TIME Autos

Volkswagen Recalls More Than 1 Million Cars

Includes several Beetle and Jetta models made between 2011 and 2014

Volkswagen is the latest automaker to issue a major safety recall, announcing plans on Friday to inspect the rear suspension systems of more than a million vehicles in China, Germany and the United States.

No injuries or accidents were reported to be associated with issue, the Wall Street Journal reports, which became known after an investigation in China. In the event of an accident, should a part that connects the body of the car with the rear axle become damaged and not fixed, Volkswagen said it could “fracture suddenly” and lead to a crash.

At least 400,000 Jetta models in the U.S. that were made between 2011 and 2013 are being called back, the Journal adds, in addition to more than 41,000 Beetles produced from 2012 to 2013. Another 15,500 Beetle Coupes in Germany are being recalled, as are some 17,000 imported Beetles in China and 563,000 Sagitar sedans, which are based on the Jetta design.

[WSJ]

TIME Transportation

Cities Have Found a New Way to Take Your Money

Yellow Traffic Light
Getty Images

Watch your speed at those yellow lights

Correction appended, Oct. 15.

All yellow traffic lights are not created equal, it seems. Especially in Chicago.

Earlier this year, the city began issuing tickets to motorists who drove through yellow lights that turned red fractions of a second shorter than the three-second city minimum. The change was slight, but the effect for the cash-starved city was real: nearly $8 million from an additional 77,000 tickets, according to the city’s inspector general.

All of those $100 tickets were issued after cameras installed at intersections caught the drivers as they passed through. These systems, known as red light cameras, are an increasingly controversial tactic for policing roadways. Established in the name of public safety, critics contend the cameras have become little more than a way for municipalities to funnel money into their coffers.

“If the machine is set to catch more people and generate more revenue, then it does not really seem to be about safety but about revenue,” says Joseph Schofer, a professor of transportation at Northwestern University.

Chicago isn’t the first municipality to benefit from shorter yellow traffic lights. In 2011, the Florida Department of Transportation secretly reduced its policy on the length of yellow lights, likely bringing millions of dollars in additional revenue to the state.

There is no federal rule for how long a yellow light should be illuminated, but the U.S. Department of Transportation recommends three to six seconds. Nationwide, a minimum of three seconds is generally considered standard. John Bowman, a spokesperson for the National Motorists Association, which opposes the cameras, says the organization routinely gets calls from people saying they received a red light camera ticket, believing the yellow light was too short.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to get a public official on the record saying, ‘We shortened them to make more money,’” Bowman says. “But I think that clearly goes on.”

Red light cameras gained popularity in the 1990s after New York became the first U.S. city to install a network. The initial motivation was safety, says Hani Mahmassani, the director of the Northwestern University Transportation Center. The hope was that cameras would deter drivers from running red lights if they knew it would lead to a ticket. But in the 2000s, as the popularity of the cameras grew, cities and the companies that manufactured, installed and helped operate the cameras adopted a revenue-sharing model. The more violations caught by the cameras, the more money the city and the businesses stood to make.

“That’s when it became a greed thing,” Mahmassani says.

By the end of the decade, red light camera networks were in hundreds of municipalities. Today, 499 towns and cities have adopted them, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

While the potential for profit is clear, the public safety value of red light cameras is fuzzy. Studies on whether red light cameras actually enhance safety are mixed. Several studies conducted by IIHS, which supports the cameras, show that crashes have not only decreased in intersections that utilize the cameras but that vehicle-related deaths have declined in those cities as well. But other research has shown that the cameras actually increase rear-end collisions because they force drivers to stop more quickly over fear that they’ll run the light and get ticketed, causing tailing motorists to smack into them.

And many of the systems have had other problems. In New Jersey, 17,000 motorists never received tickets for running a red light, while in Chicago, a former city official and the former CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems have been indicted as part of an alleged bribery scheme. There have also been reports of unexplained spikes in tickets given out by the system.

All of which has led to a growing backlash against the cameras. Red light cameras are currently banned in seven states, and others are considering outlawing them. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie says it’s unlikely he’ll extend the state’s red light cameras beyond their expiration date at the end of the year. In Ohio, state lawmakers are looking at banning them by requiring speeding or red light tickets to be handed out in person by officers. And in Chicago, the city said it will no longer ticket motorists who breeze through the shorter yellow. But it’s keeping the money from the ones it already issued.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the relationship between the length of Chicago’s yellow lights and the city’s ticketing policy. Chicago began issuing new tickets for traffic violations after the city started using a different red light camera vendor earlier this year.

