TIME Transportation

Uber Stops Its Operations in Portland for at Least Three Months

Uber At $40 Billion Valuation Would Eclipse Twitter And Hertz
The Uber Technologies Inc. logo is displayed on the window of a vehicle after dropping off a passenger at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Under a deal, Portland will legalize ride-sharing by Apr. 9, otherwise Uber can begin operating again

Portlanders won’t be able to call an Uber car for the next three and a half months while the city makes changes to its regulations. The ridesharing app arrived illegally in the Oregon city two weeks ago but has agreed to suspend its services until the city alters its laws.

Under their agreement with the city, if the changes are not in place by April 9, 2015, Uber can begin operating again, according to a post on the company’s site.

“Uber is dedicated to curating and continuing a valuable and constructive relationship with Portland’s lawmakers, working to create a regulatory framework that works for everyone,” the company said in the statement.

Portland filed a lawsuit and cease-and-desist order against Uber when it launched earlier this month. Before the suit had been filed, the city threatened fines of $1,500 against Uber, and up to $2,250 for the driver, each time a fare was picked up. With more than 10,000 rides being delivered in Portland during the weeks it functioned, according to the company, breaking the law was looking like a costly option.

Portland’s Mayor Charlie Hales said in a statement that he had created a new task force that would decide on regulations for accessibility, pricing, background checks on drivers, insurance requirements and other concerns.

TIME Canada

Canadian Driver Who Stopped Car to Rescue Ducklings Gets Jail Time

Emma Czornobaj
Emma Czornobaj, shown here in this June 3, 2014, file photo at the Montreal Courthouse in Canada, was found guilty in the deaths of two motorcyclists who collided with her car after she stopped for ducks on a Montreal-area highway. On Thursday, a judge sentenced her to 90 days in jail. Graham Hughes—AP

Motorcyclist and his daughter died after crashing into Emma Czornobaj's stationary vehicle

A Canadian woman who stopped her car on the highway to rescue ducklings, inadvertently causing the deaths of a motorcyclist and his daughter, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and banned from driving for 10 years on Thursday.

Emma Czornobaj, a 26-year-old woman from the Montreal suburb of Chateauguay, was sentenced Thursday to serve three months of jail time on the weekends, CBC reports. She was convicted in July on two counts of criminal negligence in the deaths of Andre Roy, 50, and his 16-year-old daughter Jessie, and had faced a possible life sentence.

In June 2010, Czornobaj parked her Honda Civic in the left lane of a highway in a Montreal suburb after seeing seven ducklings in the road. She said she was trying to gather the ducks and take them home. As she left her parked car to round up the ducklings, Roy crashed his motorcycle into the back of the stationary vehicle.

The incident has been divisive in Canada. A petition on Change.org signed by thousands of people pushed for the country’s legal system to be lenient on a woman who they believe only had the best of intentions in saving the ducks. The victim’s family members, however, have expressed frustration with Czornobaj over the fact that she hasn’t reached out to them.

[CBC]

TIME Transportation

When Is the Anniversary of the First Flight? The Answer’s Not So Easy

Wilbur and Orville Wright flying
Wilbur and Orville Wright making the world's first hour-long flight at Fort Myer, Va., in 1907. Popperfoto / Getty Images

Dec. 17, 1903: The Wright brothers make what history has recorded as the first successful powered airplane flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

In North Carolina — as in most of the world — Wednesday will be commemorated as the 111th anniversary of flight. After all, on Dec. 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright got off the ground in North Carolina, flying for 59 seconds at 852 feet.

But if it were up to some historians — and Connecticut lawmakers — we’d have to wait until August and mark the 114th. They’ve pushed to relocate aviation’s ground zero from Kitty Hawk to Fairfield as the site of the first powered, sustained, and controlled flight — by Connecticut’s Gustave Whitehead, in a monoplane — on Aug. 14, 1901.

Defenders of the Wrights believe Whitehead advocates should instead go fly a kite.

“When you get right down to it, to the Whitehead claim, there is – no – evidence,” Smithsonian curator Tom Crouch told TIME’s Josh Sanburn a year ago. “None.”

