Guidelines for Driverless Buses

As I’ve said a few months ago in The American Prospect, driverless bus technology does not yet appear ready for mass deployment. However, research into this technology continues. Of particular note is Google’s work at Waymo, which a source within the Bay Area’s artificial intelligence community tells me is more advanced and more serious than the flops at Uber and Tesla; Waymo’s current technology is pretty good on a well-understood closed route, but requires laborious mapping work to extend to new routes, making it especially interesting for fixed-route buses rather than cars. But ultimately, automated vehicles will almost certainly eventually be mature and safe, so it is useful to plan around them. For this, I propose the following dos and don’ts for cities and transit agencies.

Install dedicated, physically-separated bus lanes

A bus with 40 people should get 40 times the priority of a car with one person, so this guideline should be adopted today already. However, it’s especially important with AVs, because it reduces the friction between AV buses and regular cars, which is where the accident in Las Vegas reference in my TAP article happened. The CityMobil2 paradigm involves AVs in increasingly shared traffic, starting from fully enclosed circuits (like the first line in Helsinki, at the zoo) and building up gradually toward full lane sharing. Dedicated lanes are a lower level of sharing than mixed traffic, and physical separation reduces the ability of cars to cut ahead of the bus.

If there is a mixture of AV and manual buses, both should be allowed in the dedicated lanes. This is because bus drivers can be trained to know how to deal with AVs. Part of the problem with AVs in mixed traffic is that human drivers are used to getting certain cues from other human drivers, and then when facing robot drivers they don’t have these cues and misread the car’s intentions. But professional drivers can be trained better. Professional bus drivers are also familiar with their own bus system and will therefore know when the AV is going to turn, make stops, and so on.

Use Kassel curbs to provide wheelchair accessibility

Buses are at a disadvantage compared with trams in wheelchair accessibility. Buses sway too much to have the precise alignment that permits narrow enough gaps for barrier-free access on trains. However, as a solution, some German cities have reconstructed the edges of the bus lane next to the bus stop platform, in order to ease the wheels into a position supporting step-free access on low-floor buses. Potentially, AVs could make this easier by driving more precisely or by having platform extenders similar to those of some regional trains (such as those of Zurich) bridging the remainder of the horizontal gap.

Driverless trains in Vancouver and even on Paris Metro Line 14 have roll-on wheelchair access: passengers in wheelchairs can board the train unassisted. In contrast, older manually-driven trains tend to tolerate large horizontal and vertical gaps blocking passengers in wheelchairs, to the point that New York has to have some special boarding zones for wheelchairs even at accessible stations. If the combination of precision driving and Kassel curbs succeeds in creating the same accessibility on a bus as on SkyTrain in Vancouver, then the bus driver’s biggest role outside of actually driving the bus is no longer necessary, facilitating full automation.

Don’t outsource planning to tech firms

Transit networks work best when they work in tandem. This means full fare and schedule integration within and across different modes, and coordinated planning. Expertise in maintaining such networks lies within the transit agencies themselves as well as with various independent consultancies that specialize in transportation.

In contrast, tech firms have little expertise in this direction. They prefer competition to cooperation, so that there would be separate fleets within each city by company – and moreover, each company would have an incentive to arrange schedules so that buses would arrive just ahead of the other companies to poach passengers, so there wouldn’t be even headways. The culture of tech involves brazen indifference to domain expertise and a preference for reinventing the wheel, hence Uber and Chariot’s slow realization that no, really, fixed-route buses are the most efficient way of carrying passengers on the street in dense cities. Thus, outsourcing planning is likely to lead to both ruinous competition and retarded adoption of best practices. To prevent this, cities should ban private operations competing with their public bus networks and instead run their own AVs.

Most of the world’s richest cities have deep pools of tech workers, especially the single richest, San Francisco. It would be best for Muni, RATP, NYCT, and other rich-city agencies to hire tech talent using the same methods of the private sector, and train them in transit network planning so that they can assist in providing software services to the transit system in-house.

Resist the siren song of attendants

Las Vegas’s trial run involved an attendant on each bus performing customer service and helping passengers in wheelchairs. A bus that has an attendant is no more a driverless bus than a subway with computer-controlled driving and an operator opening and closing doors is a driverless train. The attendant’s work is similar to that of a bus driver. If the hope of some private operators is that relabeling the driver as an attendant will allow them to de-skill the work and hire low-pay, non-union employees, then it’s based on a misunderstanding of labor relations: transit employees are a prime target for unionization no matter whether they are called drivers.

Ultimately, the difficulty of driving a bus is not much greater than that of dealing with annoying customers, being on guard in case passengers act aggressively or antisocially, and operating wheelchair lifts. Bus drivers get back pain at high rates since they’re at the wheel of a large vehicle designed for passenger comfort for many hours a day, but this may still be a problem on AVs, and all other concerns of bus drivers (such as the risk of assault by customers) remain true for attendants. Either get everything right to the point of not needing any employee on the bus, or keep manual driving with just some computer assistance.

Resist the siren song of small vehicles

All AV bus experiments I know of (which I know for a fact is not all AV buses that are trialing) involve van-size vehicles. The idea is that, since about 75% of the cost of running a bus today is the driver’s wage, there’s no real point in running smaller vehicles at greater frequency if there’s a driver, but once the driver is removed, it’s easy enough to run small vehicles to match passenger demand and reduce fuel consumption.

However, vans have two problems. First, they only work on thin routes. Thick routes have demand for articulated buses running at high frequency, and then vans both add congestion to the bus lane and increase fuel consumption (when the vehicles are full, bigger is always more fuel-efficient). And second, they lead to safety problems, as passengers may be afraid of riding a bus alone with 3-4 other passengers but not with 20 or more (Martha Lauren rides full London buses fearlessly but would make sure to sit near the driver on nearly-empty Baltimore buses).

Medium-size buses, in the range of 20-30 seats, could be more useful on thin routes. However, passenger safety problems are likely to remain if only a handful of people ride each vehicle.

Get your maintenance costs under control

If you remove the driver, the dominant factor in bus operating costs becomes maintenance. Assuming maintenance workers make the same average annual wage and get the same benefits as transit workers in general, the wages of maintenance workers are about 15% of the total operating costs of buses in Chicago and 20% in New York.

The importance of fuel economy grows as well, but fuel today is a much smaller proportion of costs. Around 3% in Chicago and 2% in New York. European fuel costs are much higher than Americans, but so are European bus fuel economy rates: in tests, Boris buses got 4.1 km per liter of diesel, which is maybe twice as good as the US average and three times as good as the New York average.

This suggests that with the driver gone, maybe 75% of the remaining variable operating cost is maintenance. Chicago does better than New York here, since it replaces 1/12 of its fleet every year, so every year 1/12 of the fleet undergoes mid-life refurbishment and work is consistent from year to year, whereas in New York the replacement schedule is haphazard and there is more variation in work needs and thus more idle time. The most important future need for AV procurement is not electric traction or small size, but low lifecycle costs.

Update: by the same token, it’s important to keep a lid on vehicle procurement costs. New York spends $500,000 on a standard-length bus and $750,000 on an articulated bus; the Boris buses, which are bilevel and similar in capacity to an artic, cost about $500,000, which is locally considered high, and conventional artic or bilevel buses in London cost $300,000-350,000. American cities replace buses every 12 years, compared with every 15 years in Canada, and the depreciation in New York is around 6% of total bus operating costs. Cutting bus procurement costs to London levels would only save New York a small percent of its cost, but in an AV future the saving would represent around 12% of variable costs.

Plan for higher frequency

AVs represent an opportunity to reduce marginal operating costs. This means transit agencies should plan accordingly:

  • Lower marginal costs encourage running buses more intensively, running almost as much service off-peak and on weekends as at rush hour.
  • Very high frequency encourages passengers to transfer more, so the value of one-seat rides decreases.
  • Higher frequency always increases capacity, but its value to passengers in terms of reduced wait times is higher when the starting frequency is low, which means agencies should plan on running more service on less frequent routes and only add service on routes that already run every 5 minutes or less if the buses are overcrowded.

36 comments

  1. IAN Mitchell

    “To prevent this, cities should ban private operations competing with their public bus networks and instead run their own AVs.”

    Wouldn’t it be more sensible to tender out private operators with given service areas (not necessarily specific routes) and minimum headways?

    • Alon Levy

      This only works if all travel is within service areas rather than between them. In New York you can only coherently divide the city into three zones: Manhattan and the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, and Staten Island. In London, which I’m pretty sure has the largest bus network in the first world, you can’t coherently divide the city into zones at all (and at any rate the city needs more integration between modes rather than less), and neither can you so divide Chicago.

  2. JJJ

    RE: Wheelchair access

    The other solution is just to have the bus deploy the ramp by default, like on the Curitiba BRT buses. While these buses are high level, with a high level platform, theres no reason you can’t do this with any bus height.

    See 1:08

    Blows my mind that US trains still use platform bridges to load wheelchairs rather than a ramp.

    • dfai

      For me the advantage of driverless buses is that, once the driver’s wages are taken out of the cost equation, it could replace frequency with vehicle capacity as the main determiner of route importance. So instead of dividing routes, for instance, into 5-, 10- and 15-minute headways depending on expected patronage (but all running with similar-sized buses), you have every route running 5-minute headways, but divide the routes into large, medium-sized and small buses. That way you can have a much stronger gridded network with convenient interchanging, as passengers know they will never have to wait more than 5 minutes for a bus, regardless of the route (maintaining even headways by avoiding bunching would also be important here).

      I hadn’t considered the safety issues of running smaller driverless buses with few passengers in them, although I imagine this is more perception than reality, and probably more relevant to the US than other countries (where it’s often racially coded). Surely an effective CCTV system would go a long way to allaying these kinds of concerns?

      • Erick

        I keep reading at many transit blogs that the biggest cost is the driver. I do not believe that to be true. Rightly or wrongly, in Canada at least the reason most systems do not want high frequency is that not only they might have to buy more expensive buses (capital expense looms way larger in transit executives mind than the public is willing to concede) but also fuel and maintenance. The driver simply doesn’t enter into the equation. Operators prefer to stretch the life of the bus by not running them.

        Electric buses will no doubt reduce the cost of maintenance and fuel, but as the capital expense is higher on such buses, I am not sure that bringing AV will change the equation that much.

        Even in a city that is calm like Ottawa, Ontario, I believe that most passengers would prefer not to ride in an AV as there are currently issues of safety. I agree with Alon that whether they drive or not if there’s on board staff, they will be unionized.

        That’s why I am not happy with cities bending over backwards to accommodate AV. AV is not developed to improve traffic or safety. It’s meant to eliminate union jobs, provide opportunities for governments to privatize what is actually a public service function. The last point is the only interest from “Silicon Valley” into AV. So since AV cannot by design improve road safety and efficiency and certainly not on board public transit safety, I believe it’s a solution in search of a problem.

        York Region privatized its system splitting into 4 private companies providing service, and quickly the costs came back up. It’s a fool’s errand.

        • Alon Levy

          What are driver salaries in Canada like? In New York it’s about $70,000 in base pay plus almost as much in benefits, and in Boston the base pay is $80,000 (and they still have trouble retaining drivers).

          • Erick

            In Ottawa it’s 55000 CAD to start and tops at 65000CAD plus benefits. But since Medicare is covered by income tax, benefits are considerably cheaper in Canada.

            When your 40 foot costs in excess of 600000 CAD and close to a million for the 60 foots, you tend to stretch them
            longer. Plus diesel is expensive in Canada. All in your driver is not that big a deal.

            Obviously I expect salaries would be higher in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal but not much.

          • Alon Levy

            How about pensions? In the US health insurance adds some to the base salary, but pensions add a lot more.

            The bus costs you’re citing are pretty high – they seem comparable to New York bus costs, not to London costs, and of course fuel in the US is cheap (and diesel here is undertaxed, although I think it’s still more expensive than in Canada). I imagine the buses’ fuel consumption in Canada is high as well.

            That said, even a fuck-the-planet American bus gets around 4-5 mpg, so call it 2 km/liter. At $1.30/l this is $0.65/km, maybe $8/hour (and if the bus is faster then it should get better fuel economy, so it’s a wash). Depreciation on the bus is comparable – $600,000 divided by 15 years times 40,000 annual km is $1/km, so maybe $12/hour. Maintenance at Chicago rate (1,100 workers/5.7 million hours) and $80,000/year including benefits is $15/hour. But then the driver is, at the same presumed pay rate, nearly $60/hour. Drivers do not get 40 revenue-hours a week, so you can’t just divide the annual pay by 2,000.

        • Michael James

          Erick, sorry but your maths is a bit dodgy there. To run one bus for, say 14 to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, 360+ days a year, would require at least 5 FTE drivers, which on your own figures is about 50% of the capital cost of a bus. That’s a single year, and these vehicles are designed for a 25 year lifespan. Of course more will be spent on their maintenance over that period than on their purchase.

          You’ll find the hesitation in buying new buses, by both fleet managers and politicians, is the immediate effect on operating budgets, ie. drivers. Especially as capital costs often come from a direct subvention from government while operational budgets are something the managers are held responsible for.

          For the moment all-electric buses may be more expensive than diesel, however this is just a transition period. They should become considerably cheaper quite quickly–no motor, no gearbox, no drive-shaft, no differential, no fuel tanks or lines and their safety issues–the only thing holding up a price drop is the size and cost of batteries. Then, the bigger long-term cost of maintenance will be a lot less (there is a lot less to wear out or go wrong). In fact I suppose there must be data on existing all-electric trolley buses though they are pretty old tech (single big motor needing drive-shaft & differential etc, instead of each wheel having its own built-in drive etc).

          • Erick

            I should have kept in mind that Ottawa’s operating practices are a bit on the outlier. We have a large territory for a small population (900 000+ for a territory the size of the city (but not the island) of Montréal. And indeed politicians have a nefarious influence. Because citizens complained about seeing buses parked at terminals and drivers playing cards in the driver’s lounge, Ottawa practices an extreme form of interlining where buses frequently deadhead across town (read 40+ km deadhead). Indeed we have amongst the highest amount of deadheading in Canada.

            Also my dollar figures are all in Canadian no US dollars.

            However diesel is way more expensive in Canada even before taxes which ridiculously enough transit systems have to pay! So if Ottawa was to keep buses in the same area we would consume a lot less diesel, but also reduce the maintenance bill which all that deadheading cause. Which probably explains why Winnipeg gets away with on average 17$ an hour for fuel when in Ottawa city council claims it’s in the neighbourhood of 30$ an hour.

            Also Canada being a small bus market and also because the Government of Canada, despite lobbying by bus builders, refused to institute a 12 year rule for subsidies (similar to FTA rules), well guess what the builders are factoring this in their price. Until recently the federal rules (which only applies to Gatineau, Windsor and Ottawa) meant that drivers were on the road for 12 hours. Indeed it caused many incidents (tired angry drivers) and accidents.

            Now the federal rules follow most provincial practice and set the hours of service with 10 hours with meaningful rest periods between shifts. But even with that we’re closer to 2,7 FTE for that bus, no where near 5 FTE. But the economy being what it is, they had no trouble filling classes for new drivers even though they were warned officially that they will get laid off once the main LRT line opens.

            I also believe that readers in the US underestimate what medical, dental and drug insurance costs compared to Canada. Pensions for drivers in Ontario were surprisingly well funded when in other provinces many pensions plan for municipal workers had “contribution holidays”. So we don’t have to catch up.

            While the city of Ottawa always look for and accepts subsidies, many of its bus purchases were paid directly by the city, especially once the Harris government in the 90’s slashed spending on transit. Despite changes in government the funding never truly came back. So perhaps Ottawa is different than other Canadian cities but I doubt that. And considering that Ontario just elected a faux-populist pseudo-conservative government, I do not expect much funding for bus purchases as opposed to grade-separated transit (the Premier’s mantra is subways, subways, subways). Indeed for the latest purchase, Ontario didn’t provide funding but the federal government did.

            But even when I lived in the Montréal area, where the Province of Québec typically provides the most generous funding for transit, fuel, maintenance and the desperate need to avoid buying buses, was what drove the political calculation.

            I can see though that in the US that calculation is upside down.

            The problem with AV though is that overall we are not reducing the headcount, merely that it provides an opportunity to privatize a social good by having IT staff on the payroll of a private sector contractor. That kind of personnel attracts higher salaries.

          • Michael James

            Erick, 2018/08/05 – 11:20

            Even at 2.7 FTE (which for 7/7 operation seems way too low) it still makes the wage bill bigger than capital costs. I am amazed at those working hours of Canadian bus drivers and would have thought ordinary road rules would have made it illegal (like Canada, Australia has vast distances–and sparse population–and so law on both freight drivers and private drivers has long been regulated to avoid the fatigue factor, which despite this, still causes more accidents than any other single factor). In Brisbane with its BRT and sprawled development, the bus service has a continual battle to find enough drivers. Not helped by fairly high turnover and awful employment practices such as the mandatory 6 month period that a “new” (ie. newly employed regardless of experience) driver remains on low wages during the probation period.

            I do not expect much funding for bus purchases as opposed to grade-separated transit (the Premier’s mantra is subways, subways, subways). Indeed for the latest purchase, Ontario didn’t provide funding but the federal government did.

            As I have written on Alon’s blog, I agree with those politician’s preference for subways. But I am a tad sceptical as it is a quantum order of difference in cost compared to buying a few hundred new buses (lucky to buy a km of subway). Here, it is the exact opposite as we are nothing if not short-termists looking for false savings on the cheapest possible option. Those “cheap” options have a very reliable habit of turning into the most expensive option long-term since the cost of a proper actual solution to congestion and transit (ie. subways, never buses) becomes ever more expensive. Our BRT became seriously congested almost ten years ago, such that ridership has declined. Because (1) it is grade-separated except at a few crucial points (which is where it has the heaviest traffic, bien sur; they “saved” on capital cost! it really needed a new bridge or even tunnel); (2) they run hugely long bus routes into the heart of the (constrained) CBD because politicians cannot face up to trying to persuade riders to change buses, hence bus congestion as they approach/leave the CBD.
            One government years ago put forward a subway plan that was costed at $16 billion (and this is just a tunnel to bring it into and traverse the river & CBD). Subsequently they have kept reducing its cost (probably meaning there will be all sorts of hidden costs that will bite later; SOP) but still haven’t managed to get the feds to offer any funding (our fabulously progressive PM Tony Abbott, 2013-2015, announced not a dollar of federal transport budget would be spent on rail!).

            If I had my way we’d subcontract all our city planning, especially transit planning, to the French (or failing that, to HK. No accident that Montreal has the best city transit in Canada.

            BTW, Canada makes a lot of dosh out of our city congestion. About 2 decades ago when something had to be done, and as usual our politicians (and to be fair, the voters) were too short-sighted to do anything themselves, they got private industry (in PPPs mostly) to build a whole network of very expensive road tunnels for which, of course, they were given 50-year leases on collecting the tolls. Needless to say, in the three cities concerned (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane) congestion has just continued to get worse while getting around costs a fortune in tolls. And even worse, the ownership of these road-tunnels has become a near-monopoly: Transurban. The original business plans of these expensive roads relied upon totally faked-up traffic forecasts and a lot of them went bust. I reckoned that was an opportunity for the city (actually these are state projects) to buy back ownership at bargain-basement but no. Instead other toll road operators bought them up from the receivers and Transurban has come to dominate.Their biggest shareholder? Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. These tunnels are the most profitable in the world with margins that are ridiculous but aided and abetted by the politicians who often serve on their boards in their post-political life. The voters finally began to wise up about 5 years ago but it is almost impossible to do anything about it. Even as the latest mega-tunnel projects (WestConnex in Sydney; East-West Link in Melbourne) became totally politicised and toxic.

  3. Untangled

    Another thing I would like to see happen is 100% low-floor buses, not just low-entry buses common in North America (and other right-hand drive countries, ie mostly current and former Anglosphere and Japan) today. No steps at all all the way to the back of bus, an extra door at the back and a vertically mounted engine (if it’s still diesel). And with no one on board anyway, there’s no more excuse to have all-door boarding.

    • Michael James

      That’s exactly what all-electric buses can be like. The smaller van-like ones already are (with small wheels) but given no drive shaft, engine, differential and actually no need for axels spanning the vehicle width … all possible.

    • Alon Levy

      I’ve read this while researching the post. Their information about Proterra is taken from the company’s own communications and happens to be incorrect, especially during cold winters.

  4. Connor Harris

    Minor language note: I do believe you mean “siren song,” not “swan song,” right?

  5. rational plan

    In London buses can lower themselves if there is a stroller or wheelchair user. There also has been an extensive programme of building mini platforms that match the height of the low floor buses. All they do is put in a short stretch of higher kerb (sometime it slightly projects into the roadway). In most cases it is almost level boarding, certainly so that many times people can get on the bus with only a small ramp extending out. For the able bodied the small height difference makes for much faster boarding as people don’t need to take care in getting on and off the bus. No need to cling to a hand rail as you try to get your footing. It’s especially handy for older travellers.

    • Alon Levy

      North American buses generally kneel, but it’s not enough for step-free access – it’s just for reducing step width and height for able-bodied people (esp. with luggage or strollers). Passengers in wheelchairs still need ramps.

      • Michael James

        Yes, they’re “kneeling” buses here too in Australia. I believe it is a universal Volvo design. But it still requires the driver to deploy a ramp (front entrance only) but these work on normal kerb. Seems pretty efficient–maybe only about one minute or so for the whole operation. Really only need this for wheelchair access, while baby prams manage with just the kneeling.

  6. Oreg

    The Swiss city of Sion has run van-sized AV (Navya) buses around their pedestrian zone since mid 2016. In March they expanded the route to 3 km (1.9 mi) including roads shared with regular traffic.
    Their press releases claim a success but the buses are excruciatingly slow, averaging only 6 km/h (3.7 mph). It seemed to me that pedestrians had quickly figured that the buses are ultra-cautious, so everybody steps in their way at will, relying on the bus to break. With no driver who could get angry and honk there is no social cost to this unfair behavior.
    I wonder how much this will be a problem for AVs in general.

  7. Midflinx

    Regarding attendants: In my region, not all the rules get enforced. Bus drivers are too busy, unable to see what’s happening, or regrettably sometimes uncaring. An attendant facing passengers capable of moving around would improve rider safety and experience because it’s their job stopping people from scratching windows, eating and throwing wrappers on the floor, and inappropriate behavior making other passengers feel unsafe. They could handle small issues and summon police for large ones. If paid less than drivers, some money would still be saved while riders would have a safer, better experience which increases ridership.

    More money could be saved if a smaller total number of attendants divide their time riding many buses each day. Every bus has an employee present for a chunk of every hour. Where bus lines cross paths, or inbound and outbound buses are nearing each other, attendants transfer to different buses and ride them until there’s another place to transfer.

    A third possibility is compared to today, equip all buses with more cameras, microphones, speakers, a few screens, and enough cellular modems to transmit a few of the feeds at once to a control center. Center employees monitor banks of buses, perhaps 4, 9, or 12 per person. They can switch which camera feeds are transmitting, so they can view any camera aboard, but each bus also has enough local storage to record the feed from every camera. If a crime occurs the local recordings are retrieved. The speakers and screens allow center employees and riders 2-way communication as necessary. “Call” buttons on each bus let passengers request control center monitoring. The bus agency smartphone app also lets people discretely request monitoring, 2-way communication, or police.

    The third possibility makes it more feasible to provide service with relatively little crime using a wider range of vehicle sizes. If low ridership routes don’t need large capacity vehicles, with their larger and more expensive motors, batteries, and other materials, and smaller vehicles have comparatively low-enough maintenance and procurement costs, then increasing service frequency with smaller vehicles could be the way to go on those routes.

    • Alon Levy

      Roving attendants are great at making sure people commit crime when the attendants aren’t around. And my only response to the idea of recording every bus rider on a microphone and camera is “who won the Cold War, again?”.

      • Midflinx

        Ever had a laptop with an LED that lit up when the camera was active? Do the same for microphones on buses. Maybe an audible chime indication too. By default the microphones are off. Remember the public outrage in the San Francisco Bay Area when people found out most of the BART car cameras were dummies and crimes weren’t being caught on camera?

        In the next month or so the BART board is going to further consider installing “video screens showing real time station images and enhanced video surveillance signage. The idea would be tested at San Francisco’s Civic Center Station where video screens would be strategically placed at station entrances to remind riders the area is under surveillance. Additionally, signs that inform people in and around the station that they are under video surveillance would be installed.”

        In some other metro areas I understand this kind of surveillance on public transit won’t be popular, but in at least one region, most of the riding public will welcome it.

        • Alon Levy

          The entirety of BART’s security is designed to simulate a totalitarian state. Give them a year and they’ll start face-scanning passengers like in Beijing. A handful of busybodies who imagine themselves as the Stasi rather than as the people blackmailed by the Stasi ask for something, and BART board members who don’t even take the trains listen. Over here in the free world, it’s impossible for the state to track your movement on public transit without a court order.

