Tag Archives: transportation

In Silicon Valley, Transportation Innovation Is a Flat Circle

A customer on one of Leap Transit's luxury buses in March 2015. The company would file for bankruptcy six months later. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Ride-sharing app Lyft has a new service available in Chicago and San Francisco that they’re calling a “shuttle.” According to Lifehacker, it works like this:

Lyfts can add up fast and Lyft Line, while less expensive, can take you out of your way and make your travel time much longer.

Lyft Shuttle addresses both those issues by having you walk to a nearby pick up spot, get in a shared car that follows a pre-designated route, and drops you (and everyone else) off at the same stop. So, basically, you share a ride with other people (most of the time) so your ride price is lower, but you know exactly how long the ride will take because you’re on a pre-designated route.

Sounds… familiar. Wait a second.

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In Guatemala on the Wrong Bus

People standing in a shop to get out of the rain at a Guatemala bus station
Rainy Day at Coban, Guatemala Bus Station via Wikimedia

Yes, yes, I like a good vacation as much as the next person. If you try to engage me in some dusty conversation about traveler v. tourist, I will roll my eyes and walk away muttering — an improvement over my previous vehement defense of tourists. Plus, we’re all tourists to the locals, insert swearing here.

But I hold a special place in my heart for disorganized, gritty, adventures, the sleep-deprived, culture-shocked displacement Pico Iyer’s career is built on describing, the mystery of simple things in places you don’t quite understand.

We ended up in a depressing but totally acceptable cave of a room with pea-green dishtowely things for curtains in the tiny windows that looked out on walls and a showerhead sprouting weird white cords that I hoped were not electrical although are there even other kinds of cords. It was probably $20 less than the Conquistador where, in an alternate universe, I was already chugging a beer in the shower. But it was clean and the door locked. I bought a beer. The lady overcharged me. I didn’t care at all but M. talked about it for days. I took a shower. It was cold. I didn’t care. We slept.

That’s why I’m enjoying this series by Sarah Miller on The Awl. In the first installment Miller explains how she’s off to Guatemala on a whim; the second (excerpted above) is about how she ends up traveling in exactly the way she does not want to.

Even while it’s not a trip I want to be on, I’m tagging along for the ride.

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My Electric Bike is Not ‘Cheating.’ And It Could Replace Cars for Millions of People

Boy learning to ride a bicycle
Learning to Ride a Bike via Wikimedia

“Hey, no fair! You’re cheating!”

The guy was wrapped head to toe in black Lycra. He had clip-in cleats and a racing helmet. I was wearing a skirt and blue suede shoes. He was annoyed because I’d passed him. He was riding hard, I could see his effort and as I pulled out on the left, I could hear him breathing.

This stretch of road doesn’t look like much, but it’s an uphill grade. When I’m heading into town, I hit it from a right turn or a full stop, both of which kill my momentum. It’s nowhere near the gut emptying climb before you reach my house, but it’s not a coast, either. Road bike guy had probably come from the park at sea level; he’d likely been climbing for a mile already. Read more…

Riding the Rails: Celebrating Trains and Subway Commuter Life

My other half Rebekah and I recently returned from Japan, and we’re in that rapture phase where you wish the things you loved overseas were also available in America. I already miss the 24-hour action of Japanese cities, their automated restaurants, the street-side vending machines — and public transportation.

In Japan, trains run on time. When the Shinkansen says it departs at 2:43, it departs at 2:43. It travels at 200 miles an hour, so good luck catching it. If a train is late, it’s likely because the world has ended. If the world hasn’t ended and it’s still late, the train company will print a note for passengers to give their employers, confirming the train was in fact behind schedule, because no one’s going to believe that’s why you were late for work.

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The Most Influential Box on Earth

The container’s efficiency has proven to be an irresistible economic force. Last year the world’s container ports moved 560 million 20-foot containers—nearly 1.5 billion tons of cargo altogether. Though commodities like petroleum, steel ore, and coal still move in specially designed bulk cargo ships, more than 90 percent of the rest—everything from clothes to cars to computers—now travels inside shipping containers. “Reefer” containers, insulated and equipped with cooling units, carry refrigerated cargo and are plugged into power sources on ships or at dockside. Because the containers are all identical, any ship can move them.

Those already huge numbers are expected to grow. Increasingly, cargo companies are looking for ways to move bulk cargo in containers, fitting the steel boxes with bladders to transport liquid chemicals or cleaning them and using polypropylene liners to move anything from soy, corn, and wheat to salt and sugar.

Adam Curry, writing in Nautilus about the history and influence of the thing at the center of our modern global transportation system, the universal unit that helps make the supply chain possible: the shipping container. Curry’s piece ran in July, 2013, and it’s as relevant as ever.

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The Benefits of Being No. 2 in Business

Back in the early 1960s, also-ran Avis — a smaller, less successful business than Hertz — decided to run a new advertising campaign, one that embraced its market position rather than trying to change it. “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder. Or else,” the company’s advertisements read. Avis’s initial business insight was to locate its cars at airports, not in downtowns, but its most ingenious one was to play up its inferior position. It focused on its newer fleet and better customer service, promising, “We’re always emptying ashtrays,” and “Since we’re not the big fish, you won’t feel like a sardine when you come to our counter.” The strategy worked: The company moved from the red to the black and expanded its market share — even, within a few years, coming close to beating Hertz.

It makes sense: Differentiate in order to compete. Upscale or downscale. Don’t go head to head. And so Lyft is driving away from it again — or, rather, doubling down on what made it different in the first place. “We’ve gotten to or are getting to scale in all our cities,” Zimmer told me. “What’s the next experiential push that helps us realize the broader vision?”

—What’s next for ridesharing’s biggest underdog? Annie Lowrey takes a look in “Can Lyft Pull an Avis?” in New York magazine.

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The Year That Cars Took the Roads Away from Pedestrians

In a new essay for Collectors Weekly, Hunter Oatman-Stanford and Peter Norton, author of Fighting Traffic, examine the history of the automobile in America, and how our perception of city streets changed:

In 1924, recognizing the crisis on America’s streets, President Herbert Hoover launched the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety. Any organizations interested or invested in transportation planning were invited to discuss street safety and help establish standardized traffic regulations that could be implemented across the country. Since the conference’s biggest players all represented the auto industry, the group’s recommendations prioritized private motor vehicles over all other transit modes.

Norton suggests that the most important outcome of this meeting was a model municipal traffic ordinance, which was released in 1927 and provided a framework for cities writing their own street regulations. This model ordinance was the first to officially deprive pedestrians access to public streets. “Pedestrians could cross at crosswalks. They could also cross when traffic permitted, or in other words, when there was no traffic,” explains Norton. “But other than that, the streets were now for cars. That model was presented to the cities of America by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which gave it the stamp of official government recommendation, and it was very successful and widely adopted.” By the 1930s, this legislation represented the new rule of the road, making it more difficult to take legal recourse against drivers.

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Longreads Archive: Collectors Weekly

Photo via Shorpy