The issue had recently come to a head after historian John Brown uncovered century-old photos that appeared to show Whitehead’s plane aloft prior to the Wrights’ flight. The ensuing uproar in the aviation history community invoked the high-tech forensics of CSI and the lax journalism standards of Season Five of The Wire. Brown asked a police forensics unit to enlarge the photos, from the 1906 Aero Club of America exhibition, by 3,200 percent. The grainy images convinced some holdouts, including the editor of a prestigious aviation reference guide, that Whitehead was truly first in flight. Before Brown’s find, the best evidence for Whitehead’s claim to the title took the form of a 1901 article in the Bridgeport Herald, with a drawing of Whitehead’s plane “soaring above the trees.” But, apart from the possibility that the image was drawing-shopped in the pre-photo era, Crouch told TIME that a witness named in the story later denied the flight ever happened.

Whitehead fans, particularly in the Nutmeg State, have periodically pushed for recognition nonetheless. Wright fans, particularly in North Carolina, have continually pushed back. In 1985, North Carolina’s legislature issued a resolution stating that the Wright brothers were first in flight. In 1986, the Connecticut Legislature asked the Smithsonian to hold a public hearing of evidence that Whitehead flew first. The request was denied. The flight feud simmered on low until the summer of 2013, when Connecticut issued its own resolution proclaiming Whitehead’s flight the first. Then tempers flared again. State Sen. Bill Cook of North Carolina told TIME the Connecticut claim was too ridiculous to take seriously. “It’s like if somebody told you that, Oh, by the way, I believe that Ben Franklin was the first president,” he said. “I mean, it’s just stupid.”

And, in the last year, evidence has mounted that Cook is probably right: in July of 2014, Scientific American‘s archives were used to debunk Whitehead’s claims.

With that in mind: happy birthday, airplanes.

Read more on Time.com: The Unlikely Fight Over First in Flight

Photos from LIFE: In Praise of Unusual Flying Objects

TIME Transportation

New Jersey’s Red Light Camera Program Is Going Dark

Red Light Cameras
A red light photo enforcement sign is seen on Route 1 in Lawrence Township on July 25, 2012. New Jersey's red light camera pilot program will end Dec. 16, 2014. Mel Evans—AP

The 5-year pilot program will end Dec. 16

Over the last five years, red light cameras across New Jersey have caught drivers speeding through intersections, irking motorists who view them as cash cows for local government rather than true safety measures. But after Tuesday, New Jersey residents won’t have traffic cameras to kick around anymore.

The state’s red-light cameras will go dark at midnight, ending a program some said would reduce traffic accidents at intersections. The program brought in millions of dollars to city and state governments, prompting many red light opponents to argue that the cameras are just moneymakers in the guise of a safety device.

(MORE: Ohio’s Traffic Cameras May Be on the Way Out)

City officials often argue that the cameras’ presence affects driver behavior. Union Township, for example, says 27,000 fewer drivers have run red lights in the 30 months it has used the cameras. Statewide, New Jersey Department of Transportation studies claim that crashes overall are down. The DOT numbers have been championed by public officials like Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who has pushed for legislators to continue the pilot program.

But a couple of grassroots engineers have challenged those stats. Rick Short and George Ford produced a report detailing discrepancies between the red light camera safety claims and raw DOT crash data. “We have proved that the crash reduction percentages spread by the camera industry and town leaders are fictitious,” they said.

Polls show that the cameras have have slowly lost favor over the years, mirroring what’s happening in a number of states around the country. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 495 communities currently use the cameras down from a peak of 540 in 2012.

TIME south dakota

South Dakota Pulls ‘Don’t Jerk and Drive’ Ad Campaign

The double entendre was intentional but some felt it was too risqué

Young men are a notoriously hard demographic to handle for public service campaigns — but you’ve got to give officials in South Dakota credit for at least trying to reach them.

State officials announced Friday they’re pulling a public safety ad campaign entitled “Don’t Jerk and Drive,”’ designed to discourage people from jerking on the road, something young men in particular are most likely to do.

“Jerking,” of course, is the habit of overcorrecting on icy roads by jerking the steering wheel back into place and not turning into the slide. What did you think it meant?

“Overcorrecting only results in chaos,” says the British, female narrator in the the ad. “And besides — nobody likes a jerker.”

Officials told The Argus Leader that the onanistic double meaning was intentional. “The message is that we’d prefer drivers keep their cars out of the ditch and their minds out of the gutter,” said Lee Axdahl, director of the office of Highway Safety. But after grumbling from some South Dakotans, including state Rep. Mike Verchio, officials decided to scrap the campaign.

“I decided to pull the ad,” Trevor Jones, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. “This is an important safety message and I don’t want this innuendo to distract from our goal to save lives on the road.”

[Argus Leader]

MONEY Airlines

New ‘Basic’ Airline Ticket Is Worse Than Any Low-Fare Carrier Option

Economy class
Bart Sadowski—Getty Images

Delta recently introduced a new five-tier airfare scheme, including a revamped low-price "Basic Economy" ticket that's the riskiest, most restrictive, and least comfortable option in the sky.

Earlier this week, Delta announced that it is “redefining the products it offers customers to further distinguish the choices available to them,” with the 2015 rollout of a five different categories of service (and pricing) that passengers must choose from when buying flights.

Essentially, the more you pay, the better service and amenities you can expect. This is more or less the way things have always been with airline pricing. Yet the introduction of five flight categories—including “First Class” and an even higher class dubbed “Delta One,” as well as something called “Delta Comfort+” and “Main Cabin,” which used to be known as “Economy” or just coach—is unnecessarily confusing, and it certainly raises the bar in terms of instituting an onboard caste system. More importantly, Delta is flying into new territory at the low end of pricing, with the cheapest category providing the least flexible and least comfortable product of any American carrier.

“We’re providing Delta customers with a thoughtful, well-defined spectrum of options as they make decisions about travel,” Glen Hauenstein, the airline’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer, said in a press release. “Whether a customer prioritizes the perks of Delta One or the value of Basic Economy, every seat comes with impeccable service and unmatched reliability.”

Still, some travelers will be very surprised to find out what a Basic Economy seat comes without. Delta first began testing its low-price Basic Economy fare back in 2012 on a couple of flights. What stood out then about this low-fare option—and what remains unusual even in today’s profit-first, customers-last atmosphere—is how rigid and cruel it is. Neither advanced seat selection nor itinerary changes are allowed, not even for an extra fee. So this low-cost option is out of the question for couples or families who want to be assured they’ll sit together when flying. Also, because anyone not flying on a Basic Economy ticket has the right to arrange a seating assignment in advance, in all likelihood the passengers traveling on the cheapest tickets will be stuck in the worst seats on the plane. What’s more, because changes and cancellations are not possible under any circumstances, if an emergency arises and you must miss a scheduled flight, you’ll eat the entire cost of the ticket.

Today, Delta’s Basic Economy category is available from four Delta hubs (Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City) and 33 gateways, and it’s about to get more restrictive. Delta explained that as of February 1, several services that are currently available to Basic Economy ticketholders will be eliminated. These services include complimentary or paid upgrades, same-day standby, and priority boarding for a purchase.

It’s well understood that Delta introduced and expanded its Basic Economy category as a way to compete with Spirit Airlines, the much-maligned carrier that’s known for low fares followed by high fees for anything above the cost of a seat. Yet even the cheapest seats sold by Spirit Airlines, as well as low-fare, high-fee imitators such as Frontier Airlines, allow customers to pay extra for seating assignments and the right to change flight dates and itineraries. Frontier and Spirit also offer passengers the option of paying extra for upgrades, in the form of seats that may be larger or just come with more legroom.

The fare structures of Delta, Spirit, and all other airlines are meant to simultaneously attract customers and boost revenues. It’s just that some airlines go about seeking these goals in different ways. Spirit and Frontier are working the a la carte model, in which customers are wooed with a low upfront price, and then hopefully they’re upsold on a bunch of services later in the game. Delta’s new five-tiered model instead wants to get most of the upselling accomplished during the ticket purchase phase. The hope is that customers are so scared off by the absence of getting an advance seat, upgrade, or the option to change a flight that they’ll readily pay more upfront.

One way or another, there’s some upselling going on, and it’ll be difficult, uncomfortable, and often just plain impossible for travelers to actually complete a flight without paying above the base fare. A Delta spokesperson told Businessweek that the Basic Economy category could expand to more cities next year. And judging by the way that Spirit Airlines and its fee-crazed equivalent in Europe, Ryanair, have proven to be not only highly profitable operations but also industry trendsetters, more and more airlines are likely to follow in its a la carte, fees-for-everything footsteps. So, one way or another, when buying a ticket, when checking in, or during the flight itself, travelers should expect to pay more.

TIME Transportation

Ohio’s Traffic Cameras May Be On the Way Out

Traffic Cameras Cleveland
Motorists drive past a sign warning of upcoming traffic cameras on Oct. 29, 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio. Tony Dejak—AP

A new law would require traffic violations to be witnessed first hand by police officers

Ohio’s red-light cameras, which catch motorists speeding through intersections, may be switched off after state representatives approved a bill that would require traffic violations at intersections to be witnessed by officers first-hand.

The Ohio House voted 58-31 for the bill on Wednesday. It’s expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law by Gov. John Kasich.

Red light cameras around the U.S. are slowly losing favor as citizens have increasingly viewed them chiefly as a way for local and state governments to generate revenue rather than a true safety measure.

(MORE: Cities Have Found a New Way to Take Your Money)

The cameras hit their peak in the U.S. in 2012, when 540 communities utilized them. Since then, they’ve begun to lose favor, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. As of December 2014, 495 communities currently use them.

New Jersey legislators have also debated for months whether to get rid of the cameras altogether, and cities in Florida, California, Missouri and elsewhere are considering giving up them up after backlash from drivers.

Traffic cameras have gained a notorious reputation in the last few years. In Chicago, one of the biggest red-light camera manufacturers and operators, Redflex, has been caught in a bribery scandal in which the company allegedly provided money to city officials in exchange for contracts with the city worth $124 million. The city also recently admitted that its yellow lights were fractions of a second shorter than the three-second city minimum, allowing officials to net almost $8 million from an additional 77,000 red light tickets.

TIME People

Sailor Survives Being Stranded at Sea for 12 Days

The fish he caught to eat "wasn’t as good as a sushi bar"

A sailor who had been missing since Thanksgiving and found south of Hawaii on Tuesday has returned to shore, Coast Guard officials said Wednesday, days after the search had been called off.

Ron Ingraham is an experienced sailor but sent out distress calls on a recent trip between the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Lanai, alerting maritime officials that his boat was in danger of sinking, according to a Coast Guard report about his rescue. After a hard wave hit his 25-foot vessel, knocking him off and damaging his radio, he towed himself back to the boat. But after the search came up empty, it was called off.

On Tuesday, however, Ingraham sent a mayday call that saved his life. Coast Guard officials responded and found Ingraham weak, hungry, and dehydrated.

He was able to subside on his boat for 12 days by catching fish, Ingraham told ABC News. “It wasn’t as good as a sushi bar, but that’s how I hydrated.”

[ABC News]

TIME Transportation

Prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles Sue Uber, Settle With Lyft

Uber At $40 Billion Valuation Would Eclipse Twitter And Hertz
The Uber Technologies Inc. logo is displayed on the window of a vehicle after dropping off a passenger at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Lawsuits surrounded "misleading" claims to consumers about how they vet drivers

Prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco announced a settlement with ridesharing company Lyft on Tuesday for making “false and misleading statements” to consumers about background checks for vetting drivers, but filed a similar lawsuit against Uber.

The civil suit against Uber alleges that the company not only made “untrue and misleading” statements about the checks, according to a statement from the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, but has also been illegally operating at airports across the state and charging San Francisco riders a “fraudulent” $4 airport fee despite drivers not paying one to the airport. The suit seeks civil penalties as well as reimbursements for affected customers.

