High Uber driver costs, Australia ❤️ coal, Iceland glacier memorial, lying oil companies, & more!

Issue 99

Hey urbanists,

The story of the Pacific Island Forum caught my attention this week, so I did a quick summary of what stood out to me, with a focus on how Australia’s right-wing government’s links to the coal industry are endangering the island nations in that region of the world.

Plus, Uber’s massive loss doesn’t account for the costs offloaded to drivers, a memorial to a glacier, more e-bikes in bikeshare systems, oil companies are planning for 5ºC warming, scooter redlining, and my take on Uber for NBC News.

I leave Melbourne on Wednesday for Queenstown, where I’ll be slowly making my way north to Auckland.

Have a great week!


Ahead of this past week’s Pacific Island Forum, Fiji’s PM Frank Bainimarama criticized Australia’s continued reliance on coal: “We face an existential threat that you don't face and challenges we expect your governments and people to more fully appreciate.”

Discussions between the leaders went on far longer than planned over disagreements about the declaration, which was eventually watered down by Australia with “no direct mention of ending coal-fired power, while calls to limit temperature rises to 1.5C and achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050 were couched as suggestions rather than demands.” Tuvalu’s PM Enele Sopoaga described how the perspectives of leaders differed: “We expressed very strongly during our exchange, between me and [Australian PM] Scott [Morrison]. I said: ‘You are concerned about saving your economy in Australia... I am concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu’.”

Meanwhile, back in Australia, deputy PM Michael McCormack told a business group he was “a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia” and that they’ll “continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit” (emphasis added). Australia’s right-wing Coalition government claims it will meet its targets under the Paris Agreement by using carbon credits, but it’s more of an accounting trick to make it seem as though it’s reduced emissions more than it really has. It will use credits equivalent to 367 megatonnes of CO₂, or eight times the combined emissions of the other 16 Pacific Forum members.

Transit and trains

❌ Safety advocates asked Google, Apple, and Microsoft to add rail crossings to their maps, but the tech giants have so far ignored the calls. Auckland Transport recently released a PSA warning people about near misses when crossing rail tracks.

🚌 New study of “25 large metropolitan areas in Europe, the U.S., Asia and Australia” shows “the fraction of people driving to work decreased in direct proportion to how easy it is to access public transportation — specifically, which fraction of the population lives within 1 kilometer of a transit station.”

🇦🇺 Melbourne tram drivers plan to walk off the job, following similar plans by train workers

Bikes and scooters

☠️ No charges for driver who ran over NYC bike messenger in February. “It seems like no matter what you do in a car, you can kill anyone and it's considered an accident and you're not held accountable for your actions.”

🇺🇸 41 out of 192 U.S. cities with bikeshare systems have added e-bikes, and they’re boosting ridership

🇪🇺 European cities are restricting car use as bikes and scooters flourish. It’s not so much a revolution, but a recognition they got things wrong and a return to how things used to be.

🇨🇦 Scooters have hit Canada and officials in Montreal say riders are not following the rules on parking and helmet use

🇫🇷 Paris may build a new network of bike lanes to connect the suburbs to the center

Cars and roads

🛣 “Roads solve nothing. You can’t build enough roads to sustain a driving-city of 12 million or 15 million because, if you do, there’s no city left. In the end, congestion is self-limiting.”

🇺🇸 Great piece that unpacks how Atlanta’s present traffic problems are the direct result of planning decisions designed to segregate its communities

💸 Uber’s massive losses don’t take into account the billions it offloads onto its drivers. If “the average length of a trip is 6.5 miles, Uber drivers would have provided more than 11 billion miles of rides. Using the depreciation rate of 29 cents a mile drivers incurred nearly $3.2 billion that quarter in costs, many without realizing it.”

⚡️ Electric cars “are too little too late. An electric car is still a car, and permeates our car-dependency the same as any other car.”

