During the COVID-19 shutdown, public transportation ridership has plummeted, both because offices are closed and because people are afraid to ride it. BART, the San Francisco Bay Area’s multi-county train system, normally carries something like 400,000 people a day, but now are offering a severely curtailed schedule to a small fraction of that ridership.
I know what it’s like because before the shutdown, I rode BART every day into San Francisco from my suburban community. There were many times when we were pressed together so closely that our bodies were touching and our faces were a foot apart. That’s definitely not safe during a pandemic (or desirable anytime)!
I received a detailed email from BART a few days ago outlining 15 things they are doing to prepare for the return of riders as businesses begin to reopen. I’ve summarized them here, but you can learn more on their website.
BART’s 15-Step Plan
Disinfecting the trains and cleaning station touchpoints with hospital-grade disinfectant.
Running longer trains to enable social distancing. They estimate 30 people to a train is the limit.
Running trains on a 30-minute weekday schedule and closing at 9 p.m., but they will monitor it and increase frequency as demand increases.
Changing seat configurations on the new trains to create more space for social distancing.
Requiring face masks at all times for riders 13 and older. They will keep this requirement regardless of changes in county mandates. Some free masks will be available at the station at first, and they are planning to install vending machines.
Enforcing the face mask policy with Bart Police presence.
Posting decals, posters, and banners to inform riders of the new requirements and changes.
Offering hand sanitizer.
Encouraging the use of contactless Clipper Card payment and online loading of funds to the cards. The Clipper Card method is much better than paper tickets, which the system was phasing out already at the time of the outbreak.
Offering personal hand straps–free at first and later for sale.
Posting daily ridership numbers and train car loading data at http://www.bart.gov/covid. This is intended to reassure riders with concerns about crowding.
Exploring new technologies, such as ultraviolet disinfecting, and figuring out how to implement them safely and in a way that won’t cause damage.
Encouraging businesses to offer staggered work hours to spread out the commute. BART is also participating in virtual town halls to answer questions.
Supplying its workers with personal protection equipment (PPE) and giving COVID-19 testing.
Using time of low ridership to accelerate infrastructure rebuilding projects.
I don’t know when I will be riding BART again, but this sounds like a comprehensive list, which is reassuring. It will have to be carried out effectively, of course, and over time, riders will return. If more people find themselves working from home more often or permanently that will help solve the crowding issue for BART. Then it will remain a profit/loss issue, which has been an ongoing problem. We need our public transit systems, so I am hoping this can be solved.
Bird, a leader in the electric scooter market, is relaunching in some cities with not only a strict regimen of protective cleaning, but with an exciting new feature that makes it faster than ever to grab and use a scooter. Now, welcome Quick Start.
If your key stays in your pocket when you enter and start your car, you already get the hang of it. Rather than having to scan a QR code on the scooter with your phone, now you just walk near it and press the Start button that appears on your phone. Then, off you go.
“Our product, design and development teams are continually striving to innovate and push the industry forward for the benefit of our community,” said Scott Rushforth, Chief Vehicle Officer at Bird. “Quick Start is the latest industry-first feature to emerge from this collaboration, and it’s one that we believe will deliver riders a more magical micromobility experience.”
Safety During COVID-19 Restrictions
If you’re concerned about the safety of using a shared scooter now, here are the steps Bird is taking to ensure their scooters are clean and ready to go:
They have set clear guidelines for deep cleaning and sanitizing the scooters
They thoroughly sanitize each vehicle every time they are recharged or serviced with CDC-approved disinfectant products
They perform regular spot cleanings in the field on surfaces such as bells, throttles and handlebars
Technicians use face masks, hand sanitizer, nitrile gloves, protective goggles and disinfectant sprays and wipes, and are required to wash their hands regularly and dispose of gloves after each use
And riders are coming back as shelter-in-place restrictions lift. Interestingly, they are taking longer rides, too.
“Over the past month, we’ve seen sustained increases in trip duration of more than 50%,” said Ryan Fujiu, Chief Product Officer at Bird. “We’re seeing strong indications that it may be a much longer-term trend related to things like public transit concerns, nearly a thousand miles of new open streets and a spike in the construction of protected cycling infrastructure.”
Perhaps riders are using the scooters instead of taking the bus. Or maybe people are just happy to get out of their houses again.
If we believe the growing scientific consensus, we must reduce our CO2 emissions by at least half in the next decade to hold global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. Warming above that is considered to be catastrophic. Since the largest (but by no means only) source of these emissions is transportation, moving to an all-electric vehicle fleet, powered by sustainably generated electricity, is urgent and necessary.
That message is about as welcome as the cancer warning on a pack of smokes. And similarly, not often heeded, either.
