Morning Ed: Transportation {2017.07.11.T}

[Tr1] The flying cars are finally coming! To the 2020 Olympics, it turns out.

[Tr2] I was thinking to myself as I was filling up how the existence of the diesel pump seems like a tribute to the yesterday’s forgotten tomorrow.

[Tr3] Maybe Louis CK had it all wrong and it turns out that being unhappy will make things better.

[Tr4] How the FAA killed Uber for planes. I could make a case that Uber for planes would be good for the environment because more people per load, or that it would be bad if it subsidizes more plane trips in the overall.

[Tr5] I think I’ve linkied a piece before on supersonic flight and the ban thereon, but here’s an argument for lifting it.

[Tr6] While I did expect this to an application of autonomous cars, I didn’t expect it to be one of the earlier ones.

[Tr7] Airlines really need to stop doing this sort of thing. They say it was a mistake in ticket-scanning, but I’m honestly a little skeptical and am worried that airlines might really start seeing toddler seats as seats they can give to someone else in a jam.

[Tr8] Essential Air Service can be justified, but Hagerstown is not really an appropriate use for it. I suspect this is one of those things you have to do to get to 60 senate votes.


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Will Truman is a former para-IT professional who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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69 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Transportation {2017.07.11.T}

  1. Tr7: fortunately they did not hit bad turbulence on that flight. If they had, they might be paying out for considerably more than the mom and toddler’s discomfort.

    It suggests to me that there’s something really screwed up in United’s management or how they “empower” their employees to do stuff (or not) that these things seem to keep happening. I mean, it’s a big world and lots of weird stuff goes down, but really? making a kid give up a seat that was paid for just so you can cram another standby passenger on? Especially after the whole doctor-dragging incident.

    It’s kind of penny-wise but pound-foolish because eventually they’re going to wind up paying out a lot of big settlements if/when people are injured, and I admit, if I were flying, I’d be looking at carriers other than United, even though they’re pretty much all bad.


      • I don’t fly United, period. I am actually a bit worried with the new travel rules at work that I may be forced to if they are the lowest cost carrier.

        As a person that has already raked 110k miles with United this year, i can give you loads of comfort; if you are to fly the lowest cost carrier, you will never see the inside of a United plane.

        We mourn Continental every single day. May it’s memory never perish


    • I think there is two things here with United. One, now they are on everyone’s radar, so anything they do is going to be scrutinized. Two, you put your finger on it with “empowered.” There is a reason you have management to make decisions and this is the reason.


  2. Tr5: Yes, time to lift it. Sound pressure does drop off with distance, and aeroacoustic engineers have been working on ways to shape the boom for decades. A new SST could be barely louder than a 747 flying overhead.


  3. Wait, before I click on any links… have they all been vetted for proper authorial views on all the right things?


    • In most other countries, making sure the most ecobomically important metropolitan area in the country had great infrastructure would be a no-brained. In America, tribal politics and the cult of the car makes the entire New York metro area suffer immensely.


        • Not Mississippi per se but upstate New York basically takes money out of the subway and (NYC-Metro generally) in a wealth transfer.

          I think Lee is right about the cult of the car. It seemingly exists even in areas where lots of people use commuter rail and/or public transportation to get to work. Plenty of people commute via bus/train and subway to their jobs from the suburbs of NYC (whether in NY, NJ, or Connecticut) but the cult of the car still reigns.

          There is also a stupid governance structure to the MTA that allows politicians to pass the buck and finger point until it was too late.

          This just isn’t NYC. I hear about growing pains and age pains in almost every city with a major commuter population like Boston, Portland, SF-Bay Area, etc.


    • I suspect that nothing will be done because of politics. Upstate New York doesn’t want downstate New York to get money. Republicans get political points for denying Democratic voting areas funds and the culture war against transit still exists.


  4. Tr6: Worth noting that as always with these “autonomous cars are here!” stories it turns out that there is in fact a human driver. While the story hints that this is simply due to silly bureaucratic regulations, later on it discusses two situations where human intervention was needed. Also, that it turns out that this was a limited experiment in an especially benign environment.

    In other words, this is all consistent with the pattern of “We’ve solved 95% of the problem. How hard could the last 5% possibly be?”

    I’m not saying that autonomous cars aren’t coming, but I am saying that we aren’t going to have them in any non-trivial sense within five years of when we first began hearing that we would have them in five years, and probably in five years from now.