TIME Transportation

Flight Attendants Sue to Bring Back Electronic Device Ban

Two flight attendants walk in the luggag
Two flight attendants walk in the luggage claim area of the US Customs and Immigration at Dulles International Airport on Dec. 21, 2011 near Washington, DC. Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images

Want tablets and smartphones to be stowed for landing and takeoff

The nation’s largest union of flight attendants took the Federal Aviation Administration to court on Friday, arguing that the agency should have upheld a ban on the use of smartphones and tablets during takeoff and landing.

Lawyers for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA argued that the devices distracted passengers from safety instructions and could fly out of their hands, becoming dangerous projectiles, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The FAA relaxed its ban on personal devices in 2013, enabling passengers to use devices such as iPhones and Kindles at all times of the flight so long as they were switched to “airplane mode.”

“Essentially we want to set the reset button to the way personal electronic devices were handled prior to October 2013,” said attorney Amanda Duré.

Lawyers for the union argue that the FAA violated an existing regulation to stow away all luggage during takeoff and landing. The defense team argues that the regulation only applies to larger items, such as laptops, and never was intended for handheld devices.

[WSJ]

TIME Companies

Taxi Drivers Protest Uber and Lyft, Stop DC Traffic

App Car Service Startups Continue To Irk Traditional Cab Companies And Regulators
A Lyft car drives along Powell Street on June 12, 2014 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Taxi drivers are protesting rules that would allow Uber and Lyft to permanently operate in the nation's capital

A taxi driver protest against app-based car share companies UberX, Lyft, and Sidecar tied up downtown traffic in the nation’s capital Wednesday.

Local news reports showed lines of drivers, sitting parked in their cabs along Pennsylvania Avenue in northwest Washington on Wednesday between Freedom Plaza and the district’s City Hall. For about two hours on Wednesday, traffic along the route snarled as police officers issued tickets to some drivers for blocking flow of traffic, according to WJLA.

The protest was held in response to new regulations for the app-based companies introduced in the DC Council that would allow companies like Uber and Lyft to permanently operate in the city as long as they conduct background checks for all drivers, provide minimum $1 million insurance coverage, and never accept street hails, among other rules. The legislation moved out of committee on Tuesday and will face a final vote later this month.

Uber has praised the legislation, but the Washington D.C. Taxi Operators Association, which is affiliated with Teamsters and organized the protest, says the rules give companies like Uber and Lyft a “competitive advantage.” Thousands of cab drivers showed up to protest Wednesday, according to a release from organizers.

This was the second time taxi drivers have protested in Washington this year, with a June protest snarling traffic for hours in downtown DC. Similar protests have been staged in Boston and San Francisco in the taxi industry’s ongoing battle with app-based services who they say are impeding their business while facing much less scrutiny and regulation.

MONEY Gas

Gas Prices Just Hit a Low for 2014

Gas Cans
Get it while it's cheap! NoDerog—Getty Images

Around the country, drivers are paying the lowest prices of the year for gas.

The summertime swoon for gas prices has continued into fall, and now it looks like the forecasts calling for lower and lower prices at the pump are right on track.

Earlier this week, AAA noted that the national average for a gallon of regular stood at $3.29 and that we were on the brink of matching the cheapest mark thus far in 2014 ($3.27, hit on February 9). Well, as of Wednesday, AAA data indicated the national average hit $3.267, a new low for the year.

What’s more, drivers in many states are paying well below the national average. The price of regular is averaging $3.10 or less in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and Missouri is cheapest of all, recently dipping just under $3 per gallon—the first state to average under $3 since January. Drivers in many metropolitan areas, including Kansas City, Duluth, Minn., Tulsa, Okla., and Iowa’s Quad City area, have been enjoying sub-$3 gas this week. The gas price-tracking site GasBuddy is also reporting that gas stations in no fewer than 18 states currently have prices that are the lowest they’ve been for all of 2014.

Best of all for drivers hoping to spend less on fill-ups, all signs indicate the trend for cheaper and cheaper gas will keep on rolling in the months ahead. AAA is predicting that the national average will dip to $3.20, perhaps even $3.10, by the end of the year, by which time as many as 20 states could see per-gallon prices drop below $3.

