach its sales goals, it would have to do wildly better than any other car in 1957 was expected to do. The September day that the car first went on the market, thousands of eager buyers showed up at dealers, but before the year was over monthly sales had fallen by about a third.

When Ford announced that they were pulling the plug on the program, here’s how TIME explained what had gone wrong:

As it turned out, the Edsel was a classic case of the wrong car for the wrong market at the wrong time. It was also a prime example of the limitations of market research, with its “depth interviews” and “motivational” mumbo-jumbo. On the research, Ford had an airtight case for a new medium-priced car to compete with Chrysler’s Dodge and DeSoto, General Motors’ Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick. Studies showed that by 1965 half of all U.S. families would be in the $5,000-and-up bracket, would be buying more cars in the medium-priced field, which already had 60% of the market. Edsel could sell up to 400,000 cars a year.

After the decision was made in 1955, Ford ran more studies to make sure the new car had precisely the right “personality.” Research showed that Mercury buyers were generally young and hot-rod-inclined, while Pontiac, Dodge and Buick appealed to middle-aged people. Edsel was to strike a happy medium. As one researcher said, it would be “the smart car for the younger executive or professional family on its way up.” To get this image across, Ford even went to the trouble of putting out a 60-page memo on the procedural steps in the selection of an advertising agency, turned down 19 applicants before choosing Manhattan’s Foote, Cone & Belding. Total cost of research, design, tooling, expansion of production facilities: $250 million.

A Taste of Lemon. The flaw in all the research was that by 1957, when Edsel appeared, the bloom was gone from the medium-priced field, and a new boom was starting in the compact field, an area the Edsel research had overlooked completely.

Even so, the Edsel wasn’t a complete loss for Ford: the company was able to use production facilities build for Edsel for their next new line of, you guessed it, compact cards.

Read the full report here, in the TIME Vault: The $250 Million Flop

TIME Transportation

Why Subway Systems Haven’t Installed More Safety Tech Yet

NYC Subway Safety
Wendy Connett/flickr—flickr Editorial/Getty Images

The only safety measure of most subway systems is simple: fear

If you’re already a bit anxious on subways without platform edge doors, the story of people being pushed to their death onto subway tracks isn’t going away anytime soon.

Some variation of that incident—nothing new, despite its shock factor—probably comes to mind nearly every day: when someone teeters off the platform’s edge, for instance, or when you step past the yellow line to circumvent a crowd. The fears over subway deaths, already high after a sensationalized subway murder in 2013, only grew this week with reports of New York’s latest subway accident. In the same way you can’t avoid gawking at a car crash, you can’t avoid reading about a subway death, either.

Hard numbers about subway safety data — New York had only 53 subway fatalities in 2013, a year when it carried 6 million riders — don’t always have a sobering effect on the hysteria following transportation tragedies. Unlike other transportation accidents that get mass media coverage, like a plane crash, a subway accident, especially one so brutal as this week’s in New York City, has a distinct immediacy for a city’s residents. It is not far off in a foreign country, or the result of an extraordinary circumstance. Instead, it’s a few inches and a push, trip or slip away.

That’s a strange concept in an era when new technologies are emerging every day to protect us from death before we’ve even harmed, like cars with radar-based brakes or airplanes with ground proximity warning systems. So why hasn’t technology made subways more safe? Cost.

“[The lack of subway safety] is driven by a cost culture rather than a safety culture,” says former National Transportation Safety Board chairman James Hall. “You will invariably have innocent individuals literally fall through the holes of that type of structure. It’s a matter of priorities, and making safety your most important priority.”

Among the most effective subway safety measures are platform edge doors, which blocks off access to the tracks until a train arrives. However, the cost of installing such doors throughout the New York City subway system is “in the billions,” according to Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees New York City’s subway. Ortiz said a contractor has been designing a door system since last month, while new technologies to detect objects or people on the tracks are being tested in the city’s subway. However, the MTA has no timelines for rolling out the new systems on a broader scale.

Platform edge doors are common sights in major cities around the world, including St. Petersburg, Beijing and Tokyo. But those systems are relatively young, and they were built with the platform doors to begin with. Many subway systems in America (and London’s Tube) are old: New York’s dates back to 1904, Boston’s to 1901, and Chicago’s to 1897. Retrofitting older systems to feature platform doors is a much costlier proposition than building a new one with the doors from the get go. Interestingly, New York City’s “Airtrain,” a light rail-style system connecting John F. Kennedy International Airport with the city’s subway system, has platform doors — but it’s only been open since 2003.

Instead of spending money on costly safety technology to make the subway systems safer, the organizations that run them tap into riders’ fears to ensure they stay safe around the trains. In New York, for example, the MTA for decades has run a poster campaign informing riders how many fatalities have occurred in the past year, a reminder to stay well clear of the tracks when a train isn’t in the station. And last year, members of MTA’s largest employee union distributed flyers designed as fake blood-stained subway cards to demand slower trains, improved braking mechanisms and protective barriers.

And platform doors might not be a necessary expense, anyway, as the data shows subways are actually pretty safe.

“Obviously one [fatality] is one too many,” said the MTA’s Ortiz. “But in the grand scheme of things, when you move six million people a day, you have a greater likelihood of being hit by lighting twice than being struck by a subway train.”

Still, there are statistics to support the other side, too. In New York City, one-third of subway deaths are ruled suicides made possible by the tracks’ easy access; subway operators are trained to expect one death per week; if an operator’s train strikes a person, he or she is given just three days off to recover from the trauma.

As a result, most people who care about subway safety fall into one of two camps: either the subway seems like one of the most dangerous form of transportation, or one of the safest. But if there’s one aspect that’s agreed upon by nearly all subway riders, personnel and experts, it’s that a safer subway system, however expensive, is an expectation within reach.

“Cars without drivers, parking assist, collision avoidance—we’re able to do all these kinds of technologies,” said Carl Berkowitz, a transportation and traffic engineering expert. “We should be able to solve some of the problems we have in the subway system.”

 

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