March 2023 Tech Updates

  • Author: Kevin Chambers
  • Date: March 30, 2023

It’s been a busy first quarter of 2023, and a lot’s been happening in the world of transit technology news. The start of the great American EV battery revolution, the end of “moonshot” Silicon Valley, a new cybersecurity assessment tool, thinking about “technical debt,” time for more electricians, Via keeps growing, and a lot of new research relevant to small transit agencies. These are just a few of the transit tech stories curated for mobility managers who want to stay in the know.


Ride-share companies are losing billions, so why their interest in unprofitable public transport? by Neil G Sipe, The Conversation
“Why do Uber, Lyft, Didi, OLA and other ride-sharing companies want to partner with public transport agencies?” 

California court defends independent contractor status for gig workers by Aneurin Canham-Clyne, Smart Cities Dive
“The California Court of Appeal upheld the independent contractor provision of Prop 22, but struck down portions that would’ve made it almost impossible to amend the law.”

Autonomous Vehicles

Zoox robotaxis start rolling out on California public roads by Kirsten Korosec, TechCrunch
“More than two years ago, Amazon subsidiary Zoox unveiled an electric, autonomous robotaxi it built from the ground up. Now, the cube-like vehicle that is loaded with sensors — and not a steering wheel — is starting to roll out on a few public roads in northern California.”

The age of the Silicon Valley ‘moonshot’ is over by Gerrit De Vynck, Caroline O’Donovan, and Naomi Nix, The Washington Post
“Big Tech’s cost-cutting and layoffs are another nail in the coffin for the industry’s most ambitious and costly projects. […] And even the most advanced of its side projects — self-driving car lab Waymo and health-care tech start-up Verily — are now confined by the limits of regular businesses. On Wednesday, Waymo laid off 8 percent of its workforce, adding to a previous round of cuts in January.”

Elon Musk’s Appetite for Destruction by Christopher Cox, The New York Times 
“A wave of lawsuits argue that Tesla’s self-driving software is dangerously overhyped. What can its blind spots teach us about the company’s erratic C.E.O.?”

How Elon Musk knocked Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ off course by Faiz Siddiqui, The Washington Post
“Tesla’s campaign to deliver a fully autonomous vehicle has suffered amid mounting safety concerns — and the boss’s Twitter distraction”

“Game over” for autonomous shuttles in mixed traffic? Results from field surveys among pedestrians and cyclists on how they interact with autonomous shuttles in real-life traffic in Norway by Torkel Bjørnskau, Ole Aasvik, Tim De Ceunynck, Aslak Fyhri, Marjan Hagenzieker, Carl Johnsson, and Aliaksei Laureshyn

Mercedes-Benz is the first to bring Level 3 automated driving to the US by Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge
“Mercedes certified that its technology meets Nevada’s ‘minimal risk condition’ requirement that requires Level 3 or higher ‘fully autonomous’ vehicles to be able to stop if there is a malfunction in the system.”

Vehicle Electrification

The Great American EV Battery Revolution Might Finally Be Here by Mark Bergen and Gabrielle Coppola, Bloomberg
“Companies plan dozens of factories in hopes of building a domestic supply chain from scratch.”

Hertz Increased Its Fleet Of Electric Rental Cars — Then, Its Profits Exploded By Brendan O’Leary, The Cool Down
“The revenue figure is in part explained by corporate demand for rentals provided by Hertz rising to 70% of pre-pandemic levels. But another key contributor was Hertz’ discovery that EVs are between 50-60% cheaper to maintain than gasoline-powered cars.”

America’s most important EV is also its goofiest by Umair Irfan, Vox
“A massive bulk purchase like this stands to move the entire EV market, spurring demand for the entire electric car supply chain, from batteries to semiconductors. The economies of scale could then lower the cost of these vehicles for everyone, making it easier to decarbonize transportation, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US.”

USPS will order 9,250 Ford E-Transit EVs and 14,000 EV chargers by Mitchell Clark, The Verge
“The USPS says that it should start receiving the E-Transits in December, assuming everything goes to plan. Last year, it said that the new Next Generation Delivery Vehicles should be servicing mail routes by the end of the year.”

Electrifying Public Transit: Evolving Toward an Electric Bus Fleet by Anthony Allard, Mass Transit
“In a future where EVs become the norm rather than the exception, public transit agencies will face a range of new variables they will need to juggle.”

To get off fossil fuels, America is going to need a lot more electricians by Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
“A shortage of skilled labor could derail efforts to ‘electrify everything.'”

Hey EV Owners: It’d Take a Fraction of You to Prop Up the Grid by Matt Simon, Wired
“If you agree to provide some of your car’s battery power in times of high energy demand, you’ll get paid, and help make the grid more stable.” Presumably, this applies to EV bus fleet owners as well.

A zero emissions future without the mining boom by Blanca Begert & Lylla Younes, Grist
“A new report from the Climate and Community Project, a progressive climate policy think tank, offers a fix. In a paper out on Tuesday, the researchers estimated that the U.S. could decrease lithium demand up to 90 percent by 2050 by expanding public transportation infrastructure, shrinking the size of electric vehicle batteries and maximizing lithium recycling.”

Nearly $1.7 billion funding available to deploy clean transit buses across U.S., Intelligent Transport
“Provided through two federal grants, the $1.7 billion funding will enable state and local agencies to purchase new zero-emission buses, and boost workforce development initiatives to train employees for skilled jobs.”

Mercedes-Benz’s electric eSprinter van is finally coming to the US by Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge
“The Mercedes eSprinter will have a large 113kWh battery resting under the floor between its axel, which is estimated to propel the van to a range of 248.5 miles (400 km) on highways and 311 miles (500 km) in the city, based on Europe’s WLTP standard. (The US Environmental Protection Agency is more conservative in projecting EV range.) No word yet on a suggested retail price for the van. The van will start production at Mercedes’ Charleston, South Carolina plant later this year.”

US zero-emission transit buses saw a 66% increase in 2022 – here’s why by Michelle Lewis, electrek
“There were 5,480 full-size transit zero-emission buses funded, ordered, and/or delivered in the US in 2022, according to the report, “Zeroing in on ZEBs,” from clean transport advocacy nonprofit Calstart.”

EVs ‘are not enough’: Polestar and Rivian urge more drastic climate action by Patrick George
“The two EV manufacturers collaborated on a report that says the auto industry is way behind on its climate goals. The entire automotive supply chain needs to be decarbonized in order to meet the goals set out in the Paris agreement.”

In Chicago, adapting electric buses to winter’s challenges By Tom Krisher, AP News
“To make electric buses work, the CTA has had to go to great lengths and expense. It built fast-charging sites on both ends of the No. 66 route that plug into the bus rooftops. Drivers constantly monitor the batteries to make sure they don’t get depleted, risking the bus getting stranded. If they get below 50% charge, they’re supposed to top them off at a charger.”

Ford reveals an electric school bus based on the E-Transit cargo van by Peter Johnson, electrek
“Ford says the E-Transit is the first van from a full-line automaker to offer a Type A school bus on an electric powertrain. The automaker is working with Collins Bus Corporation to make it a reality.”

EV Hype Overshadows Public Transit as a Climate Fix by Skylar Woodhouse and Saleha Mohsin, Bloomberg
“‘There is no way to meet our climate targets without a huge investment in public transportation,’ Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the US Climate Action Network, said. ‘There has just been a much larger push around the expansion of electric vehicles, which is incredibly important, but it’s only serving people who can afford a pretty big upfront investment.'”

Mobility as a Service and New Mobility

Mobility as a feature (MaaF): rethinking the focus of the second generation of mobility as a service (MaaS) by David A. Hensher and Sampo Hietanen, Transport Reviews
“We suggest that the future of MaaF in terms of an appealing business case, and even commercial success, should be driven by organisations who do not have a direct vested interest in transport supply ownership, but who have an extensive customer base to enable them to focus on the delivery of a broad-based fully integrated activity solution that inputs a range of appropriate transport solutions. This next generation interpretation of MaaS will require some time to be fully tested, but its appeal is the result of learning from the first 10-year (or generation 1) period.”


Fare-Free Buses In Jeopardy As D.C. Revenue Projections Drop by Jordan Pascale, DCist
“But the $2 fares were going to be paid for by revenue that was above projections. For years, D.C. has had surplus revenue, but the District’s Chief Financial Officer had negative outlooks for both December and February estimates. The prediction is based on a less robust real estate market, a workforce that has not returned downtown five days a week, and high interest rates.”