😬 FT Alphaville responds to a laughable op-ed in Business Insider that tried to brush off Uber’s terrible results, and in doing so gets to the core of Uber’s problem.

Uber is a decade old global brand whose core business -- ride-sharing -- is now growing at just 2 per cent. It is also betting heavily that its smaller business lines, such as food delivery and freight, will be a source of future growth.

In other words, it’s acting less like a start-up, and more like a legacy tech company scrambling for new growth. Think Oracle, IBM or perhaps even the modern-day Apple.

Notice the difference, however. All of these companies have “cash cow” products which help to keep the buybacks and dividends flowing, as well as funding future bets. Uber on the other hand...

Environment and climate crisis

🇦🇺 Australia’s Adani coal mine is the story of state subsidies and an Indian billionaire ensuring three countries remain dependent on coal for years into the future

⚡️ Recent U.S. wind farms are already cheaper than natural gas; now imagine if fossil fuels weren’t propped up with billions in annual subsidies

🇮🇸 Today (August 18), scientists are gathering atop the Ok volcano in Iceland for a memorial to the Okjökull glacier, which was declared dead in 2014

🌃 In Phoenix, Arizona, the night is becoming more vibrant as people shift their schedules to avoid the daytime heat, including hikes, construction, and the zoo

💩 After last week’s op-ed about cars being the equivalent of Victorian waste buckets, Brazilian fascist president Jair Bolsonaro has found a shitty solution to climate change: poop every other day, that way we can keep tearing down the rainforest apparently.

🛢 BP and Shell publicly backed the Paris Agreement, but privately they’re planning for 5ºC of warming and doing little to reduce their emissions or invest in alternatives. Relying on ‘the market’ to solve the climate crisis isn’t going to yield quick results.

🇺🇸 California’s emissions fell another 1%, but transport emissions kept growing

🏥 Cleaner air after a switch to renewables could save billions in U.S. health costs

Tech dystopia

📦 “The harsh landscape of the shipping container is a terrible shorthand for modernity. It’s not just the now-inescapable connotations of the migrant crisis. It’s that the people who’ve most celebrated the container form are precisely not the ones who’ve ever had to live in one.” Whenever I read about shipping containers, I think of this critical piece on them published last year.

🛴 Scoot drew a red line around San Francisco’s Tenderloin and Chinatown areas where homelessness and poverty are high to stop riders from dropping scooters there, despite promising to serve all parts of the city

🇨🇦 Sean McDonald and Bianca Wylie assess Sidewalk Labs’ actions to show it’s not a trustworthy actor for Toronto’s waterfront

👁 Use of facial recognition technology in a private “public” space near King’s Cross in London has some people asking why it should be allowed

Other great reads

👍 If WeWork is considered a tech company, what actually defines a tech company in 2019?

📈 After NYC raised its minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour — “the largest hike for a big group of low-wage workers since the 1960s” — its restaurant sector “outperformed the rest of the US in job growth and expansion”

🇫🇷 “There’s a tendency among some Anglophones to see [France’s] official struggle to resist English as somewhat hysterical. That attitude partly reflects the smugness of a people who increasingly expect to see their language everywhere they go—and who are accustomed to English’s ability to shamelessly gobble up terms from other tongues. If you see France’s efforts as a celebration of linguistic biodiversity, however, then the ingenuity employed in French’s defense make more sense.”

🗳 In 2020, California will vote on a ballot measure to alter Proposition 13, which curtails the state’s property tax revenue, to remove limits on commercial properties

👩‍🌾 Next year, the world’s largest urban farm will open on a Paris rooftop. It will be fully organic and tended by 20 gardeners across 14,000 m² (150,695 ft²).

🇪🇸 Alicante, Spain is using an ancient Arabic technique to protect itself from flooding and recycle rainwater as water becomes scarcer

By Paris: Uber's second quarter losses another red flag for the 'Amazon of transportation' (NBC News THINK)

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