To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Sunday, September 7, 2014

GM will introduce hands-free, foot-free driving in 2017 Cadillac


By Jerry Hirsch, September 7, 2014
V2V communications
 In this GM illustration, cars share data through vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology to keep a safe driving distance between them.

General Motors plans to start selling cars that can drive partially in an auto-pilot mode and that can exchange speed and safety data with similarly equipped vehicles.

The first features are expected to show up in high-end Cadillac vehicles for the 2017 model year -- in about two years -- but over time will move down market into GM’s other brands.

“Everyone recognizes that when cars can talk to each other and share information about speed, direction, operating performance and more, we'll save lives, save time and save money as well,” said Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive, in a speech to the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in Detroit on Sunday.

Barra talked about two initiatives the automaker has launched to commercialize “intelligent” car technology.

GM is to offer what it is calling “Super Cruise” in a new Cadillac model that Barra didn’t name.

The system will allow drivers to switch the vehicle into a semi-automated mode in which it will automatically keep the car in its lane, making necessary steering adjustments, and autonomously trigger braking and speed control to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.

“With Super Cruise, when there's a congestion alert on roads like California's Santa Monica Freeway, you can let the car take over and drive hands-free and feet-free through the worst stop-and-go traffic around,” Barra said. “And if the mood strikes you on the high-speed road from Barstow, California to Las Vegas, you can take a break from the wheel and pedals and let the car do the work.”

Other automakers including Mercedes-Benz, Acura and Subaru have started to put self-piloting functions in vehicles already on the U.S. market. They use technology similar to what will go into the Cadillac model but aren’t as expansive.

Both the Mercedes and Acura vehicles, for example, will automatically keep a car in a lane for a short period of time but will warn the driver to take control of the steering wheel after five to 10 seconds. The vehicles also have sensors that allow their cruise control systems to slow down and then speed up to adjust to traffic conditions and maintain a safe distance behind a car in front.

GM’s rivals also are working to develop their own partial auto-pilot systems.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA, has said that by the end of 2016, Nissan will start to market cars that can take over some driving functions, including a “traffic-jam pilot” that enables the vehicle to safely drive autonomously on congested highways. The Japanese automaker also plans to introduce cars that can autonomously negotiate hazards and change lanes by 2018.

However, “GM is pushing the boundaries here,” said Thilo Koslowski, auto analyst at Gartner Inc. “This is how the evolution to fully autonomous vehicles will occur.”

GM and other automakers will have to see how consumers take to these automated driving functions, Koslowski said, and there will be other questions, such as how insurance companies will deal with these cars. Some functions, such as systems that alert drivers to potential collisions and trigger the brakes, are already proving to reduce crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

GM’s Super Cruise system and its plan to start selling cars that can trade information with other vehicles is a reminder that the auto industry is not willing to give up control of these innovations to Google and other technology companies, Koslowski said.

“The next big challenge on the road to fully automated driving is to tackle the urban environment, where you have to dodge everything from jaywalkers and bike messengers to double-parked delivery trucks,” Barra said.

The GM CEO estimated that commercializing a fully automated vehicle may take until the next decade, but that the work that’s going on now in the auto industry is creating the building blocks for robotic cars.

Earlier this year, Google said it plans to test about 200 gumdrop-shaped, two-seat, self-driving cars. The testing program is to start later this year with a handful of early prototypes hitting the roads around the tech giant’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.

These first cars will have manual controls for the test drivers to override the cars' autonomous driving systems, as required by current California law. But Google plans to build the bulk of the cars as fully autonomous -- no steering wheel, no gas or brake pedal.

Automakers, including Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Nissan also are testing full self-driving vehicles and autopilot technology.

By 2025, as many as 230,000 self-driving vehicles could be sold each year globally, and that number could swell to 11.8 million a decade later, according to a study released this year by IHS Automotive.
Barra also announced that the 2017 model year Cadillac CTS will come equipped with so called vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology.

When enough autos on the highways have V2V communication, the technology is expected to reduce collisions and improve traffic congestion. Cars will send and receive basic safety information such as location, speed and direction of travel between vehicles that are approaching each other. The data exchange will warn drivers and trigger safety features, such as forward collision warning systems.

The first Cadillacs sold with V2V communication capability “will be very lonely cars in terms of finding another car to talk to,” Koslowski said. But he said GM was taking a “bold move” to tackle the chicken-or-egg question.

“They are doing this without any type of government mandate,” Koslowski said. “They are saying it is time to move the technology forward and this will motivate other manufacturers to follow suit.”

Although it will take years to get enough vehicles on the road for such a system to pay benefits, "it is a positive step," said Jeremy Carlson, an analyst with IHS Automotive. "We need this type of buy-in from the industry.”

Metrolink's annual ridership continues to drop


By Dan Weikel, September 7, 2014

Ex-Metrolink rider Sean Robb
 Sean Robb of Valencia stands on his former train platform at the Metrolink station in Burbank. Robb now drives himself to work instead of taking the train, which was often late, causing him to miss his bus connection to his job at Walt Disney Imagineering.

Sean Robb of Valencia regularly took Metrolink to and from work in Glendale until the trains increasingly fell behind schedule. It became so bad, Robb called the line "Metro-Late." He now drives to the office.

Levi Gelineau, an insurance salesman, used to ride the line from Simi Valley to Burbank. When fares rose, he bought a Toyota Prius. Now it takes a little more time to get to work, he says, but it's cheaper than the train.