But how do we get people to buy EVs? As long as customers have a wide choice of gasoline-powered vehicles, only early adopters and climate activists are snapping up what companies have provided. It’s like the dollar coin—regardless of whether you put an abolitionist, an historic Native-American, or a president on it, it has been a nonstarter as long as folks could use the good old paper bill (or today, their debit card).
It’s also like selling cereal—the “good for you” Bran Flakes may attract a certain health-conscious (or constipated) clientele, but it’s not where the action is. Captain Crunch with Crunchberries, filled with sugar and marketed breathlessly to children, is the volume seller.
For a century, car marketing has evoked emotion to sell cars, and has built its products to reflect customer demand, which in turn, is fueled by massive marketing and advertising campaigns. Although there have always been compact, fuel-sipping vehicles that practical people bought because they couldn’t afford more, the action has been on style and performance, from fins to V8 engines and today, to loads of high tech features.
So far, only Tesla has been the brand to offer an exciting EV experience in all of its cars. It works because first of all, they sell ONLY EVs and secondly, they have made them attractive and powerful. In contrast, Nissan’s LEAF, while certainly practical and environmentally conscious, is too close to automotive bran flakes. GM’s excellent Bolt EV is another fine car, without the range limitations of the LEAF, but for $40,000, one could also bring home a 3-Series BMW. Not sexy.
Using the climate crisis as a marketing tool, then, clearly isn’t working. And in a consumer-driven economy we can’t force people to buy EVs if they don’t want them. Which brings us to Ford’s upcoming Mustang Mach-E crossover.
Ford’s EV history has up to now featured the lackluster battery-powered Focus and a few hybrid and plug-in hybrids, including the attractive midsize Fusion sedans and European-design C-Max. Now, with Tesla as an inspiration, Ford has decided to blend their most iconic model with the most up-to-date tech in today’s most popular body configuration to create a real Tesla competitor.
I attended a compelling online presentation by Mark Kaufman, Global Director, Electrification at Ford, yesterday, in which he outlined the plans the company has for its EVs going forward, with an emphasis on the exciting new Mustang, which will be sold alongside its gas-powered coupe stable mates.
The Mustang was an instant hit when it debuted in April 1964. Based on the tried-and-true platform from the popular but dowdy compact Falcon, it hit a sweet spot and sold half a million copies in its first year. Surely Ford’s leaders are savoring another blockbuster like that with the Mach-E. As Kaufman said, it is the only EV with the soul of a Mustang (sounds like a great advertising pitch, doesn’t it?).
The Mustang has always been a coupe, fastback, or convertible, so making it a five-passenger crossover is a nod to what’s hot today. Also, Kaufman stated that while many people love their Mustangs, when the kids come along their beloved cars are simply too small. So, it all makes sense.
Admitting that global catastrophe is not a compelling sales tool for most people, the planners at Ford will offer a GT version of the Mach-E that puts out 600 horsepower and can run from 0-60 in the mid three-second range. No climate leader has ever said that was important to them, but for the mass of car enthusiasts, especially of American iron, that’s extremely attractive (and very much a page out of Tesla’s gameplan). Kaufman mentioned an “Unbridled” setting that sounds a lot like Tesla’s “ludicrous” mode.
The arguments against buying an EV often center around the whole charging/range anxiety problem, so Ford is giving the regular, rear-wheel-drive model a 300-mile range (230 for the muscular all-wheel-drive GT). The company will promote installation of home chargers that can put in 30 miles of range in an hour. DC fast charging allows 61 miles of range in 10 minutes or 40-45 minutes to 80 percent. They have also built out the FordPass Charging Network, which isn’t new charging stations but combines four existing networks with one payment setup, for ease and efficiency. They’ve designed a slick phone app to track the process as well. Once again, Tesla is the model for a unified network, although they built their own equipment.
What else? Ford flaunts its more than a century of car sales and service, with virtually all service done by more than 3,000 dealers nationwide, of which 2,100 or more are certified to work on EVs. Tesla can’t match that. Also, the new shopping experience targets millennials with online reservations for shopping and service.
I am eager to test this exciting new product. However, I wonder how we can get the fleet electrified in 10 years. Nobody expects it to be 100 percent electric by 2030, but I’d like to see half of the cars be EVs by then. Kaufman said, reasonably, that most predictions are based on past performance and that this won’t work here, but he also said he expected a third of cars to be EVs by 2030. That’s why Ford has plans for an electric F-150 pickup (America’s best-seller for decades) and an electric Transit van, as well.
To speed the conversion of the vehicle fleet to electric, Ford and other companies must not only provide thrilling EVs, but solid mass market EVs soon. That means we need all-electric Honda Accords and Toyota RAV4s. Buyers need to start viewing gas cars as old and out of style. Certainly the auto industry, which created the whole idea of planned obsolescence, can make fuel-burning vehicles obsolete, can’t they?