    • “delivery is limited to the bounds of Berkeley Homes, a gated residential development in Woolwich with limited traffic.”

      This presents the juxtaposition of the safety of private land with the consumer expecting higher service (people likely wanting personal delivery).

      Looking into Berkely Homes, however, it appears that these are new high-end apartment buildings in large mixed-use developments along the Thames, not American-style low-density single-family residences. I’m not sure that what streets are being navigated, but it looks like they would essentially be parking lots and drives that interconnect them. Maybe some of the walkways are wide enough that limited small vehicle traffic at crawling speeds is permitted. Also noticed that there is a farmer’s market within the development, so one can see the appeal of getting perishables within walking distance and getting staples for delivery so one doesn’t need to rub shoulders with filthy mudbloods.


    • You can solve the last 5% of the problem by designing it out of the world.

      We don’t, for example, worry about what happens when you have to drive your commuter car really fast over a non-prepared dirt surface, because we’ve made prepared roads everywhere that you might want to drive a commuter car.

      Similarly, one way to not have to worry about autonomous vehicles running over people is to make it illegal to walk on a road intended for autonomous vehicles, and make it a matter of law that if someone’s in a forbidden zone and they get killed by a robot it’s their own fault.


      • Good luck with that, unless you’re going for some kind of “electric fence” device.

        I’ve seen people walking on the INTERSTATES here. People gonna people, and people too broke to have a car (or who drank too much to keep a license) tend to figure out creative ways to get places.

        That said: I would be in favor of stronger enforcement of “Please don’t walk in the street, especially when there are sidewalks.” I’ve had to slam on my brakes a lot of times in the past few years.


        • Sure, but when you hear about a person getting killed crossing the interstate, how often does the driver of the vehicle that killed them face criminal or civil penalties?

          IIRC, the law is on the driver’s side in such cases, because pedestrians are not supposed to be there.


          • yeah, but I suspect that doesn’t make it any less-bad for the driver, if they’re someone with a fairly normal human conscience.

            I had a girl (texting!) walk out between two parked cars on a residential street. I didn’t hit her, it wouldn’t have been my fault if I had, but I’m sure it would have wrecked my life. (And also, the way the newspaper here likes to play up that stuff, I would have been painted as the villain, anyway)


        • Oh, I don’t doubt at all that people will still walk on the robot roads. The point is that it will be explicitly clear, under the law, that if you’re walking on a robot road and you get run over, it is not the fault of the robot car’s owner or designers. (It’s not currently a matter of settled law who is at fault if a pedestrian is walking in a “no pedestrians” area. Obviously you can sue anyone for anything, but it’s a lot easier to get a motion to dismiss accepted if there’s black-letter law defining liability in a particular situation.)


          • At some point it’s like walking along the subway tracks. You should expect a train to want to occupy the space you’re occupying sooner or later, and nobody really expect somebody walking on the subway tracks. Walking on the subway tracks is just one of those little luxuries we forgo in order to have working subways.


      • I don’t think the last 5% of the problem is solved by making roads for robots limited access. The existing limited access roads are not going to be the source of the problem, but we’re back to two continuing assumptions — infrastructure renovations away from current usages to benefit new technology, coupled with modifications to the liability system to benefit the investment class.


      • It is one thing to have freeways, or their equivalent, limited to autonomous vehicles. That’s not what we have been promised. We have been promised a door to door driverless experience. If this entails outlawing people from walking across the street, it ain’t going to happen. Similarly grandiose schemes of massive infrastructure embedding clever devices into roads when the real-world problem is paying to fill the potholes.


    • I do love the co-axial rotary wing. And yes, the proper term is co-axial, not double rotor (WTF is that?). That pusher prop is a nice touch, although it kinda makes it look like a kids bath toy.


    • I just watched a YouTube video of the S 97, the promo made by Sikorsky. The last caption says “Prepared for future vertical lift”.

      What does that mean, even? The aircraft is never shown actually lifting off. Does it roll down a runway to take off at this stage, and they are saying, “Well, eventually it can take off directly”?

      Why is that hard? I’m really confounded.


  5. I would have had so much respect for you, Will, if you’d posted a link to a David Duke article this morning. Sometimes you’ve got to lean into the joke.