          San Francisco isn’t even an especially dangerous city. Its murder rate is toward the low end by large US city standards, and the trend is down (link). There are people being obnoxious on the trains, but it’s not actually escalating to serious violent crime.

          • Midflinx

            Riders don’t just want a system where they aren’t killed. They also don’t want to be victims of aggravated assault, or robbery, both of which have increased. Those are reasonable wants.

            You’re jumping to an extreme response (facial tracking), but ignoring the elephant in the room. Not only do our phones let police track our whereabouts when investigating crimes after the fact, but driverless vehicles from private companies are going to be kitted out with cameras and microphones. Waymo’s have a button for passengers to talk to an operator. Private malls and businesses also have live security monitoring via overhead cameras. Private transportation providers are going to do what you don’t like, and slowly but surely increasing numbers of riders will accept it.

            The companies will cut deals with smaller and mid-sized cities providing public transportation for less money, or better service for the same budget. All the while they’ll be in big metro areas providing a mix of last-mile service and longer trips siphoning at least some additional riders from public systems. Some cities will resist the wave more than others, but plenty will change as I described. As more change pressure will increase on holdouts still keeping their human drivers, both from corporate lobbying and the public who want the increased service frequency.

          • Alon Levy

            But people in San Francisco are not actually being killed. SF is not a dangerous city. Tellingly, the murder rates in Washington, Philadelphia, and Chicago are much higher, but there are no calls for more surveillance and tracking on their metro networks. What people complain about in SF is specifically antisocial behavior, and not so much actual violent crime. Violent crime rates in all categories move together with murder; if there’s a local divergence it’s most likely an artifact of reporting rates. The issue with SF isn’t actual robberies so much as middle-class people who associate poor (often homeless) people with robberies.

            Are driverless vehicles really going to surveil passengers? The trains in Vancouver don’t, and had an open zonal proof-of-payment system in which you couldn’t be tracked at all until two years ago, and the busybodies who insisted on faregates and smartcards were concerned over fare evasion, not on-train crime. The faregates themselves were botched and the system would be better off without them. The driverless trains here don’t track passengers.

          • Michael James

            On this I am with you. It is the UK who led the world in being a surveillance state (well it is the country of Orwell and Huxley). Beginning in the 80s (under Thatcher, of course) it began putting cameras on every high street and soon became the per capita world leader. Today it may well be China. But (without consulting any hard data sources) I am pretty sure it did not lead to any lowering of crime rates, and wasn’t necessarily expected to. It was supposed to increase apprehending and convicting criminals but I am not sure it even did that. It probably did lead to increasing popularity of hoodies (and burkas?).

          • Midflinx

            I agree the murder rate in SF is low compared to some other cities, but last month’s three deaths in one week from three separate attacks on BART capped off frustration and anxiety that’s been building for a few years now.
            https://www.sacbee. com/news/state/california/article215392800.html

            It’s been building from the increasing rates or reports of aggravated assault and robberies.
            https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal. com/2017/08/28/violent-cellphone-robberies-bart/

            Robberies on BART rose 45% between 2016 and 2017. It’s not an artifact of reporting rates. Criminals likely heard about this new tactic and decided to try it. BART struggled to respond. The three deaths last month increased pressure.
            https://www.sfgate. com/crime/article/Crime-stats-show-where-surge-in-BART-robberies-is-11108092.php

            Bay Area public buses already record passengers from multiple angles. I have every expectation Navya and other companies making driverless shuttles will too. I haven’t been in a Waymo minivan, but in this picture there’s what looks like it could be a camera just above the four buttons at the top of the passenger compartment.

            https://o.aolcdn. com/images/dims?quality=100&image_uri=http%3A%2F%2Fo.aolcdn.com%2Fhss%2Fstorage%2Fmidas%2Fadfb2587ea1d75b74d08bfaeeba9a3c7%2F205816666%2Fwaymo-chrysler-pacifica.jpg&client=amp-blogside-v2&signature=e3f30de07d03b13382410cb19d105f85792c698e

            If there’s no driver or attendant, a logical way of discouraging crime is active monitoring of video feeds. It’s what retailers and other private businesses already do.

      • adirondacker12800

        Where do you think those videos on the news, of someone committing a crime on a bus, come from? There have been cameras on the bus for quite some time.

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