At a press conference, according to Bloomberg, the prosecutors said Uber had touted strict vetting requirements to justify a $1 “safety fee” passed onto riders, “when in fact taxi drivers by law undergo more comprehensive background checks that include fingerprinting.” Though the company no longer uses the phrase, Uber has called their safety checks “industry-leading.”

Previous reports have surfaced about aspiring Uber drivers applying for background checks through a third party by submitting information online, with no requirement to appear in person before gaining approval to work through the system. One driver told Valleywag that, “One person could fill out all the info and hand off the approved account to another person” and that he was aware of multiple drivers “sharing an account.” Gascon called background checks without assurances like fingerprinting “completely worthless.”

Lacey and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón had threatened to levy civil penalties against the companies in September, for failing to meet consumer protection standards.

Lyft has agreed to pay a $500,000 civil penalty, as well as submit its app to additional government scrutiny and obtain express permission for operating at airports in the state. The settlement, according to the statement from Lacey’s office, also includes a permanent injunction that prohibits the company from making “misleading statements about its background checks.”

This comes at a time when cities like New Dehli and Portland are moving to block services like Uber from operating, due to concerns about oversight and safety.

TIME Transportation

Ex-Uber Driver Charged With Manslaughter in Death of 6-Year-Old

The case has prompted questions about Uber's responsibility for drivers and whether using the app leads to dangerous distraction

On Dec. 31, 2013, a former Uber driver named Syed Muzaffar made a right turn onto Polk Street in San Francisco and hit a family in the crosswalk. The mother, Ang Liu, and her 4-year-old son were hurt but survived; Liu’s 6-year-old daughter, Sofia, was fatally injured. On Monday, Muzaffar was charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, which carries penalties of up to one year of jail time. According to court documents, Muzaffar was in between UberX fares when the accident happened.

Uber is in the midst of a PR firestorm, and regulators in cities like New Delhi and Portland are moving to ban Uber over concerns about safety and oversight. The case of Sofia Liu has driven conversations about how to balance popular new transportation services with safety in California, and a civil case her family filed against Uber remains unresolved.

Investigators found there was no cause for charging Muzaffar with gross negligence as a felony, which carries stiffer penalties and is more typical in cases where, for example, the driver is intoxicated. The Liu family’s lawyer, Christopher Dolan, says they are disappointed with the prosecutors’ decision and that they greeted the news of the charge with a question: “What about Uber?”

The girl’s family sued Uber in January, claiming that the company is responsible for the daughter’s death and costs associated with the accident. According to the complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court, Muzaffar was logged into the Uber app and monitoring his smartphone at or near the time he made the fatal turn. Christopher Dolan, the attorney representing the family, says the last thing the mother saw before being hit “was the driver looking down at his cell phone.”

Uber, whose officials have repeatedly emphasized that drivers are independent contractors and not company employees, responded in court documents that Muzaffar was not carrying a fare, heading to pick up a fare or responding to a request for a fare at the time, and therefore had “no reason” to be interacting with the Uber app on his smartphone. The company describes him as “a former licensee of Uber’s software application” and while acknowledging that Muzaffar was logged into the app, the company’s lawyer said Uber “did not cause this tragic accident” and therefore the company’s insurance policy should not cover any damages like the family’s medical or burial bills. (Uber has not yet responded to a request for comment for this article.)

Dolan says he’s currently waiting for Uber to produce documents he’s requested in hopes of proving that drivers like Muzaffar actually are more like employees than independent contractors and that Uber should therefore bear more responsibility for them, including paying the Liu family’s $200,000 in medical bills. He helped lobby for a bill signed into law by California Gov. Jerry Brown in September, which requires companies like Uber to cover their drivers “from the moment” the app is on, even if the driver has not yet been matched with a passenger.

Dolan plans to argue that Uber’s business model is in conflict with California law, because it necessitates distracted driving—as drivers monitor the app, respond to fare requests and send updates to awaiting passengers. He hopes to force the tech company to move to an auditory rather than visual operating system for connecting drivers and riders. “What people don’t realize is that while Uber provides instant gratification,” he says, “there are going to be delayed consequences.”

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