TIME Travel

Ill Airline Passenger Prompts Medical Response

NEWARK, N.J. — Officials say an ill passenger prompted medical crews to meet an overseas flight that landed at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials were part of Saturday’s response for a man who became sick on board United Airlines Flight 998 from Brussels.

Port Authority spokeswoman Erica Dumas says the man began vomiting during the flight. Dumas says the man’s daughter was also on board and taken off with him.

Authorities said the plane’s crew and its roughly 250 remaining passengers stayed onboard for about 90 minutes while the man received medical treatment, then were allowed to leave.

United Airlines said in a statement the ill passenger was taken to a hospital.

TIME Transportation

No, Carmaggedon is Not Inevitable

Los Angeles Traffic
Heavy traffic clogs the 101 Freeway as people leave work for the Labor Day holiday in Los Angeles on August 29, 2014. Mark Ralston—AFP/Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

From peak time tolls to smarter parking meters, some ideas that could get Angelenos moving

It makes sense now that the first movie ever filmed in Los Angeles was of nothing but traffic. The 30 seconds of shaky film, shot downtown on Spring Street in 1898, reveal the origin of an enduring issue for the city. L.A. is defined by its traffic, which is universally understood to move very, very slowly.

Today, drivers armed with smartphones use apps like Waze, darting on and off freeways to cut commute times by minutes. And this year, L.A. became the world’s first major city to synchronize all of its traffic lights. Yet in 2013, Angelenos still spent an average of 90 hours stuck in traffic. Could a recent infusion of $32 million for transit improvements in the city help recover this lost time? In advance of the Zócalo/Metro event “What Could Speed Up L.A. Traffic?” we asked transportation experts the following question: What innovations have other cities implemented that could teach L.A. how to speed up traffic?

Matthew Turner: The price of fixing congestion

When a bakery in the former Soviet Union opened in the morning, it gave bread to the first person in line, and then the next, until all the bread was gone. Everyone still in line had to wait for the next batch. This meant that if you were going to get your bread for breakfast, you had to get there early. So there were long lines for bread (like this one).

We do something similar to allocate access to roads. The government builds roads and every morning, the people who want to use them line up. If you are early, there is lots of capacity for you, and you have a speedy trip. If you come a bit later, the capacity is all used up, and you need to wait for road capacity to become available (like cars on this on-ramp).

The Soviet bakery had a line-up problem because bread was handed out free to the first in line. But what if we could price access to roads, just like we price access to bread today? If that were the case, queuing would no longer occur.

In a number of cities around the world—London, Singapore, Stockholm, and even a few highways in L.A.—local authorities make drivers pay to access roads at peak times (but not at other times). In response to a peak hour toll, drivers rearrange their travel schedules. As a result, driving speeds increase and travel times decrease. By constructing a system of tolls, or prices, that are higher for congested roads and times than for uncongested roads and times, we can fix the traffic congestion problem.

The price of reducing traffic congestion is pricing access to roads.

Matthew Turner is professor in the department of economics at Brown University. His research focuses on the economics of land use and transportation. Current projects investigate the relationship between public transit and the growth of cities, whether and how smart growth type development affects individual driving behavior.

Francie Stefan: Streets are a limited resource

Our streets are a limited resource, like water or energy. We can use this resource more efficiently by reducing the need for car trips or by making trips on modes that take up less space. To find a few tools that boost streets’ efficiency, Angelenos can follow the lead of the city of Santa Monica.

Since 40 percent of trips in L.A. County are less than two miles, we know that there are opportunities to convert some vehicle trips to walking, biking, and active transportation. In Santa Monica, basic street restriping was able to convert excess lane width (without reducing car lanes) into over 40 miles of new bike facilities. In only two years, biking increased by over 50 percent.

The best transportation plan is a good land use plan. Santa Monica is focusing housing and jobs near bus and rail networks, taking advantage of L.A. County’s historic streetcar routes and the walkable streets that grew from them. And Santa Monica is building strong first-mile/last-mile walking, biking, and transit connections to future Expo Light Rail stops.

Private industry plays an important role too. New businesses, employers, and residential buildings can help sustain trip reduction strategies by providing commuter incentives, facilities for active commuters (like bicycle stations featuring showers and racks), transit pass subsidies, shared parking, and telecommuting options. These amenities reduce household transportation costs as well as demand on the transportation network.

