TIME SmartHalo

This Gadget Brings GPS Navigation to Your Bike

Courtesy of SmartHalo

No need to check your smartphone for directions

SmartHalo is a new bicycle GPS system that eliminates the need to check your smartphone for directions and makes biking a much safer mode of transportation.

The accessory is compatible with any regular bicycle’s set of handlebars. It connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth, and acts as a visually simplistic navigation guide. Insert your destination into the SmartHalo’s corresponding app and it will provide you with turn-by-turn directions using light signals.

The signals adapt to different levels of natural light to ensure that the directions are always visible, no matter the conditions. This weather-resistant device also detects when it’s nighttime, prompting it to activate a front-mounted bike light, which automatically turns off once you dismount.

The app allows you to track the bike’s location if you forget where you parked it, or if someone manages to steal it. The latter scenario is unlikely since the SmartHalo has an internal motion sensor that sounds an alarm if it senses “persistent meddling.” The device itself is attached to the handlebars with “tamper-proof” screws that only the owner can detach with a custom key fob.

The motion sensor is deactivated when you approach your bike because the SmartHalo is able to detect your phone. If you lost it or it ran out of battery, you can insert your own unique “tapcode” to deactivate the alarm.

It also functions as a fitness tool, measuring distance traveled, average speed, and calories burned. You can set specific goals regarding those measurements, and the SmartHalo will display your progress.

The SmartHalo Kickstarter page has surpassed its goal of $50,000. You can sign up for the “Kickstarter Special,” which is priced at $99 for one SmartHalo. The developers expect the device to be ready to ship to early adopters by May 2016. Its retail price is expected to be $149.

TIME Transportation

This City Has the Worst Traffic in the Country

Honk if you hate traffic. Wait, please don't

Washington, D.C. tops all U.S. cities as the worst place for traffic congestion, according to a study released Wednesday by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and data company Inrix.

Those traveling within the nation’s capital experienced around 82 hours of delay per commuter as of last year, nearly double the national average. Other cities at the top of the list include Los Angeles (80 hours), San Francisco (78 hours), New York (74 hours), and San Jose (67 hours), according to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard.

The report pointed out that overall traffic congestion levels have returned to pre-recession days, the result of an improved job market leading to more drivers on the road. All told, commuters are now stuck in their cars for almost 7 billion extra hours every year, translating to about 42 hours a year for a typical rush-hour commuter.

The average travel delay per commuter nationwide has already doubled that of 1982, and quadrupled in cities of less than 500,000 people over the same period. The problem doesn’t look like it will be abating any time soon — the study predicts the annual delay per commuter will grow from 42 hours to 47 hours by 2020, while total nationwide delays will grow to 8.3 billion hours.

“Connectedness, big data and automation will have an immense impact over the next decade on how we travel and how governments efficiently manage the flow of people and commerce across our transportation networks,” said Jim Bak, one of the report’s authors and a director at Inrix, in a statement.

Read next: These Cities Have The Worst Traffic in the World, Says a New Index

Listen to the most important stories of the day

TIME legal

Prosecutors: Uber Hired Drivers With Criminal Records

An Uber ride in Washington on April 8, 2015.
Andrew Harrer—2015 Bloomberg Finance LP An Uber ride in Washington on April 8, 2015.

Prosecutors say Uber has knowingly continued to mislead consumers about the thoroughness of its screening methods

Uber hired 25 drivers in Los Angeles and San Francisco with criminal records ranging from property crimes, sex offenses and murder, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

“We are learning increasingly that a lot of the information that Uber has been presenting the consumer has been false and misleading,” George Gascon, district attorney of San Francisco, where Uber is based, said at a news conference, the New York Times reports.

The comments came after the attorneys announced they were filing a 62-page amended complaint to the original civil suit, filed in December, that claims the ride-hailing app has knowingly continued to mislead consumers about the thoroughness of its screening methods.

Gascon, who has led investigations, noted that the records Uber uses to check applicants for sex offenses are missing 30,000 individuals whose convictions occurred more than seven years ago, allowing them to escape the company’s notice.

Uber has said in the past that the limited scope of its background-check providers is required by some state laws, and is in fact a way for the company to help rehabilitate offenders. “We understand that there are strongly held views about the rehabilitation of offenders,” Uber said in a blog post dated July 15. “But the California state legislature decided — after a healthy debate — that seven years strikes the right balance between protecting the public while also giving ex-offenders the chance to work and rehabilitate themselves.”

Uber has noted that Live Scan, another method of vetting drivers favored by many of the company’s critics, is not subject to seven-year limits. The prosecutors’ complaint asserts that a Live Scan system would have been more effective.

Uber said it disagreed that the screening process used by taxi drivers was better than its own checks. “The reality is that neither is 100% foolproof—as we discovered last year when putting hundreds of people through our checks who identified themselves as taxi drivers,” Uber told TIME in a statement. “That process uncovered convictions for DUI, rape, attempted murder, child abuse and violence.” Uber also noted that its rival Lyft had settled a similar case last year for $250,000.

While traditional cabs are required to use Live Scan, Uber is not, but prosecutors believe that the company has oversold the effectiveness of its own checking methods.

[New York Times]

TIME society

This Ridiculous Video Wants to Convince You That Taking the Bus is Actually Cool

Extra legroom included

When it comes to cool methods of transportation, the bus is usually not the first thing that springs to mind. But a new promotional video from Canada’s Edmonton Transit System wants to show you that the bus is actually awesome.

The bus has everything: “personal climate control” (by opening windows); “freedom to text safely”; and of course, “extra legroom.”

In an actually cool development, the ad also promises real-time bus information on your smart phone. Okay, maybe not quite cool, but definitely convenient. A for effort, Edmonton.

MONEY Airlines

Traveler Complaints Against Airlines Are Up 20%

Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
Rosa Irene Betancourt—Alamy

While airline profits are soaring

The U.S. Department of Transportation just released the latest Air Travel Consumer Report, focused on the period from January to June 2015. Mixed in with some good news—the rate of mishandled baggage is down slightly—is the glaring bit of data showing that airline complaints are sharply on the rise.

For the first half of 2015, travelers lodged 9,542 official complaints about air travel to the DOT via email, phone, or in person. That’s a rise of roughly 20% over the same period in 2014, when travelers filed “only” 7,935 complaints.

Complaints increased in a wide range of categories, including flight delays, cancellations, refunds, and baggage service. But the number of gripes concerning two topics in particular—fares and customer service—rose particularly sharply. Complaints about fares, specifically “incorrect or incomplete information about fares, discount fare conditions and availability, overcharges, fare increases and level of fares in general,” increased from 296 to 870. Customer service issues, meanwhile, drew 1,121 complaints during the first half of 2015, compared with 832 for the same period the year before.

One interesting note is that the two most complained about American carriers just so happen to be renowned for having incredibly cheap—but also confusing—airfares, and both say they keep their fares low by offering minimal levels of customer service. The carriers we’re talking about are Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines, which both have complaint rates that are more than five times the industry average.

Also interesting is that complaints are rising at a time when airlines are incredibly profitable due to the combination of low fuel prices, diminished competition in a post-merger world, and persistently high airfares and traveler fees. All in all, while the airlines sure should be happy with how things are going, it seems to be a different story for airline customers.

TIME justice

California Court Gets One Step Closer to Deciding Uber’s Fate

An Uber ride in Washington on April 8, 2015.
Andrew Harrer—2015 Bloomberg Finance LP An Uber ride in Washington on April 8, 2015.

Lawyers argued over whether 160,000 Uber drivers in California can be treated as one class

For Uber’s lawyers, the case heard before theirs in a San Francisco courtroom on Thursday may have looked like a harbinger of future woes.

California Northern District Judge Edward Chen was going over the details of a $227 million settlement that FedEx, a 44-year-old company with close to the same value as 6-year-old Uber, agreed to pay earlier this summer. That payout should end an argument over whether FedEx misclassified 2,100 drivers as independent contractors in California and thus denied them benefits that employees get like overtime pay, reimbursed expenses and meal breaks. Soon Uber’s lawyers would be before the same judge arguing about the same classification question — with respect to about 75 times that many drivers.

At stake in a suit that could shape the future of the on-demand and sharing economies was the question of whether 160,000 Uber drivers in California can be treated as a single class. Uber’s lawyers argued that they cannot, that there is no such thing as a “typical” Uber driver and that it would make more sense for each driver to bring their own case — an expensive undertaking that most drivers likely wouldn’t pursue.

On the other side was Boston-based lawyer “Sledgehammer Shannon” Liss-Riordan, who spent a long, heated afternoon arguing that three Uber drivers should be able to stand in for all current and former drivers in the state. If Chen sides with her when he rules in the coming weeks, that would make this single suit potentially worth billions and capable of setting a precedent that sends other startups reeling to revamp their business models.

Following in Uber’s tracks, a long string of startups have shaped their business models around treating drivers or couriers or cleaners as independent contractors rather than employees. That’s a much cheaper proposition but it requires that companies give up control. While contractors legally can’t be told when or how to work, they also don’t have to be paid minimum wage or given money for the gas they use on the job. Uber doesn’t have to shell out any payroll taxes for independent contractors or pay them workers’ compensation.

Liss-Riordan, who was given her nickname by American Airlines skycaps after winning them a six-figure settlement in a wage-and-hour case, argue that Uber is really an transportation company using technology to pose as mere software licenser in order to save money and unfairly compete. The company exercises the kinds of control that employers do, she has argued, setting the rates that drivers earn per mile, telling them which models of cars they can drive and kicking them off the platform for getting low ratings.

In the arguments over the diversity of Uber drivers in California, questions arose about what all the drivers want — and whether it matters. Theodore Boutrous presented some 400 declarations from drivers who said they loved being contractors, that they didn’t want their status to change, that they cherished the freedom that their status affords them. If they were employees, “the business model would have to change,” Boutrous warned, “and there would be rigid schedules and this flexibility and this autonomy couldn’t exist.”

Liss-Riordan countered by offering a declaration from her paralegal, who had called about 50 of those drivers to ask if they understood the stakes. “They didn’t realize they could be reimbursed for expenses,” she said. “They didn’t really understand what this was about.” Chen questioned Boutrous’ claim that their flexibility would have to evaporate if they were reclassified, saying those drivers may have been under the impression that things would have to change rather than be within Uber’s discretion to change.

A growing group of startups who began their lives using the contractor model are reverting to more traditional employment, saying that they’re willing to pay the extra costs to have more direct control over their workers and their process. Curtis Lee, CEO of on-demand valet company Luxe, says that they hope that as employees their valets will be more likely to stick around and be more dedicated to the company. They still will not be required to work a minimum or maximum amount of hours as employees, he says, though they will start scheduling them in shifts. Lee also says that he doesn’t think the conversion is right or fair to force on every company. “For Uber, it’s a totally different situation,” he says.

Boutrous spent his day arguing that point, cataloging how some the 160,000 have agreed to 17 different terms of agreement, some of which forbade them from driving for other companies like Lyft while their Uber app is on (which many drivers do). He detailed how some have used Uber to start their own small businesses while others turn on the app just a few hours per week. While some of them do rely on Uber to make a living, others use it for a little extra cash or to make their car payments. “These are real live human beings who vary widely,” he says. “It’s a hornet’s nest.”

The day ended with Chen inviting the lawyers for the two remaining cases on the docket to approach the bench. Like Liss-Riordan, both of them were arguing cases against Uber, involving issues like how the company conducted background checks. Boutrous stood and reintroduced himself as the counsel representing the company in case after case. If Chen rules that the 160,000 drivers can go ahead as a class, that might make Uber more seriously consider settling that suit amidst its own hornet’s nest of legal troubles.

MONEY Tech

Great Scott! Where Is That Hoverboard?

Damn, where is that kid?

Marty McFly is probably riding his hoverboard into the further future because it’s 2015, and we still don’t have them yet. There’s a reason we don’t have hoverboards, jetpacks, or flying cars just yet: physics. It’s tough to get things off the ground without a great amount of power and propulsion pushing downward. Lexus’s test hoverboard uses nitrogen-cooled superconducting magnets to hover above the ground, but it can only do so above another magnetized surface. Jetpacks are tough, too; you have to push enough energy toward the ground without blowing your feet off. And flying cars have no regulation yet, mainly because the government hasn’t had to deal with anything that’s road-legal and legal to fly as well.

TIME Labor

Why Startups Are Making the Expensive Switch to Traditional Employment

"After a while you realize that some of the trade-offs you were making weren’t really good trade-offs"

Correction appended, Aug. 5

On-demand valet service Luxe announced Tuesday that they were expanding to an eighth city, Philadelphia—but that development was tiny compared to news that went out late last week: the company announced that the hundreds of workers who run around cities like Philadelphia in bright blue Luxe jackets, picking up and delivering people’s cars wherever users are, will all be converted from independent contractors to traditional employees.

That’s a move that will cost Luxe, as well as other hot startups that are reverting to doing things the old-fashioned way (at least in part) amid a mess of lawsuits over the status of workers in the on-demand economy. But they stand to gain a lot in return.

Many Silicon Valley companies have followed in Uber’s tracks and developed business models that assume their armies of workers will be treated as contractors. While the brass can’t legally tell contractors when to be on the clock, how to do their job or what to wear, they also don’t have to pay them overtime or guarantee them minimum wage or remit payroll taxes. The savings for companies is huge—probably in the billions per year for a business like Uber.

But while traditional employees cost more, employers get to exercise far more control over them, telling them precisely what to do and how to do it and, for that matter, in what color and style of outfit.

“It has to do with controlling the user experience,” says Luxe CEO Curtis Lee of why they are “making the switch” two years after the service started in San Francsico.” After a while you realize that some of the trade-offs you were making weren’t really good trade-offs.”

Under the contractor model, Lee says, the leaders at Luxe hadn’t been able to schedule workers for unpopular hours like late nights on Friday and Saturday; they could only bribe them to come online with higher rates of pay, as Uber does with surge pricing. They couldn’t provide thorough training or demand that they be considerate of other valets. “Now we can actually say, ‘Hey, you need to address the customer in a certain manner,'” Lee says.

Kevin Gibbon, CEO of San Francisco-based Shyp, says they made the same change earlier this summer because they wanted more “quality control” over couriers responding to on-demand shipping orders. Sometimes the closest courier wouldn’t feel like doing a job, so users would be left waiting for a more willing courier who was 30 minutes away. Other times couriers would respond to a request and then refuse to take whatever the user wanted to ship, perhaps because it was too unwieldy. Under a contractor model, there wasn’t much they could do about that. “As a contractor you have the right to accept or reject a job,” Gibbon says. As employees, part of the job description can include accepting all requests.

As an employer, Shyp will have to reimburse employees for job-related expenses like gas and car maintenance. Managers will have to make sure workers are taking breaks. Yet Gibbon hopes that they’ll also get more loyalty from couriers, who will feel more attachment to the company and will be more likely to stick around—saving Shyp from onboarding someone new and gaining them the productivity of a more experienced courier. People who want more a career path and less of a temporary gig might be attracted to working for them instead of dozens of other startups, he says.

Both Gibbon and Lee deny that the slew of worker-status suits against companies like Uber, Lyft and delivery company Postmates have anything to do with their decisions to abandon the contractor model. But plenty of startups may look at a company like Homejoy and see a cautionary tale. The on-demand cleaning service recently put up its mop for good, saying the “deciding factor” was four lawsuits it was fighting over worker classification.

One of the companies fighting a class-action suit is Instacart, a rapidly growing $2-billion startup that facilitates on-demand grocery delivery. When the business started, most of their contractors were both shopping for groceries and then delivering them, but over time those jobs have split. While some workers still do both jobs, many either spend all their time shopping in a store or out delivering the bags. Instacart recently announced that after a successful pilot, they would be offering some in-store shoppers the chance to become employees.