  6. Tr2 – There are lessons to be learned here about science and about technological tradeoffs, but the policy innovators are always too busy pursuing the next big idea to learn lessons from the last one.


  7. Tr2: That is a lot of discussion to talk about the fact that the problem is the fuel, not the engine. You want a diesel to burn clean, put kerosene in the tank instead of diesel fuel (or even one of the JPs).

    My hovercraft would burn all of them, but I much preferred using JP4 or JP7 (kerosene was a very rare treat, since finding someone with 20000+ lbs to spare was a trick), because bunker fuel (diesel fuel marine, or DFM) was about as clear as a pint of Guinness, while the JPs were as clear as a light lager. Guess which one made the engines stink, fouled the fuel nozzles and turbines, and gunked up the fuel filters faster?


      • Diesel, JP4, JP7, Kerosene, it’s all the same molecule just different degrees of refinement and paraffin/impurities content.

        Put kerosene in a diesel engine and you’d probably need to adjust the compression ratio a bit (I don’t recall off the top of my head, but I think you’d want to dial the ratio down a touch for kerosene, it might ignite prematurely in a normal diesel).

        Hell, an unmodified diesel engine will happily burn used cooking oil and smell like french fries & fried chicken (had a neighbor who ran straight veggie oil in his old Mercedes during the summer, always made me hungry every time he drove by…). They are very robust engines.


        • Cool. We could hear those on Del Mar. I went on a float to the Aleutians whose goal was to test the LCAC’s on the sea ice. It was a fun little trip, at least for us jarheads. I don’t think the LCAC dudes had as much fun.


          • The LCACs can break ice, a little over a foot thick, IIRC. Technically they are designed for arctic ops, but it’s hell on the hydraulics, and if the ship doesn’t have a closed well deck, maintenance is a bitch in the cold. But I never got to do a blue nose trip, I spent all my time closer to the equator.


            • IIRC, they worked well on the sea ice, but the chunky ice tore up the skirts. One of them sat out on the chunky ice for a couple of hours after a breakdown. I felt sorry for the dudes because they had to change the skirts or parts of the skirts a few times. We were on an LSD–the Germantown–it was a nice ship. Much better than the LPD i was on for WESTPAC.


              • Yeah, chunky ice would be hard on the skirts, especially as it got brittle in the cold.

                I like the Whidbey Island class LSDs, we worked with the Germantown & the Comstock rather often (she was new back then). Much better than the old, busted ass Anchorage I was deployed with. Although the WI-LSDs lacked the barn doors that the Anchorage had, and one of our boats smashed into the stern gate during recovery ops when a strong side wind pushed her to port. Trashed the gate arm and did a number on the bow of the LCAC. Not sure if they ever fixed that, or if it remains an issue.


  8. The problem with Uber for planes is that it was trying to have it’s cake and eat it too. They were acting like setting up an app on the Internet was the equivalent of a single pilot putting up a poster at the local small airport.

    Guess what, if you’re advertising the fact you want to take people places, you’re not just a pilot offering up your extra seats so you can get more practice – you’re an airline.

    What the FAA is trying to prevent, with their common-carrier criteria, is the possibility that an average Joe on the street is going to pay for a ride in a plane thinking that it’s safe when there’s no regular maintenance/inspection done on the plane and no drug testing done on the pilot.

    The difference is also is that private airplanes have a safety record far closer to automobiles and motorcycles than actual airplanes. Plus, after a Google search, I found things such as Imagine Air and Surf Air, which are far closer to ‘Uber for airplanes’, that have fleets of smaller planes with commercial pilots, that do shared or private flights that still do innovating pricing schemes, but are A-OK with the FAA.

    EDIT: I mean, I just looked, and in this case even the infamously nutbar Reason commenters pushed back on this article


    • There is something to be said about the FAA deciding to quash it through a broad rule interpretation, rather than going through the rule-making process (i.e. it’s dirty pool), but the FAA does have that authority, and it seems as though the courts were pretty squarely aligned on that.


  9. It’s funny to see that described as a “Lockheed Martin” helicopter. It’s a Sikorsky product in its entirety; LM bought Sikorsky last year.

    Although it does bring things around, because Lockheed designed a pusher-prop helicopter back in the 1960s (the Cheyenne). So I guess they’re back in the helicopter business!


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