They are not the only ones who have stopped taking Metrolink.

Once hailed as the fastest-growing commuter line in the nation, the railroad has seen its annual ridership drop by almost 595,000 passengers since 2008, with resulting losses in revenue. That and other factors have left the agency squeezed between trimming service or boosting fares, either of which could prompt more defections.

Officials of the six-county system — covering a region of more than 20 million people — mostly blame the downturn on the worst recession since World War II, which decimated the region's workforce.

They also note that downtown Los Angeles — the predominant destination for Metrolink commuters — is undergoing a residential renaissance but has faded as an employment center.

"Ridership should be growing given the size of the area Metrolink serves," said Richard Katz, a former state legislator and longtime board member for the railroad. "Though we have been attracting riders, we've had a hard time holding on to them."

The decline is occurring even though Metrolink has hired experienced marketing professionals, courted employers and tapped into Facebook and Twitter to reach tech-savvy millennials.

Express service, new lines and specialty trains to ball games, rock concerts and the beach have been added. Safety has improved since the deadly Chatsworth crash in 2008, and equipping rail cars with WiFi is planned.

But Metrolink officials, transportation experts and commuters say those measures are working against factors that have steadily chipped away at the railroad's ridership.

During the recession, the unemployment rate was 8% to 13% across the region and the number of annual boardings dropped from a peak of almost 12.33 million in 2008 to 11.14 million in 2011.
Until that time, Metrolink enjoyed steady growth. By the line's 10th anniversary in 2002, it had exceeded its ridership goals with almost 8.95 million yearly boardings. The system also had expanded from 112 miles of track in three counties to 512 miles in six counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura.

"The recession is a big part of the decline in ridership," said Robert Turnauckas, chief of marketing and communications at Metrolink. "It's been hard to recover from something so impactful."

By 2013 — after then-Chief Executive John Fenton put more emphasis on customer service and building ridership — annual boardings had recovered to almost 12.07 million.

Since then, ridership — contrary to projections — has dropped to 11.74 million. The dip, along with rising costs for fuel, operations and safety projects, prompted the railroad to trim service this year and seek more money from the five county transportation agencies that help fund the line.

Further challenging the recovery, Metrolink officials say, are shifting patterns of job growth across the region.

Studies indicate that the size of the workforce in the core of Los Angeles has stagnated somewhat in the last 20 years while the number of residents has tripled. At the same time, employment has risen in Orange County, the South Bay and on the Westside.

But only Orange County is served by Metrolink, and many new downtown L.A. residents tend to work closer to home and don't need the rail service.

"The job growth is not that high in downtown Los Angeles," said Brian Taylor, a professor of urban planning at UCLA. Metrolink's "ridership is very sensitive to economic change and employment shifts."

Metrolink officials say the railroad also has been stung by a reduction in the amount of fares that can be deducted from federal taxes and by recent declines in gasoline prices that have encouraged more driving.

Some transportation experts contend that the railroad might be bumping up against the limits of its market — a still-car-dependent region with multiple job centers.

"Transit, especially rail transit, competes poorly in modern, relatively dispersed environments," said Peter Gordon, professor emeritus of urban and regional economics at USC. "Rail transit best serves areas with dominant downtowns."

Some Southern California commuters say they like riding Metrolink, but the system needs more midday and late-night service. Others have found that express buses can be faster and cheaper. Also figuring into the loss of riders are poorly synchronized train and bus connections.

For almost two years, David Clubb relied on Metrolink to get to his office in Burbank. In the morning, he took a bus to the line's Simi Valley station, and he did the reverse in the evening.
The bus connection was good going to work, he said, but the return by train was often late.

"There was less than a five-minute window to catch the bus" on the way home, Clubb said. "If you missed it, the wait was 40 to 45 minutes for the next one. Rather than continue to lose time, I was willing to spend $30,000 on a car."

Although local transportation agencies periodically adjust their bus schedules to match Metrolink's, the lack of connectivity remains a serious problem, according to Bart Reed, director of the Transit Coalition, a nonprofit organization that supports public transportation.

Some of the most convenient bus and rail connections can be found in Orange County, where the local transportation agency has put a priority on coordinating timetables.

Metrolink officials say they are addressing the synchronization issue and working on other strategies to attract and keep riders, such as the planned Perris Valley Line in Riverside County.

Rail officials cite the creation of a $10 weekend pass that has become popular in the Inland Empire. They say their program for school field trips and partnership with the FlyAway Bus service to Los Angeles International Airport have also generated tens of thousands of boardings.

Michael DePallo, Metrolink's chief executive, says the effort is paying off. Preliminary figures for July and August show an uptick in riders of about 1.7% compared with the same period last year.

Railroad officials expect more boardings as the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority expands light rail and subway service to the Westside, which will provide commuters better access to job centers and popular destinations there.

To enhance regional travel, work is underway to build run-through tracks at Los Angeles' Union Station that will allow Metrolink trains to either make shorter stops or pass through the terminal without stopping.

The railroad is now preparing a long-range strategic plan that will evaluate ways to build ridership, including the possibility of reducing fares, an idea supported by Art Leahy, the chief executive of the MTA, which helps fund Metrolink.

As the line weighs its options, Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments, a regional planning agency, is optimistic. He predicts that ridership will grow as the economy improves, fuel costs rise, major transit projects are finished and car-averse millennials enter the workforce.

"The downward trend is not going to continue," Ikhrata said.