“We quickly learned that there were a lot of improvements and efficiencies with this new model,” says Andrea Saul, VP of communications, who could not comment on the pending lawsuit. “Shoppers got better and more accurate at picking items, so we had fewer order issues. Shoppers also got faster at picking items, so we had more on time deliveries.”

Instacart also noticed a better retention rate among those granted employee status and found them easier to integrate into the company culture. “Ultimately, even though the model was costlier for us, the change improved our customer’s experience,” says Saul. The lawyers pursuing the case applauded the change but say it doesn’t affect the years of expenses, for instance, they believe are due to more than 10,000 workers. Those delivering groceries continue to shell out for their own gas and car maintenance.

The main argument that companies like Uber make is that forcing them to classify their drivers—or cleaners or delivery people—as employees would force them to do away with the freedom and flexibility that attracts many workers to the on-demand economy. Contractors get to work as much as they want when they want. “If I don’t want to go out one night because my stomach’s upset or there’s a Game of Thrones marathon on or my cats are being really cuddly, I’m just not going to go out,” says Chicago-based Christopher Gutierrez, who loves driving for Lyft. “I can’t have middle management telling me things and having to abide by different codes.”

In a recent motion fighting a class action suit, Uber’s lawyers said they might be forced to change their entire business model, making drivers work in set shifts and requiring that drivers work only for Uber.

The smaller companies making this change say they’ll be able to retain flexible hours. Luxe’s Lee says they’ll set no maximum or minimum valets have to work or tell part-time workers they can’t also work for Lyft. While he expects more companies to follow in their footsteps, he also says that he doesn’t believe that the traditional employment model works for every company. Like a growing chorus of Silicon Valley disrupters and academics, he believers America should rethink employment.

“There are two old paradigms that were created long, long ago in a different world,” he says. “There really needs, eventually, at some point, to be maybe like a third classification.” The great unknown is what, even if there was the political will to create such a thing, that third category would look like.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated when Luxe announced a change in the employment status of its workers. It was July 30.

TIME People

Uber Wants Your Parents to Be Drivers If They Can Use a Smartphone

senior woman hands on steering wheel
Getty Images

The new economy is welcoming older Americans with open arms

“Companies don’t hire 50-year-olds. They just don’t.”

So says 50-year-old Sherry Singer. After decades of being a professional matchmaker, Singer wanted to change gears and start a non-profit, but still needed to pay the rent in L.A. Feeling she had few places to turn in the traditional job market, she looked to a more disruptive space: the booming on-demand economy led by Uber. Singer, who has now worked several of these freelancing jobs that didn’t exist a few years ago, found she could land a gig within a week.

Agism might be rampant in Silicon Valley, but some of the Bay Area’s leading companies are now actively trying to engage the senior crowd, recognizing the huge potential of experienced workers and responsible adults.

On Thursday, Uber announced a partnership with Life Reimagined, an organization under the AARP umbrella that exists to help older people figure out “what’s next?” after life transitions. The same day, Airbnb released data aimed at “celebrating” older hosts and guests, amid their executives attending summits on aging around the country.

“To overlook them participating in new activities would be really short-sighted,” says Airbnb’s Anita Roth, who attended a recent conference on aging hosted by the White House.

When these companies were startups that didn’t know how long they might survive, being short-sighted may have made sense. New tech companies have been started by young people who hire their young friends to help create solutions to problems they’re encountering in their own young lives. Their first customers are often their young, early-adopting friends who live in the Bay Area. But with valuations north of $25 billion, these “startups” are focusing on expansions into a more untapped demographic, which also happens to be huge and growing.

By 2032, Americans over the age of 65 will outnumber those under the age of 15. While bands of young companies are starting to pay more respect to the buying power of this demographic, Uber’s new effort is about recognizing their potential as workers. Life Reimagined bills itself as a helping hand for any adult in need of some direction—whether that person is a 42-year-old divorcee, 55-year-old empty nester or 66-year-old retiree bored nearly to death. Their mission isn’t just about helping people find new jobs or careers, but that’s often involved for participants who range from their late 30s to early 70s.