Continuous Dynamic Optimization: Impacts on ADA Paratransit Services by Will Rodman and Kelly Blume
“Continuous dynamic optimization (CDO), as applied to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit services, is an automated process by which a scheduling and dispatching technology continuously or frequently considers additional trips just booked, changes to booked trips, cancellations, and day-of-service events to solve problems or to take advantage of opportunities. In view of those changes, the CDO process then re-optimizes the assignment of trips to achieve the transit agency’s desired balance of service/cost efficiency and service quality.”

Cybersecurity Assessment Tool for Transit (CATT)
“MetroLINK recently developed the Cybersecurity Assessment Tool for Transit (CATT), which assists public transit agencies in formalizing and developing their cybersecurity program. The CATT and supporting documents were developed to assist MetroLINK and other small and mid-sized transit agencies in assessing their cyber preparedness and resilience. The goal of the tool is to onboard public transit organizations to develop and strengthen their cybersecurity program to identify risks and prioritize activities to mitigate these risks.”

Helping Transit Agencies Visualize the Transition to Electric Bus Fleets
“The bi-objective optimization framework model allows transit operators, planners and decision-makers to explore the interdependency of an electric bus transit system and a city’s energy infrastructure, in both spatial and temporal dimensions with high resolution.”

Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility by Todd Hansen, Zach Elgart, Ipek Sener, and Kelly Blume
“The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program’s TCRP Synthesis 165: Customer Education and Awareness of On-Demand Mobility documents current practices in how on-demand services are marketed to various rider groups, including outreach to persons with disabilities, older adults, and marginalized populations.”

Provision of Alternative Services by Transit Agencies: The Intersection of Regulation and Program
“The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program’s pre-publication draft of TCRP Research Report 239: Provision of Alternative Services by Transit Agencies: The Intersection of Regulation and Program details how alternative services provide at least some cost savings and also meet more spontaneous travel needs of ADA paratransit riders based on cost per subsidized trip versus cost per ADA paratransit trip. The report also identifies and documents legal and regulatory matters that transit agencies should address for their alternative services.”

Findings from the Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox’s Independent Evaluation, Shared-Use Mobility Center
In February 2023, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) published the Synthesis Report: Findings and Lessons Learned from the Independent Evaluation of the Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox Demonstrations.

On-Street Bus Operations Management by Daniel Boyle
“The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program’s TCRP Synthesis 166: On-Street Bus Operations Management provides an overview of the current practices in real-time management of street operations at North American transit agencies.”

Other News and Opinion Involving Transit and Technology

Hyperloop momentum has stalled. Here are the challenges facing the high-speed tech By Kalena Thomhave, Smart Cities Dive
“’It’s mostly a distraction [from] tackling the major transportation problems that we have,’ said one transportation researcher.”

City Bus Reliability Picks Up With Automatic Vehicle Location Tech by Stephanie Kanowitz, Route Fifty
“‘The major benefit of the new technologies in managing bus operations is the ability to communicate more and more accurate real-time information to customers and to agency personnel,’ according to ‘On-Street Bus Operations Management,’ a recent report commissioned by the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) and prepared by Daniel Boyle of Dan Boyle & Associates.”

OP-ED: Paying the technical debt by Benjie de la Peña, Mass Transit
“When we fail to see information as critical infrastructure, we fail to plan and fail to invest, thus incurring technical debt, and technical debt is not unique to Southwest or the aviation industry. There is technical debt that spans across our urban transportation systems, stemming from antiquated systems that can’t integrate or talk to one another.”

Via Acquires Citymapper to Enhance Navigation of Transit Systems by Sherry Sun, Skift
“Via, a pioneer in transit technology, announced Thursday that it has acquired Citymapper, a UK-based premier journey planning app and transit technology company. Terms of the transactions are not disclosed.”

Transit tech company Via raises $110M at $3.5B valuation by Rebecca Bellan, TechCrunch
“Via intends to use the funds to further its vision of being ‘able to provide every city in the world access to this end-to-end digital infrastructure, where they can plan, operate, analyze and continue to optimize their transit networks across every vertical in that transit network,’ Daniel Ramot, Via’s CEO and co-founder, told TechCrunch.”


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