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Infrastructure in the News 9.30.16

SPECIAL COVERAGE: HOBOKEN TRAIN CRASH

 

New York Times: Hoboken Train Crash Kills 1 and Injures Over 100

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/30/nyregion/new-jersey-transit-train-crash-hoboken.html

A careening commuter train plowed through the barrier at the end of the tracks and crashed into a wall at a terminal here during the morning rush on Thursday, killing one person, injuring more than 100 others and unleashing chaos as part of the station’s roof came tumbling down in a jumble of metal.

 

CNN: Hoboken train crash: 1 killed as focus turns to rail safety

http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/30/us/new-jersey-hoboken-train-crash/index.html

Investigators have retrieved an event recorder from the passenger train that crashed Thursday in Hoboken, New Jersey, and information from the device will be downloaded on Friday morning, a US official with direct knowledge of the probe said.

 

USA Today: Why automatic brakes on trains may have prevented the Hoboken, N.J., tragedy

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/09/29/evening-news-roundup-thursday/91267590/

More than 100 people injured. At least one person dead. Hoboken, N.J., commuters were stunned Thursday after a commuter train plowed into a rail station during morning rush hour. The crash occurred about 8:30 a.m, and the train had about 250 passengers and crew at the time.

 

NJ.Com: Does this preventable train crash highlight Christie's failure to fund transportation? | Mulshine

http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/09/a_preventable_train_crash_highlights_christies_fai.html

Chris Christie's really, really bad week just went to horrible.

 

ABC7 (California): CALTRAIN EXAMINES SAFETY PROTOCOLS IN LIGHT OF HOBOKEN CRASH

http://abc7news.com/news/caltrain-examines-safety-protocols-in-light-of-hoboken-crash-/1532983/

Witnesses to the Hoboken crash say the train didn't slow down as it approached the station. In the Bay Area, many systems have safety measures that automatically keep speeds down, but it's still a year away from Caltrain.

 

Lohud (New Jersey): Day after Hoboken crash: 'A lot of trepidation'

http://www.lohud.com/story/news/transit/2016/09/30/rockland-commuters-hoboken-train-crash/91312118/

Rockland County commuters are fearing the worst as they travel through New Jersey following Thursday's fatal train crash in Hoboken.

 

Bloomberg: Hoboken Crash Tests a Railroad Beset by N.J. Fiscal Crisis

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-29/beleaguered-n-j-transit-gets-another-round-of-rail-hardship

A fatal train crash that caused structural damage to a major Manhattan-area station exacerbates troubles at New Jersey Transit, which operates one of the nation’s biggest railroads and has been besieged by aging equipment and slipping reliability.

 

The Christian Science Monitor: Hoboken crash: Is the nation's rail system in need of repair?

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2016/0929/Hoboken-crash-Is-the-nation-s-rail-system-in-need-of-repair

The New Jersey Transit train that crashed into a station Thursday morning during rush hour is the latest tragedy for a transportation agency already plagued with problems – and it’s one that some say could have been avoided.

 

NATIONAL NEWS

 

Transport Topics: Future Transportation System Must Accommodate Freight Increase, Foxx Says

http://www.ttnews.com/articles/basetemplate.aspx?storyid=43359

In the coming decades, consumer demand for goods and services will lead to a sharp increase of trucks on the country's roadways, prompting a need for greater capacity, the nation's top transportation official told an audience in downtown Washington, D.C., on Sept. 28.

 

Associated Press: Flooding closes roads and schools along mid-Atlantic coast

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/flooding-closes-roads-and-schools-along-mid-atlantic-coast/2016/09/29/92ba64a0-8671-11e6-b57d-dd49277af02f_story.html

Some schools are closed and many roads are impassable after heavy overnight rains deluged parts of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.

 

Washington Post: The real reason Donald Trump’s favorite airports are so much better than America’s

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/09/29/the-real-reason-trumps-favorite-airports-are-so-much-better-than-americas/

In the first presidential debate Monday night, Donald Trump praised the gleaming airports of Dubai, Qatar and China, holding them up as a counterpart to grungy American airports such as LaGuardia, Kennedy, LAX and Newark. “Our airports are like from a Third World country,” he said.