These strategies will provide a more holistic management of our street resources and “speed up traffic” by moving people in more ways, reducing the bottlenecks for everyone.

Francie Stefan is the transportation & strategic planning manager for the city of Santa Monica, which has set a target of no net new trips for evening peak periods to support more sustainable street function, encourage wellness through active living, and reduce GHG emissions.

Donald Shoup: Tax foreigners living abroad

Most people view parking meters as a necessary evil, or perhaps just evil. Meters can manage curb parking efficiently and provide public revenue, but they are a tough sell to voters. A new kind of meter, however, can change the politics of parking–and reduce traffic–by allowing cities to give price discounts for residents.

In Miami Beach, residents pay only $1 an hour at meters in areas where nonresidents pay $1.75 an hour. Some British cities give the first half hour at meters free to residents. Annapolis, Maryland, and Monterey, California, give residents the first two hours free in municipal parking lots and garages.

Pay-by-license-plate technology can automatically give discounts to all cars with license plates registered in a city. Cities link payment information to license plate numbers to show enforcement officers which cars have paid or not paid. Pay-by-plate meters are common in Europe, and several U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, now use them.

Like hotel taxes, parking meters with resident discounts can generate substantial local revenue without unduly burdening local voters. The price break for city plates should please merchants because it will give residents a new incentive to shop locally. In big cities, the discounts can be limited to each neighborhood’s residents. More shopping closer to home might then reduce total vehicle travel in the region.

Parking meters with resident discounts come close to the most popular way to raise public revenue: tax foreigners living abroad. More money and less traffic will help any city.

Donald Shoup is distinguished professor of urban planning at UCLA, where he has served as chair of the department of urban planning and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies. His book, The High Cost of Free Parking, explains how better parking policies can improve cities, the economy, and the environment.

Doris Tarchópulos: Reimagining the suburbs

Each city has its own urban characteristics. The dimensions of the streets, the block size, the shapes of the lots, and the type of housing all differ depending on the city and its origins. North American cities are very different from Latin American cities, but they also have common features. From the mid-20th century, Americans in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres have left the core of the city and gone to the suburbs, which has caused car dependency and a crisis of mobility.

In Bogotá, Colombia, we are working on research to create a mix between the current suburbs and human-scale neighborhoods that can be traversed by walking and bicycling. We are thinking of repurposing suburbs gradually, introducing commercial strips along the main roads within neighborhoods, using parking lots or streets to foster vibrant community life, and at the same time, moving people back to the old quarters of the city center.

These ideas are easy to write about but difficult to implement. Reshaping cities demands political will and public conscience. But we also need new definitions of a city model based on a reimagined mobility system. Los Angeles has long been a traffic-clogged city, but given enough time and public support, the way people get around it could be transformed.

Doris Tarchópulos is an architect, associate professor, and director of the master in urban and regional planning at the architecture school of Javeriana University. She has published several award-winning books and scientific articles on housing and urban planning.

This discussion originally appeared on Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Transportation

New York City Speed Camera Issues 1,551 Tickets in a Single Day

Red-light cameras monitor the traffic at the corner of Secon
Red-light cameras monitor the traffic at the corner of Second Ave. and E. 42nd St in New York City. Andrew Savulich—NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

$77,550 in fines not bad for a day's work

A speed camera in New York City issued 1,551 violations in a single day, raking in some $77,550.

The New York City Department of Transportation told a local news blog that a controversial camera coming off of a highway ramp in Brooklyn near Lincoln High School issued a peak of 1,551 violations on July 7. The DOT confirmed the figure with TIME.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed for expanding the use of speed cameras around city schools as part of the Mayor’s Vision Zero goal of reducing pedestrian deaths to zero.

“DOT has begun installing the first speed cameras authorized by state law passed this spring and will continue on a rolling basis until all 140 school speed zones permitted by law are reached,” a DOT spokesperson told TIME in an emailed statement. “NYC DOT does not disclose camera locations, but regarding the specific location you are talking about, the ramp is approximately 400 feet long, a good amount of distance for drivers to adjust their speeds.”

The cameras issue $50 ticket violations to drivers going more than 10 miles over the 30 mph speed limit.