I’ve loved Minis since they arrived in the U.S. in late 2001 as 2002 models. Cute, fun, and cheeky, they are longtime favorites.
Now I’m an EV guy, so I don’t drive gas cars anymore. But the day is saved, because Mini has finally released an all-electric model–the Mini Cooper SE. It’s everything I’ve always wanted, except for one thing.
My wife says she will part with her professional-grade six-burner Viking gas cooktop over her dead body. I don’t want that, so I have decided not to fight that battle in the war for a cleaner world and home.
Why even talk about replacing it? Well, as part of the effort to reduce CO2, there’s a movement towards all-electric homes, and to stop burning natural gas in home furnaces, hot water heaters, dryers, and stoves. And the star of the kitchen for electric is induction cooking.
Unlike the flat spiral burners on the electric stove you had growing up (or still have), induction “burners” use electromagnetic energy to transfer energy directly to the pan, which makes them more efficient and flexible. You do need to use the right kind of pan or pot, though–it has to have iron in or on it–aluminum, glass, and copper won’t work.
With no hope of replacing my wife’s otherwise awesome range, for my recent birthday, I requested a single-unit electric induction burner, and yesterday I opened the box, set it up, and we cooked dinner together to test it.
The box arrived a few days ago, but I left it sitting there in our entryway to lose any contagion it might have collected on its journey–and because I was busy until the weekend.
I opened the box and set up the unit in an open spot in my kitchen. Sadly, this area is usually where the dirty dishes go, so I’ll have to put my new toy away after using it (until, I hope, it proves its daily usefulness and gains a permanent spot in our crowded kitchen).
I read through all of the instructions for the China-built appliance, which were, to my surprise and delight, clearly written in understandable English. The slim booklet began with the lawyer-generated copy: a long list of things to avoid (immersion in water, moving it when it’s on, letting children play with it, etc.) Then came a short section on the basic use of the controls. With only a few buttons and a small display, it’s pretty foolproof.
For our first project, we chose a nice bag of cranberry beans (not cranberries). It was one of the items we grabbed quickly when shopping several weeks ago, when it looked like the stores would be picked clean. The beans looked like something that would last awhile if we needed them to. It turns out that Bob’s Red Mill is a long-established, quality operation.
We got out my wife’s shiny new stock pot–which she told me was induction-ready–so it was the pot’s first outing, as well.
I chose the Duxtop induction burner because it was recommended and the $162 price seemed reasonable. And it looked easy to use. The only big decision you have to make is whether to cook in power mode (by watts) or in temperature mode. Each has its use.
We decided to cook the beans based on power level. To prepare them, we turned on the unit and pushed the “Boil” button, which sets it up for full blast (level 10), and sets a 10-minute timer. When it buzzed, we didn’t have a boil yet, but with a reset a few minutes later we did.
Then, we added some extra goodies, including garlic, shallots, a carrot, rosemary, and a couple of bay leaves. We also dropped in a Parmesan cheese rind for flavor–it’s the vegetarian (not vegan) equivalent of a ham hock.
With a new appliance, you need to learn how to translate the settings into what you want. The recipe said to “simmer” the beans, so I tried the Simmer settings, from .05 to 2.0 (there are 20 settings–1 to 10, divided in half). I moved it up to 2.5, the lowest “Low” setting, and although there were a few tiny bubbles (we didn’t want boiling), it seemed pretty still. The only sound was the fan in back of the unit keeping it cool.
The kitchen started smelling very good! I thought that the simmering needed a boost, so I tried moving it up to 3.0 and 3.5 with little apparent change. But, after quickly checking a YouTube video on the difference between simmering and boiling (it’s significant), I tried a thermometer, and darned if that 2.5 setting didn’t have my beans at the right simmering temperature, around 175 degrees (boiling is 212). I think that maybe cooking looks a little different when you’re using induction, but time will tell.
My wife thought that having a dial with unlimited levels/degrees would be better, since the levels are stepped and the temperature range is in 20’s — 120, 140, 160, etc. We’ll see how that shakes out over time.
Once the beans were done, we added a little turkey sausage and some fresh French bread in bowls and sat down to enjoy our handiwork.
I look forward to doing more with my new cooktop. It was easy to use and certainly to clean–just wipe off the surface. It does remain a bit hot after cooking, but not for very long, and anything near it wasn’t affected at all. That’s because induction heats just the pot–not the air around it–so it’s less intrusive. I was able to carefully touch the top after just a few minutes.
We used the cooktop during the afternoon, when the sun was up, so I figure we cooked with the sunshine that was hitting my solar panels today. It’s a good feeling.