 

Wall Street Journal: Car Makers Rev Up Push Into Electric Vehicles (full article follows Morning Transportation)

http://www.wsj.com/articles/car-makers-rev-up-push-into-electric-vehicles-1475141404

Elon Musk has long had the stage to himself as he championed zero-emission vehicles, and his upstart company, Tesla Motors Inc., became the touchstone for battery-powered cars.

 

Wall Street Journal: Google Quietly Expands Ride-Sharing Service (full article follows Morning Transportation)

http://www.wsj.com/articles/google-quietly-expands-ride-sharing-service-1475179947

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has quietly opened its Waze ride-sharing service to San Francisco-area users, expanding a pilot program and confirming the company’s interest in the lucrative ride-hailing industry.

 

STATE NEWS

 

WEAU (Wisconsin): Kleefisch talks about transportation funding during UW-Stout visit

http://www.weau.com/content/news/Kleefisch-talks-about-transportation-funding-during-UW-Stout-visit-395353981.html

Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch says Governor Walker is making sure Wisconsin has safe and dependable roadways.

 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin): Abele asks for $60 wheel tax in 2017

http://www.jsonline.com/story/news/local/milwaukee/2016/09/29/abele-asks-60-wheel-tax-2017/91262778/

A $60 vehicle registration fee, or wheel tax, is needed beginning in 2017 to help pay for Milwaukee County's bus transit system and costs of repairing county highways and parkways, County Executive Chris Abele said Thursday.

 

New York Times: Penn Station Reborn

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/09/30/opinion/penn-station-reborn.html?_r=0

Train stations are more than just a bunch of platforms for getting places. They’re portals. New York used to have two of the world’s most ennobling entrances, announcing the city in all its ambition and glory, Grand Central Terminal and the old Pennsylvania Station.

 

Duluth News Tribune (Minnesota): State rolls out long-term transportation plans for review

http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/4126140-state-rolls-out-long-term-transportation-plans-review

Having solicited the opinions of thousands of residents, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will begin showcasing its long-range plans at public meetings throughout the state on Oct. 6.

 

myStatesman: Austin transportation bond opponents find ally in Ora Houston

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/local/austin-transportation-bond-opponents-find-ally-in-/nshbJ/

City Council Member Ora Houston promised to help lead the campaign against Mayor Steve Alder’s $720 million transportation bond — and she began to make good on that Thursday night, hosting a forum that was highly critical of the proposal.

 

MagicValley: Twin Falls starting update to transportation plan

http://magicvalley.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/twin-falls-starting-update-to-transportation-plan/article_14a7a12d-7be6-5be8-a705-b856ac7c138e.html

Twin Falls’ Transportation Master Plan is getting an update, ahead of the creation of a new regional transportation planning organization that is expected to happen after the 2020 Census.

 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Leaders look to improve freight connections between St. Louis and New Orleans

http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/leaders-look-to-improve-freight-connections-between-st-louis-and/article_70728ff4-4a1c-5642-82eb-cfedf71bf08d.html

Better linking the St. Louis region to the Port of New Orleans means changing habits, said Gary LaGrange, president and chief executive of the New Orleans port.

 

By Brianna Gurciullo | 09/30/2016 05:40 AM EDT

With help from Lauren Gardner, Eric Wolff and Doug Palmer

FEDS INVESTIGATING HOBOKEN CRASH: One of the big questions FRA and NTSB officials will be asking in coming days is whether Positive Train Control could have prevented a commuter train from smashing into the New Jersey Transit station in Hoboken, N.J., during Thursday's morning rush hour, killing a woman on the platform and injuring more than 100 others. The other, of course, is what led to the wreck. No public explanation of cause was given by authorities on Thursday, as investigators worked to determine whether the engineer was at fault or if a mechanical failing or other circumstances beyond his control were to blame.

The rundown on PTC: None of NJ Transit's trains contain full PTC functionality. It petitioned FRA for an exception from PTC requirements for the Hoboken terminal in 2010, as our Lauren Gardner reported . Federal officials granted the request. The law allows railroads to ask for exemptions from PTC installation mandates on certain track segments. For passenger terminals, railroads must show that trains won't travel more than 20 miles per hour in the area - and that onboard PTC equipment will control for speed despite the absence of wayside signals. Railroads also have to demonstrate that trains will abide by interlocking rules that forbid reverse movements without an OK from signals or dispatchers, and that they won't share tracks with freight operations.

Waiting for the facts: White House spokesman Josh Earnest and the governors of New York and New Jersey struck a cautious tone on the PTC question Thursday. "Once we have the facts, if there is a lesson to learn, we will learn it," N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Train was moving too fast: "The train came in at a high rate of speed, and the question is 'Why is that?'" said N.J. Gov. Chris Christie. "We won't know that for some time." Bella Dinh-Zarr, the NTSB member leading the board's investigation, said the speed limit heading into the station is 10 miles per hour. The train was eight minutes late and never decelerated in the moments before it crashed into a concrete and steel bumper, The New York Daily News reported, citing authorities.

IT'S FRIDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Please send tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to bgurciullo@politico.com or @brigurciullo.

"Headed down south to the land of the pines. I'm thumbin' my way into North Carolina. Starin' up the road and pray to God I see headlights."

Want to keep up with all of MT's song picks? Follow our Spotify playlist.

HOBOKEN IMPLICATIONS: Many lawmakers reacting to the news Thursday lamented that the crash may have been preventable - and some called for more investment in technology like PTC.

- Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Transportation Committee: "While we are just beginning to learn the cause of this crash, it appears that, once again, an accident was not prevented because the trains our commuters were riding lacked positive train control - the longer we fail to prioritize investing in rail safety technology, the more innocent lives we put in jeopardy."

- Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development: "If safety mechanisms like positive train control could have stopped the train in its tracks, then Congress' continued foot dragging on rail investment is all the more outrageous."

- Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee: "There is an urgent need to invest in rail safety nationwide, including technology like Positive Train Control, as well as new equipment and better training. Having advocated and fought for Positive Train Control and opposed delays in requiring it, my hope is that there is added impetus and momentum for immediate, stronger rail safety efforts."

- Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.), in a letter to NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart: "Sadly, accidents on our public transit are all too common. I will continue to work in Congress to provide necessary transit funding and push for the full implementation of Positive Train Control and other important safety technologies."

AVIATION CAP-AND-TRADE STILL CIRCLING THE TOWER: Concerns from China, Russia and India have delayed completion of discussions of the International Civil Aviation Organization's executive committee about whether to endorse a proposed international cap-and-trade program. Plugged-in sources told MT that the text received broad support Thursday, but the chair is going to hold meetings with a small number of countries that have reservations in the hopes of bringing them on board. If the executive committee endorses the program, it will go to the plenary for approval.

Nancy Young, vice president for environmental affairs at Airlines for America, who's in Montreal, said the chair will come back this afternoon with proposals for tweaks. Environmentalists are concerned that while the chair promised not to reopen the draft, any adjustments could further weaken what they already consider a weak program for carbon reduction.

SENATORS CALL FOR INVESTIGATION OF RAIL TAKEOVER: Forty-two senators want the Obama administration to launch an investigation into whether Chinese Railroad Rolling Stock Corporation's pending takeover of Vertex Railcar Corporation should be halted because of national security concerns. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the senators say they are also worried that the acquisition would put American jobs at risk by transferring railcar production to China, Pro Trade's Doug Palmerreported. Fifty-five members of the House called for a similar investigation in July.

AFA-CWA ENDORSES CLINTON: Hillary Clinton secured the endorsement of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA's board of directors. "We have experience with Hillary Clinton as a champion for flight attendants, especially as the leading voice for the technical correction to [The Family and Medical Leave Act] and the relentless advocate for 9/11 first responders," AFA said in a statement Thursday. "Parallel to our union's progress for flight attendants, Secretary Clinton's fight - long and historic - has opened the door for women to overcome discrimination, sexism, and become equal partners in shaping our future."

SHIFTING GEARS: The Intelligent Transportation Society of America has hired Jeff Davis, the former director of business at Development for Homeland Security Solutions Inc., as senior vice president of membership and business development. ITS America has also brought on Jason Goldman, the former interim executive director of TechFreedom, as vice president of external affairs and stakeholder engagement. And the group promoted Steve Bayless to vice president of regulatory affairs.

THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):

- "Package-delivery drones likely years away from federal approval." The Wall Street Journal.

- "Amtrak, airline and package delivery company employees got rich as DEA informants." The Washington Post.

- "United taps criminology students to uncover patterns in accident data." The Wall Street Journal.

- "Airbus Group to merge with its jetmaking unit - sources." Reuters.

- Wildstein alleges Port Authority doled out favors in Jersey City mayoral race. POLITICO New Jersey.

- "Google quietly expands ride-sharing service." The Wall Street Journal.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 70 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 364 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 38 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,464 days.

THE DAY AHEAD:

8:30 a.m. - K&L Gates and the Consumer Technology Association hold a discussion on vehicle technology. FHWA Administrator Gregory Nadeau will deliver keynote remarks. Panelists include Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety; Paul Nagle, chief counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade; Justin Holmes, director of corporate communications at Zipcar; Roger Cohen, policy director at PennDOT; and Ann Wilson, senior vice president of government affairs at the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association. K&L Gates, 1601 K St. NW.

2 p.m. - The Advisory Board of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation meets via conference call. SLSDC Policy Headquarters, 55 M St. SE, Suite 930.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at transpocalendar@politicopro.com.

To view online:
https://www.politicopro.com/tipsheets/morning-transportation/2016/09/feds-investigating-hoboken-crash-019410

Stories from POLITICO Pro

Hoboken crash cause unknown, but questions about PTC swirl Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/29/2016 08:14 PM EDT

It's still unclear whether positive train control could have prevented a train crash in New Jersey this morning, and pinning the accident on the technology's absence will be difficult until more information is known.

So far, all that's been publicly released is that the train was speeding before it crashed. The potential reasons for why remain open- including malfunctioning brakes, which would not implicate PTC.

White House, federal, and state officials have been careful to avoid touting the saving grace of PTC, but some lawmakers have implied that the technology could have prevented the crash, which killed one woman and injured scores of others.

"While we are just beginning to learn the cause of this crash, it appears that once again an accident was not prevented because the trains our commuters were riding lacked positive train control," Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

None of New Jersey Transit's trains contain full PTC functionality, and in 2010 the agency petitioned FRA for an exception from PTC requirements for the Hoboken terminal, where today's crash occurred. The petition was granted.

Railroads can ask for exemptions from PTC mandates on certain track segments. For passenger terminals, railroads must show that trains won't travel more than 20 miles per hour. Additionally, a train must have other equipment on board that could slow down a speeding train in the case of human error.

Back

Christie: Hoboken train was moving too fast Back

By Lauren Gardner | 09/29/2016 03:07 PM EDT

A commuter train that crashed into a Hoboken, N.J. rail station this morning was speeding, the governors of New York and New Jersey said today, though they declined to speculate on why.

While investigators are still piecing together what exactly happened, it's clear that the New Jersey Transit train entered the station at a "much too high rate of speed," said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie added that the engineer was injured but is "fully cooperating with law enforcement and the investigation."

The governors and a White House spokesman also declined to comment on whether positive train control could have prevented the crash, which killed a woman on the platform and injured 108.

"I think at this point it's too early to tell what impact the deployment of the positive train control system would have had in this situation," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters today. "I actually don't even know as we're standing here whether or not there is positive train control in that part of the system."

The NTSB is en route to the scene, and may hold a public briefing later today.

Back

Senators urge probe of China acquisition of railcar maker Back

By Doug Palmer | 09/29/2016 04:09 PM EDT

A bipartisan group of 42 senators is urging the Obama administration to investigate whether a Chinese company's acquisition of a majority stake in an American railcar manufacturer should be stopped on national security grounds.

"The Obama administration has a responsibility to review foreign investment transactions that could have national security repercussions - especially when related to critical infrastructure, like railroads, public health systems and water systems," Sen. Jerry Moran says in a statement.

"In this instance, given the Chinese government's role and relationship with involved parties, it would be careless to allow the transaction to be completed without investigating the potential security implications," Moran added.

The senators say in their letter, sent yesterday to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, that they also are worried that state-owned Chinese Railroad Rolling Stock Corporation's pending takeover of Vertex Railcar Corporation would endanger American jobs by transferring production of railcars to China from the United States.

"The state-owned CRRC is the largest railcar manufacturer in the world - four times larger than the entire U.S. rail manufacturing sector," the senators say in the letter to Lew, whose department chairs the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

"CRRC has already begun to underbid domestic competitors for railcar contracts in Boston and Chicago," the senators say. "In effect, American railcar manufacturers and their associated industries, such as steel, must now compete against all the resources of the Chinese government."

A bipartisan group of 55 House members also wrote Lew in July to urge an investigation on national security grounds.

Back

Wildstein alleges Port Authority doled out favors in Jersey City mayoral race Back

By David Giambusso | 09/29/2016 05:29 PM EDT

NEWARK - David Wildstein testified Thursday that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, on behalf of Gov. Chris Christie, gave $1.5 million to the Hudson County Urban League for State Sen. Sandra Cunningham to keep her from running against Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, as a favor to the mayor.

That was among several details that emerged as Wildstein, the chief witness in the so-called "Bridgegate" trial, faced his second day under cross examination. Evasive and recalcitrant through four hours of questioning, Wildstein ceded very little ground to Michael Baldassare, who is representing Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority. But Wildstein admitted the authority was routinely used as a means of rewarding allies and punishing enemies of the Christie administration.

"Do you remember the Port Authority giving money to someone named Sandy Cunningham?" Baldassare asked, later adding the money was given to the Urban League for Cunningham, who has ties to the organization.

"I believe it was in the neighborhood of $1.5M," Wildstein said, adding it was for a job training program.

"Isn't it the case that the reason the Hudson County Urban League got that money was because Mayor Steven Fulop asked the governor to help keep Sandy Cunningham from running against him?" Baldassare asked. "And the governor wanted the Port Authority to give that money to the Hudson Urban League so that Sandy Cunningham wouldn't run against Steven Fulop; correct?"

Wildstein replied, "That is my understanding, yes, sir."

Cunningham, in a phone interview, said this was the first she had ever heard of the allegation and said she had never planned to run for mayor, so there would be no reason to try and get her out of the race.

"I don't know what it's about to be honest. I had never said that I was running for mayor. I never raised any money. I never filed any paper work. I didn't take a poll," she told POLITICO. "People assumed I was running, but it had nothing to do with me. So there was nothing the governor could do to convince me not to run because I was not running."

She said she she did advocate for a grant from the authority because she was approached by the League for help alleviating unemployment in Jersey City's struggling neighborhoods.

"I said, 'Well I can ask him,' because we need jobs," she said, referring to Christie. "The Urban League and getting jobs was a separate issue."

A press release from the bi-state authority confirms the award was made in February 2013, while the election in Jersey City was underway.

A spokeswoman for Fulop said the mayor also had no knowledge of the arrangement.

"The mayor had no involvement or conversations whatsoever with anyone with regard to any grants with regard to the Urban League," Fulop spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said in an email.

Fulop, who on Wednesday declared his intention not to run for governor, received help from the Port Authority in a business deal with FAPS, an automotive company he consulted for before becoming mayor, according to testimony and emails.

If a political assist from the Christie administration was meant to win Fulop's loyalty, it failed. Fulop never endorsed the governor and has been a critic of the administration on multiple fronts.

Wildstein also alluded to funding in "the seven figures" being awarded to Essex County on behalf of Christie. Essex County executive Joe DiVincenzo, a Democrat, is a long-time ally of the governor's. There was no mention of quid pro quo in the Essex award during testimony.

The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The allegations emerged in a line of questioning almost as a side note and was abandoned shortly after it was brought up by Baldassare.

Throughout the day, Baldassare attempted to diminish Wildstein's credibility by painting him as a wily political operative, prone to dirty tricks and given to bragging about his exploits. Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty to federal charges around the lane closures, named Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, as his co-conspirators.

Wildstein hesitated to concede even the smallest points under cross examination, saying he didn't recall even the amount of times he met with prosecutors to prepare his testimony.

The bulk of the afternoon centered around the so-called "traffic study" - the alleged cover story for the lane closures, masking the true intent of the closures, which prosecutors say was political retaliation directed at the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee when he did not endorse Christie's re-election bid.

Baroni testified to the state Legislature in 2013 that the lane closures were meant to study how traffic patterns would change between the main entrance to the George Washington Bridge, via I-95, and local lanes coming from Fort Lee.

According to testimony Thursday, Baroni was briefed before his appearance in front the Legislature by Regina Egea, a former Christie aide, and Phil Kwon, once a nominee to the state Supreme Court.

Wildstein will undergo further questioning Friday by Baldassare and Michael Critchley, Kelly's attorney.

This story has been updated with additional comment from the trial.

Back

Wall Street Journal: Car Makers Rev Up Push Into Electric Vehicles

Elon Musk has long had the stage to himself as he championed zero-emission vehicles, and his upstart company, Tesla Motors Inc., became the touchstone for battery-powered cars.

 

When nearly half a million Tesla fans paid $1,000 each this spring to reserve the company’s next-generation Model 3 ahead of its late-2017 launch, many auto executives scoffed.

 

“Let’s see if they can build them,” Thomas Weber, board member in charge of research and development at Daimler AG, said at the time.

 

Now, the enormous hype around Tesla’s Model 3 preorders, slowly rising consumer demand and looming emissions regulation appears to have jolted conventional auto makers into action.

 

At the Paris Auto Show, which begins this week, major auto makers unveiled plans to accelerate development of electric vehicles over the next few years.

 

Volkswagen AG, still reeling from its emissions cheating scandal sought to show it had cleaned up its act. It presented a concept vehicle, a prototype of a battery-powered, fully self-driving Golf that the company said could go into mass production in 2020. The company is planning to introduce 30 new electric vehicle models by 2025.

 

“This car is to fight Tesla and the others, not our conventional competitors,” said Herbert Diess, head of the Volkswagen passenger-car brand. “We have to take them very seriously. It’s not rocket science. The other competitors are making great progress.”

 

Until now, government incentives have driven the adoption of electric vehicles in many markets. Norway and the Netherlands, two of the smallest auto markets, became the biggest markets for electric vehicles through subsidies and other incentives to promote electric cars, which are still more expensive than conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles.

 

But over the next decade stricter emissions targets in Europe, the U.S. and China will increase the costs of developing conventional combustion engines. Falling battery costs will also make electric vehicles more competitive. By 2030, AlixPartners, a consultancy, predicts that electric vehicles will largely replace diesel, especially in smaller cars.

 

“This will go down as one of those years where it all started to change,” says Andrew Bergbaum, managing director at AlixPartners.

 

European Union sales of electric vehicles—battery-powered, extended-range vehicles, fuel cell vehicles, and plug-in hybrids—rose 17% to 70,127 vehicles in the first half of this year from the same period last year, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

 

In Paris, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz unveiled a battery-powered sport-utility vehicle, a direct competitor to Tesla’s Model X, which will have a range of 310 miles on a single charge and is slated to launch in 2020. The vehicle will be part of a new sub-brand of Mercedes called EQ.

 

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche acknowledged that manufacturers were still suffering from an oversupply of electric vehicles in a market where consumer demand remained weak because of the high cost of the vehicles and a lack of charging stations, but suggested the situation could change soon.

 

“When will the customer independent of regulation and independent of incentives consider electric vehicles fully competitive with combustion engines? We are convinced that within our planning period we will see the tipping point,” he said.

 

Sports car maker Porsche, owned by Volkswagen, took the wraps off a plug-in hybrid version of its sporty Panamera sedan that will combine a 462-horsepower 2.9-liter V-6 twin turbo engine built by Audi with an electric motor that has 136 horsepower.

 

But Porsche’s big leap into electric autos comes with its Mission-E, which was unveiled at last year’s Frankfurt Auto Show and is expected to be built beginning in 2020.

 

Paris also will see the launch of a number of mass-market electric cars.

 

Volkswagen plans 30 new electric vehicle models over the next decade; by 2025, one of every four cars it sells will be pure electric or plug-in hybrid, the company has said.

 

General Motors Co. launched the Chevrolet Bolt in the U.S. and will follow in Paris with the Ampera-E, a battery-powered compact that resembles BMW AG’s i3 electric city-car.

 

Amid the rush, some are more cautious.

 

For instance, BMW recently extended the range of its i3, but the model is struggling, selling only around 25,000 vehicles last year.

 

Nevertheless, Ian Robertson, BMW board member in charge of sales, dismissed criticism that the Munich-based company’s electric vehicle strategy was in disarray, saying the company was first among its competition to build an electric vehicle.

 

“There are plenty of companies out there playing catch up. We’re delivering to real customers,” he said.

 

Wall Street Journal: Google Quietly Expands Ride-Sharing Service

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has quietly opened its Waze ride-sharing service to San Francisco-area users, expanding a pilot program and confirming the company’s interest in the lucrative ride-hailing industry.

 

Smartphone users in the San Francisco area now can download a mobile app called Waze Rider to request rides to and from work from drivers using Google’s popular Waze navigation app. Google in May launched a test of the carpool service for workers at several area employers, but the service has been gradually rolling out to San Francisco-area users for several weeks, Google confirmed Thursday.

 

The Wall Street Journal reported Google’s ride-sharing plans in August.

 

The Waze service puts Google in more direct competition with ride-hailing incumbents Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. But there are differences. Uber and Lyft drivers largely operate as taxi drivers, while Google wants the Waze service to match riders and drivers already headed in the same direction.

 

For now, Google is limiting drivers and riders to two rides a day—intended to be to and from work—and made it cheap, restricting drivers from making a living on the app. Such measures also could be designed to avoid regulatory scrutiny.

 

A Journal reporter took a Waze Rider trip Wednesday night from San Francisco’s financial district to Oakland. The service had some bugs: the app didn’t display to the rider where the driver’s car was before pickup and the driver couldn’t use Waze’s navigation service during the ride. But overall it went smoothly.

 

Google paid the driver, local bar manager Mae Coates, $6.30 for the roughly 20-minute ride and charged the rider just $3, a discount as part of a promotion for the service’s launch. The same ride outside of rush hour would cost $23 to $30 on Uber or Lyft, according to the companies’ apps. A subway ride that distance costs $3.45.

 

Ms. Coates said she signed up to be a driver because it was “hassle-free.” She told Waze her general schedule and her home and work addresses, but she didn’t have to provide proof of insurance, send a photo of her car or pass a background check. A Google spokeswoman said the company doesn’t plan to require such information because it is simply a platform to connect drivers and riders headed in the same direction.

 

Ms. Coates said the Wednesday trip was her first with Waze but she likely would do it again because it is an easy way to earn a few extra dollars on her commute home, she said. She doesn’t drive for Uber or Lyft because she has a full-time job.

 

“I think it’ll catch on,” she said. “It’s cheap and it’s easy.”