“The reality is there are far more adults looking for work than venues that are seeking to hire them,” says Emilio Pardo, Life Reimagined’s president. Their effort with Uber is explicitly targeting the “40-plus” crowd. The rideshare company said they don’t have a particular goal for how many drivers they hope to recruit.

Uber already has hundreds of thousands drivers coming onto their platform worldwide every month and expects perhaps another hundred thousand join their ranks in the U.S. over the next few years. Still, says Uber executive David Richter, they need to actively recruit. “We have the high-class problem of ever-increasing demand,” he says.

Uber previously engaged in targeted demographic outreach by trying to sell veterans on becoming drivers. The theory was that many veterans are task-oriented, disciplined and also looking for a healthy outlet “to bring those traits to bear,” says Richter. Those drivers turned out to get higher-than-average ratings; Uber hopes to repeat those results by capitalizing on older drivers who might provide a “more cautious, reliable ride.” According to a white paper released in January, Uber drivers are more likely to be young, female and highly educated than taxi drivers or chauffeurs. Still, about half of them are already over the age of 39.

What about the stereotype that grandma is a haphazard driver who goes everywhere with her blinker on and can operate a smartphone about as well as nuclear submarine? Ken Smith and Martha Deevy, experts from Stanford’s Center on Longevity, generally have a positive attitude about older people driving for Uber, saying that the flexibility those jobs provide will likely be attractive to retirees who need income but want flexible schedules. They also point out that if age 40 is the starting point, that means “there are 30 unambiguously safe years there.” If you look at fatal crash statistics, they point out, you could argue that getting into a car with a 65-year-old is safer than doing so with a driver who is less than 30.

Smartphones are required to do the job of being an Uber driver—as well as most new jobs in the on-demand economy—because it involves accepting and completing requests for rides through the Uber app. Just over half of 50- to 64-year-olds own smartphones, according to Pew, but those numbers are going up. In 2012, only 34% of them did. And, Richter says, new drivers can always lease a smartphone from Uber if needed.

The Center on Longevity is a leading organization dedicated to trying to figure out how Americans can all lead better, longer lives, a crucial mission given that our life expectancies have jumped 20 years since 1925. Airbnb worked with the group to develop a survey to learn more about their older users. Turns out, about one million of Airbnb’s guests and hosts are over 60. Considering 25 million people used Airbnb to find accommodations in the past year, that leaves a lot of room for growth, especially among a demographic that is more likely to own their own home. Like Uber’s veteran drivers, Airbnb’s older hosts also tend to get better reviews than the general population, Airbnb says. The majority of those hosts are either retirees or empty-nesters who start renting out rooms for the extra money; according to Airbnb’s survey, 49% of them are on a fixed income. But, Roth says, many people who come to the platform for the money end up staying for the social engagement and “renewed sense of purpose.” Isolation among older Americans, Life Reimagined’s Pardo says, “is fatal.”

Of course, the sharing and on-demand economies are not without their uncertainties and pitfalls. Lawsuits are alleging that companies like Uber are exploiting their workers, and cities like San Francisco are hotly debating how much home-sharing to allow. Though 50-year-old Singer continues to work for an on-demand ride company, she’s also a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Postmates, an on-demand delivery service for which she used to be a courier. The business models of these companies may have to change, but the fact that companies can benefit from giving older Americans more opportunities and attention will remain. “People are in a moment in America where either they can’t retire, don’t want to retire or they’re retired but they’re not done yet,” says Pardo. “It’s all about using the latest technology to actually open up a new opportunity, to give you options.”

TIME Wisconsin

Milwaukee Plane Crash Kills At Least 1

The pilot had asked to abort a landing just before the crash

At least one person is dead after a singe-engine passenger plane crashed in Milwaukee’s Lawrence J. Timmerman Airport on Wednesday, according to local news reports.

The plane burst into a fiery blaze after crashing onto the field.

The County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed at least one person is dead, reports WITI.

The plane, registered to Trustey Management Corp. in Boston, had radioed in for a “go-around,” or a request to abort landing, just before catching fire. The aircraft was manufactured in 2009.

Details on how many passengers were onboard or the cause of fire remain unknown.

 

 

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