TIME Crime

FBI Says Chicago Air Control Fire Suspect Planned His Attack

The FBI says the suspect responsible for thousands of flight delays out of Chicago Friday left a Facebook message of intent

Updated 3:10 p.m. ET

The man suspected of setting fire to an air traffic control center Friday near Chicago sent a Facebook message shortly before starting the conflagration saying he would “take out” the facility, the FBI said.

“Take a hard look in the mirror, I have,” 36-year-old Brian Howard’s message said, according to and FBI affidavit. “And this is why I am about to take out ZAU [the three-letter identification for the control center] and my life . . . So I’m gonna smoke this blunt and move on, take care everyone.”

The fire shut down operations at Chicago O’Hare International and nearby Midway Airport, leaving thousands of passengers stranded throughout the country. Flights resumed Friday evening at a “reduced rate,” the Federal Aviation Administration said, though reports indicate many Chicago-bound flights are still being canceled Saturday morning.

The FAA said Saturday afternoon that it handled 40 percent of the normal daily traffic at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Friday and 30 percent at Chicago Midway International Airport, and expects to continue to increase the traffic flow at those two airports over the weekend as it begins drying out water-damaged equipment and cleaning up the air traffic control center.

Howard has been charged with one count of destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities, CNN reports. After setting fire in the control center’s basement, he was found lying on the floor and slicing his throat with a knife, police said.

[CNN]

TIME Transportation

Why a Fire Miles Away From an Airport Is Causing Massive Air Traffic Delays

Air traffic control is a big, complicated system, and any problems in one part of that system will affect the whole thing

A potentially suspicious fire at an air traffic control center about 40 miles from downtown Chicago is causing massive delays at O’Hare International, Midway and other airports across the country Friday morning. Looking at a screenshot of air traffic, it looks like aircraft were trying to avoid a black hole right over Chicago — and in a way, they were, as a ground stop Friday morning meant not much was able to fly in or out of Chicago-area airfields.

BydsQnSIQAAovWl
FlightRadar24

 

A TIME reporter at Chicago O’Hare International Airport Friday said that flights which had been diverted to nearby airports began trickling into Chicago by mid-morning. The incoming aircraft were forced to fly at 10,000 feet, so they could be tracked by local radar, according to the reporter’s pilot. At O’Hare, travelers queued at every gate hoping to make it out on the handful of flights still scheduled to depart.

But how can a fire nowhere near an airport cause this much disruption to the national airspace?

The facility in question, which had to be evacuated, isn’t a control tower like ones you find at most airports. Instead, it’s an Air Route Traffic Control Center, or ARTCC. The center’s job is to control aircraft that are flying high above the country and in-between other air traffic controllers’ zones of responsibility. Air traffic control is a little like playing hot potato: From takeoff to touchdown, commercial aircraft typically get passed around from controller to controller — and facility to facility — as they make it to their final destination. The typical list of controllers a commercial pilot might talk to on any given flight might look like this: Clearance (for getting instructions about air routes before the flight), Ground (for taxiing around the airport), Tower (for takeoff clearance), ARTCC (for flying between airports), TRACON (for approaching airports) and then Tower again.

Not every flight will follow this precise order. Many airports don’t have regional TRACONs, for example, and most small airfields — the kind where you’d mostly find recreational pilots — don’t have controllers of any kind, instead relying on pilots’ ability to stay aware of one another’s location via a common radio frequency.

The Aurora, Ill. control center affected by the fire, one of 22 such centers across the country, is responsible for high-altitude air traffic for a good chunk of airspace above the central northwest. Here’s a cartoonish map from the Federal Aviation Administration (the Aurora center is represented by the light brown-shaded zone over Chicago):

FAA

This map pretty clearly shows why the Aurora fire messed up flights in and out of Chicago: Any major airports in that zone are going to be affected by a problem in Aurora. The FAA can offload some tasks normally handed by Aurora to other area ARTCCs, but that’s a bandaid more than a proper fix.

And the Aurora problems will probably cause air travel headaches for the rest of Friday, too. The air traffic control system is a network, and a major problem in one part of the network will cause issues elsewhere, too. On top of that, commercial airlines depend on their aircraft being in certain places in certain times: Your flight from New York to Florida, a course that shouldn’t take you anywhere near Chicago, could be affected today because your plane was coming in from O’Hare. Or, at least, it was supposed to. Four hours ago. Good luck, travelers!

–With reporting from Jay Newton-Small

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser