Driverless Cars in Pittsburgh Means No Need for Uber Drivers in Future

Update:

1471527911_uber_self-driving-car
Uber’s modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicle.

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The autonomous cars, launching this summer, are custom Volvo XC90s, supervised by humans in the driver’s seat.

Near the end of 2014, Uber co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick flew to Pittsburgh on a mission: to hire dozens of the world’s experts in autonomous vehicles. The city is home to Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, which has produced many of the biggest names in the newly hot field. Sebastian Thrun, the creator of Google’s self-driving car project, spent seven years researching autonomous robots at CMU, and the project’s former director, Chris Urmson, was a CMU grad student.

“Travis had an idea that he wanted to do self-driving,” says John Bares, who had run CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center for 13 years before founding Carnegie Robotics, a Pittsburgh-based company that makes components for self-driving industrial robots used in mining, farming, and the military. “I turned him down three times. But the case was pretty compelling.” Bares joined Uber in January 2015 and by early 2016 had recruited hundreds of engineers, robotics experts, and even a few car mechanics to join the venture. The goal: to replace Uber’s more than 1 million human drivers with robot drivers—as quickly as possible.

The plan seemed audacious, even reckless. And according to most analysts, true self-driving cars are years or decades away. Kalanick begs to differ. “We are going commercial,” he says in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “This can’t just be about science.”

A self-driving Ford Fusion hybrid car is test driven in Pittsburgh. Uber said that passengers in Pittsburgh will be able to summon rides in self-driving cars in the next several weeks. Photograph: Jared Wickerham/AP.

Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved. Google, widely regarded as the leader in the field, has been testing its fleet for several years, and Tesla Motors offers Autopilot, essentially a souped-up cruise control that drives the car on the highway. Earlier this week, Ford announced plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service. But none of these companies has yet brought a self-driving car-sharing service to market.

Uber’s Pittsburgh fleet, which will be supervised by humans in the driver’s seat for the time being, consists of specially modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Volvo Cars has so far delivered a handful of vehicles out of a total of 100 due by the end of the year. The two companies signed a pact earlier this year to spend $300 million to develop a fully autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021.

The Volvo deal isn’t exclusive; Uber plans to partner with other automakers as it races to recruit more engineers. In July the company reached an agreement to buy Otto, a 91-employee driverless truck startup that was founded earlier this year and includes engineers from a number of high-profile tech companies attempting to bring driverless cars to market, including Google, Apple, and Tesla. Uber declined to disclose the terms of the arrangement, but a person familiar with the deal says that if targets are met, it would be worth 1 percent of Uber’s most recent valuation. That would imply a price of about $680 million. Otto’s current employees will also collectively receive 20 percent of any profits Uber earns from building an autonomous trucking business.

Otto has developed a kit that allows big-rig trucks to steer themselves on highways, in theory freeing up the driver to nap in the back of the cabin. The system is being tested on highways around San Francisco. Aspects of the technology will be incorporated into Uber’s robot livery cabs and will be used to start an Uber-like service for long-haul trucking in the U.S., building on the intracity delivery services, like Uber Eats, that the company already offers.

The Otto deal is a coup for Uber in its simmering battle with Google, which has been plotting its own ride-sharing service using self-driving cars. Otto’s founders were key members of Google’s operation who decamped in January, because, according to Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski, “We were really excited about building something that could be launched early.”

Volvo is expected to deliver a total of 100 specially modified SUVs to Uber by the end of the year.
Volvo is expected to deliver a total of 100 specially modified SUVs to Uber by the end of the year.

Near the end of 2014, Uber co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick flew to Pittsburgh on a mission: to hire dozens of the world’s experts in autonomous vehicles. The city is home to Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, which has produced many of the biggest names in the newly hot field. Sebastian Thrun, the creator of Google’s self-driving car project, spent seven years researching autonomous robots at CMU, and the project’s former director, Chris Urmson, was a CMU grad student.

“Travis had an idea that he wanted to do self-driving,” says John Bares, who had run CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center for 13 years before founding Carnegie Robotics, a Pittsburgh-based company that makes components for self-driving industrial robots used in mining, farming, and the military. “I turned him down three times. But the case was pretty compelling.” Bares joined Uber in January 2015 and by early 2016 had recruited hundreds of engineers, robotics experts, and even a few car mechanics to join the venture. The goal: to replace Uber’s more than 1 million human drivers with robot drivers—as quickly as possible.

The plan seemed audacious, even reckless. And according to most analysts, true self-driving cars are years or decades away. Kalanick begs to differ. “We are going commercial,” he says in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “This can’t just be about science.”

Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved. Google, widely regarded as the leader in the field, has been testing its fleet for several years, and Tesla Motors offers Autopilot, essentially a souped-up cruise control that drives the car on the highway. Earlier this week, Ford announced plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service. But none of these companies has yet brought a self-driving car-sharing service to market.

Uber’s Pittsburgh fleet, which will be supervised by humans in the driver’s seat for the time being, consists of specially modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Volvo Cars has so far delivered a handful of vehicles out of a total of 100 due by the end of the year. The two companies signed a pact earlier this year to spend $300 million to develop a fully autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021.

Uber. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
Uber. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

The Volvo deal isn’t exclusive; Uber plans to partner with other automakers as it races to recruit more engineers. In July the company reached an agreement to buy Otto, a 91-employee driverless truck startup that was founded earlier this year and includes engineers from a number of high-profile tech companies attempting to bring driverless cars to market, including Google, Apple, and Tesla. Uber declined to disclose the terms of the arrangement, but a person familiar with the deal says that if targets are met, it would be worth 1 percent of Uber’s most recent valuation. That would imply a price of about $680 million. Otto’s current employees will also collectively receive 20 percent of any profits Uber earns from building an autonomous trucking business.

Otto has developed a kit that allows big-rig trucks to steer themselves on highways, in theory freeing up the driver to nap in the back of the cabin. The system is being tested on highways around San Francisco. Aspects of the technology will be incorporated into Uber’s robot livery cabs and will be used to start an Uber-like service for long-haul trucking in the U.S., building on the intracity delivery services, like Uber Eats, that the company already offers.

The Otto deal is a coup for Uber in its simmering battle with Google, which has been plotting its own ride-sharing service using self-driving cars. Otto’s founders were key members of Google’s operation who decamped in January, because, according to Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski, “We were really excited about building something that could be launched early.”

Volvo is expected to deliver a total of 100 specially modified SUVs to Uber by the end of the year.
Volvo is expected to deliver a total of 100 specially modified SUVs to Uber by the end of the year. Source: Courtesy Uber

Levandowski, one of the original engineers on the self-driving team at Google, started Otto with Lior Ron, who served as the head of product for Google Maps for five years; Claire Delaunay, a Google robotics lead; and Don Burnette, another veteran Google engineer. Google suffered another departure earlier this month when Urmson announced that he, too, was leaving.

“The minute it was clear to us that our friends in Mountain View were going to be getting in the ride-sharing space, we needed to make sure there is an alternative [self-driving car],” says Kalanick. “Because if there is not, we’re not going to have any business.” Developing an autonomous vehicle, he adds, “is basically existential for us.” (Google also invests in Uber through Alphabet’s venture capital division, GV.)

Unlike Google and Tesla, Uber has no intention of manufacturing its own cars, Kalanick says. Instead, the company will strike deals with auto manufacturers, starting with Volvo Cars, and will develop kits for other models. The Otto deal will help; the company makes its own laser detection, or lidar, system, used in many self-driving cars. Kalanick believes that Uber can use the data collected from its app, where human drivers and riders are logging roughly 100 million miles per day, to quickly improve its self-driving mapping and navigation systems. “Nobody has set up software that can reliably drive a car safely without a human,” Kalanick says. “We are focusing on that.”

In Pittsburgh, customers will request cars the normal way, via Uber’s app, and will be paired with a driverless car at random. Trips will be free for the time being, rather than the standard local rate of $1.05 per mile. In the long run, Kalanick says, prices will fall so low that the per-mile cost of travel, even for long trips in rural areas, will be cheaper in a driverless Uber than in a private car. “That could be seen as a threat,” says Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson. “We see it as an opportunity.”

Although Kalanick and other self-driving car advocates say the vehicles will ultimately save lives, they face harsh scrutiny for now. In July a driver using Tesla’s Autopilot service died after colliding with a tractor-trailer, apparently because both the driver and the car’s computers didn’t see it. (The crash is currently being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.) Google has seen a handful of accidents, but they’ve been less severe, in part because it limits its prototype cars to 25 miles per hour. Uber’s cars haven’t had any fender benders since they began road-testing in Pittsburgh in May, but at some point something will go wrong, according to Raffi Krikorian, the company’s engineering director. “We’re interacting with reality every day,” he says. “It’s coming.”

For now, Uber’s test cars travel with safety drivers, as common sense and the law dictate. These professionally trained engineers sit with their fingertips on the wheel, ready to take control if the car encounters an unexpected obstacle. A co-pilot, in the front passenger seat, takes notes on a laptop, and everything that happens is recorded by cameras inside and outside the car so that any glitches can be ironed out. Each car is also equipped with a tablet computer in the back seat, designed to tell riders that they’re in an autonomous car and to explain what’s happening. “The goal is to wean us off of having drivers in the car, so we don’t want the public talking to our safety drivers,” Krikorian says.

On a recent weekday test drive, the safety drivers were still an essential part of the experience, as Uber’s autonomous car briefly turned un-autonomous, while crossing the Allegheny River. A chime sounded, a signal to the driver to take the wheel. A second ding a few seconds later indicated that the car was back under computer control. “Bridges are really hard,” Krikorian says. “And there are like 500 bridges in Pittsburgh.”

Bridges are hard in part because of the way that Uber’s system works. Over the past year and a half, the company has been creating extremely detailed maps that include not just roads and lane markings, but also buildings, potholes, parked cars, fire hydrants, traffic lights, trees, and anything else on Pittsburgh’s streets. As the car moves, it collects data, and then using a large, liquid-cooled computer in the trunk, it compares what it sees with the preexisting maps to identify (and avoid) pedestrians, cyclists, stray dogs, and anything else. Bridges, unlike normal streets, offer few environmental cues—there are no buildings, for instance—making it hard for the car to figure out exactly where it is. Uber cars have Global Positioning System sensors, but those are only accurate within about 10 feet; Uber’s systems strive for accuracy down to the inch.

When the Otto acquisition closes, likely this month, Otto co-founder Levandowski will assume leadership of Uber’s driverless car operation, while continuing to oversee his company’s robotic trucking business. The plan is to open two additional Uber R&D centers, one in the Otto office, a cavernous garage in San Francisco’s Soma neighborhood, a second in Palo Alto. “I feel like we’re brothers from another mother,” Kalanick says of Levandowski.

Uber started in San Francisco, California, USA. Uber was founded as "UberCab" by Travis Kalanick (current CEO) and Garrett Camp in 2009 and the app was released the following June. Beginning in 2012, Uber expanded internationally. In 2014, it experimented with carpooling features and made other updates. In October 2015 it was said that Uber's worth was $51 Billion, however Aswath Damodaran, professor at NYU Stern School of Business and a valuation expert, values the ride-hailing company at $23.4 billion, less than half its current sticker. Uber is busy in the courts and fighting off growing competition.
Uber started in San Francisco, California, USA. Uber was founded as “UberCab” by Travis Kalanick (current CEO) and Garrett Camp in 2009 and the app was released the following June. Beginning in 2012, Uber expanded internationally. In 2014, it experimented with carpooling features and made other updates. In October 2015 it was said that Uber’s worth was $51 Billion, however Aswath Damodaran, professor at NYU Stern School of Business and a valuation expert, values the ride-hailing company at $23.4 billion, less than half its current sticker. Uber is busy in the courts and fighting off growing competition. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

The two men first met at the TED conference in 2012, when Levandowski was showing off an early version of Google’s self-driving car. Kalanick offered to buy 20 of the prototypes on the spot—“It seemed like the obvious next step,” he says with a laugh—before Levandowski broke the bad news to him. The cars were running on a loop in a closed course with no pedestrians; they wouldn’t be safe outside the TED parking lot. “It was like a roller coaster with no track,” Levandowski explains. “If you were to step in front of the vehicle, it would have just run you over.”

Kalanick began courting Levandowski this spring, broaching the possibility of an acquisition during a series of 10-mile night walks from the Soma neighborhood where Uber is also headquartered to the Golden Gate Bridge. The two men would leave their offices separately—to avoid being seen by employees, the press, or competitors. They’d grab takeout food, then rendezvous near the city’s Ferry Building. Levandowski says he saw a union as a way to bring the company’s trucks to market faster.

For his part, Kalanick sees it as a way to further corner the market for autonomous driving engineers. “If Uber wants to catch up to Google and be the leader in autonomy, we have to have the best minds,” he says, and then clarifies: “We have to have all the great minds.”

Toronto grants Uber first-ever Canadian licence to operate

Update: see previous post – April 6, 2016 Toronto: To Announce New Regulations for Taxi’s & UberX

Uber. The City of Toronto has issued a licence to Uber as the first private transportation company to operate in the city. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
Uber. The City of Toronto has issued a licence to Uber as the first private transportation company to operate in the city. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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A group of taxi drivers says it will demonstrate starting around 7 a.m. Wednesday at the city’s licensing office at the East York Civic Centre.

A planned protest by a group of taxi workers Wednesday will proceed despite a late-afternoon announcement that the city has now licensed Uber as the first private transportation company in Toronto under new regulations.

It’s the first time that Uber has been issued a vehicle-for-hire licence in Canada, as North American cities continue to grapple with how to manage the disruptive technology that has threatened the business of traditional taxi companies.

Licensing for the app-based ride-hailing service, which was made official Tuesday afternoon, comes after a protracted council battle that saw a new bylaw passed in May. That bylaw, which dictates a new licensing regime that incorporates companies like Uber, came into force July 15.

“Within a month of the bylaw taking effect we have been successful in process change, technology change and we’ve now issued the license to Uber and we’re going forward from here,” the city’s executive director for licensing, Tracey Cook, told reporters at city hall Tuesday.

Row of taxis lined up at a stop sign on Edward St. at Yonge St. in Toronto. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

The city will now screen UberX drivers — who use their personal cars to ferry passengers at fares cheaper than those of traditional taxis — and provide them with a separate private transportation company driver licence.

“The goal at this point is to have those drivers licensed by the end of September, if not sooner,” Cook said.

But the taxi industry considered July 15 a deadline and says delays in implementing new licences has meant UberX drivers have continued to be on the roads unlawfully for a month.

City Taxi’s Paul Sekhon, part of United Taxi Workers Association of the GTA which organized the protest, told the Star they’re going ahead with their plans.

The group plans to demonstrate starting around 7 a.m. on Wednesday at the city’s licensing office at the East York Civic Centre on Coxwell Ave.

Toronto police warn that a group of cab drivers has been swiping riders' bank cards as they pay — and then driving straight to ATM machines to empty bank accounts before victims even realize what's happened. Dozens of cab riders have been victimized across the city in recent weeks and the crimes are continuing daily, the lead investigator in the case said Friday.
taxis waiting at a taxi stand. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

“We’re still going ahead with the protest 100 per cent,” Sekhon said. “You’re putting 10,000 lives in jeopardy over here because you don’t want to do it by the schedule . . . There’s no law and order for these people.”

Cook said her staff have been working “diligently” behind-the-scenes to implement the new system, which will see the city review some 12,000 applications for driver’s licences from Uber alone — which includes a criminal background check and insurance for at least $2 million in liabilities. There are currently no other companies licensed under the new rules.

Toronto Taxi's lined up at hotel taxi stand. Toronto politicians and taxi industry spokespeople hope that a reduced fare will make hiring a taxi an easier option for passengers.
Row of taxis at a cab stand at a downtown Toronto hotel. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

The city will enforce the new rules, Cook said, with plans to hire 12 new members of the enforcement team.

She denied there have been delays, with the rollout of changes under the new rules starting July 15.

Cook said Uber has co-operated with new rules, including removing vehicles from their platform that are more than seven years old. “They’ve seen a reduction of about 30 per cent of their driver base,” Cook said.

Will the new regulations allow for UberX vehicles to share the Toronto HOV lanes with the T.T.C. and Taxis? photo by fightyourtickets.ca

She said other aspects of the bylaw, which relaxes rules for the taxi industry, have already been implemented, including taxis being allowed to set cheaper fares through their own mobile apps.

Not everyone within the often fractured taxi industry agrees with the demonstration planned for Wednesday.

The Toronto Taxi Alliance, which represents brokerages like Beck Taxi, has said while they share the drivers’ frustration about Uber, any disruption upsets Torontonians — the people they are trying to maintain as passengers.

“I have a lot of respect for the taxi industry. They’re upset, it’s a period if transformation,” Cook said Tuesday. “They have a right to do what it is they want to do. It’s unfortunate. I would really rather see the taxi cab industry work on delivering quality customer service to the people that use their service instead of protesting.”

Quebec: Should Dangerous Goods be Travelling on Montreal’s Highways?

Update:

Gilbert Prince was passionate about truck driving, according to his friend and former colleague Alain Duguet. Prince died in an explosion on Highway 40 in Montreal Tuesday.
Gilbert Prince was passionate about truck driving, according to his friend and former colleague Alain Duguet. Prince died in an explosion on Highway 40 in Montreal Tuesday. (Submitted by Alain Duguet)

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Experts weigh in on how to make the transportation dangerous goods safer

Alain Duguet and Gilbert Prince crisscrossed Canada and the United States together a number of times, two truck drivers cramped in a relatively small space.

They could chat for hours, getting into disagreements every now and then, but Prince was such a jovial person that he laughed even when he was upset, Duguet said.

“I’m talking about him in the past tense…” Duguet said. He sighed. His voice trailed off.

Prince died Tuesday when the truck he was driving, carrying thousands of litres of diesel fuel, exploded following a collision on Montreal’s Metropolitan highway.

These days, Duguet mainly delivers fruits and vegetables. He doesn’t transport dangerous goods and never has.

“You have to have nerves of steel. Gilbert was [better suited] for it than me. He’d say it’s a job like any other. No, not for me. I find it’s too dangerous,” he said.

Alain Duguet
Truck driver Alain Duguet chokes up when he speaks about his friend Gilbert Prince, who died Tuesday.

How best to transport dangerous goods?

The fatal collision has raised questions about how dangerous goods are transported through Montreal, and whether they should be transported through the city at all.

Montreal is a hub for the distribution of refined products. Oil, for instance, is carried from the east-end Suncor refinery, and jet fuel is carried from the port to Trudeau Airport.

Though both federal and provincial regulations exist about the transportation of dangerous goods, Gilbert Prince wasn’t breaking any when he took the Metropolitan around 4 p.m.

That fact has led to questions: should we ban trucks carrying dangerous goods from travelling through the city at rush hour, when there are more cars and presumably a higher likelihood of collisions?

Is relegating them to off-peak hours any better? There may be fewer cars on the road, but those cars have room to speed, which could result in more spectacular accidents?

Highway 40 inferno
Six people were injured and Gilbert Prince, a husband, father and grandfather, died in the crash. (Radio-Canada)

Pierre Aubin, vice-president of the Quebec trucking association, said it would not be financially viable to keep trucks off the roads at rush hour.

He said companies transporting goods will have too a limited window to get their products to their destinations. Transporting goods only at night would not work either, he said, since trucks make noise and nearby residents may complain.

But Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a chemical engineer and risk management consultant for the transportation of dangerous goods, said restricting the times when flammable or corrosive goods can be transported through Montreal would be a good idea.

“If there are less people [on the road], there’s less risk,” he said.

Tanker Truck Fire 20160809
Firefighters stand next to a fuel tanker that burst into flames on the stretch of Highway 40 known as the Metropolitan during rush hour after colliding with at least two other vehicles Tuesday, Aug. 9 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Driving on the Met: convenient, yet challenging

The Metropolitan highway cuts right through Montreal. As far as getting goods from one end of the island to the other, it’s one of the most direct routes.

Pedro Ruibal runs École de Routiers Montréal, a truck driving school. He said he drives on the Metropolitan almost every day and says it’s very dangerous.

“It’s very narrow, there is a lot [of traffic] coming into the Met and coming off,” he said.

Metropolitan highway
Pedro Ruibal, who runs a truck driving school, says driving on the Met presents specific challenges for truck drivers. (Radio-Canada)

Most drivers know truck drivers have to leave a greater stopping distance in front of them. Ruibal explained that distance changes with dangerous goods, especially if what’s inside is liquid.

Braking and accelerating creates waves inside a tanker, and those waves push the truck forward, making it more difficult to stop, he said. Drivers try to leave as much distance as possible so they don’t have to brake and create those waves.

But that is complicated by reckless drivers in cars. And there is no shortage of such drivers in Montreal, Duguet said.

“We’re up high, we see the situation. They are crazy. They gamble with their lives,” he said.

What are the options?

Vedat Verter, professor at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management and an expert in transportation risk management, said Calgary may serve as a model for Montreal.

In that city, there are designated dangerous goods roads, where trucks must travel. They can only divert at the point necessary to reach their destination.

Other mitigation options he proposed include:

  • An outright ban on trucks carrying dangerous goods on certain highways.
  • Time-based curfews where trucks can only travel on certain highways at set times.
  • Putting a toll on the Met that is more expensive than the one for Highway 30, which would incite truck drivers to avoid it unless absolutely necessary.
slow traffic congestion highway 40 baie d'urfe montreal
Highway 40, which includes the Metropolitan, is one of the most direct routes through Montreal. (Jay Turnbull/CBC News)

Duguet said not allowing trucks on certain highways during rush hour could work but would take some planning. Montreal doesn’t have many bypass routes except Highway 30, he said, and the toll means not everyone will take it.

‘I’ll think of him every day’

Duguet still drives on many of the roads he travelled together with Prince, and passes the places they stopped en route.

“I’ll think of him every day,” Duguet said. “I’ll have no choice.”

Duguet knew that whenever he returned home, Prince would bring his wife a bouquet of flowers. He visited Prince’s widow Thursday, a bouquet in tow.

B.C.: Unpaid ICBC Claims Could Lead to Increase in Rates

Update:

The latest figures from ICBC show an increase in unpaid claims.
The latest figures from ICBC show an increase in unpaid claims. (CBC)

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Crown corporation says it’s hiring new staff to deal with increase in claims

ICBC documents released by the B.C. NDP show its unpaid insurance claims have nearly doubled over the last five years, which the political party says could lead to a rate increase for B.C. residents.

Results from the Crown corporation’s first fiscal quarter of 2016 show an increase in claims and money spent in court, but a decrease in revenue.

British Columbians could see a spike in insurance costs under the ICBC, due to unpaid claims. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
British Columbians could see a spike in insurance costs under the ICBC, due to unpaid claims. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

“ICBC analysis shows that this would increase rates for rate payers by half a billion dollars,” said Adrian Dix, the B.C. NDP’s critic for the insurance corporation.

“If any company in the private sector came through with these kind of results, everybody involved would be worried,” he added.

Numbers from the public insurer show claims have shot up from an average of around 20,000 a year five years ago to 30,000 a year now.

ICBC says it’s in the midst of hiring new claims staff to deal with the challenge. It said the increase in claims is because of fraud.

TTC: Queens Quay crackdown this weekend reminds us of the rules

Update:

TTC streetcars. Drivers still must learn to stay out of streetcars' designated lanes -- which are now physically distinct from ordinary traffic lanes. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
TTC streetcars. Drivers still must learn to stay out of streetcars’ designated lanes — which are now physically distinct from ordinary traffic lanes. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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Redesigned street is popular but ‘you really have to keep your wits about you,’ admits mayor.

Toronto police will hit the waterfront this weekend to launch a traffic blitz on crowded Queens Quay.

In a news release issued Friday, the force said officers will be on the street Saturday and Sunday afternoon, between noon and 4 p.m., and the blitz will target “motorists, cyclists and pedestrians not obeying the rules and committing unsafe acts.”

The release said the goal of the initiative was to enforce the rules but also educate the public “on how to make Queens Quay a safe place for everyone.”

The lakeside boulevard reopened in June 2015 after a $128.9-million overhaul that took three years and was intended to allow drivers, bikers, pedestrians and public transit to coexist on the same road.

While the redesign has proved popular and Queens Quay is a favourite destination for locals and tourists, it has also prompted complaints from people who say the unfamiliar configuration is sowing confusion and conflict among road users not use to sharing the street.

Waterfront Toronto, the publicly funded agency that led the redesign, is still making adjustments like adding signs telling pedestrians to watch for cyclists at intersections where they might come into conflict, and installing additional traffic lights to discourage illegal left turns.

But potentially dangerous behaviour, like drivers illegally using the streetcar right-of-way, is still a common sight.

Mayor John Tory, who did a walk-through of Queens Quay with Toronto police officers and members of Waterfront Toronto on Friday afternoon, said he believed the redesign has been successful but people need time to get used to it.

“I think it is working as well as you can expect when this is a concept that is I think quite new for Torontonians,” he said.

The mayor said that with all the activity on Queens Quay “you really have to keep your wits about you,” and admitted that during the walk-through he accidentally wandered into the path of bicycles because he wasn’t paying attention.

But he rejected any suggestion that Waterfront Toronto had bungled the project.

“I don’t look at it that anybody made a mistake,” he said. “We’ll continue to learn, but it doesn’t mean you don’t do these things. This is part of building a modern city that is going to be shared by people who want to get around in different ways.”

Const. Barry Bates of 52 Division said that last summer there was “an extraordinary number of accidents” on Queens Quay. He estimated there were about 70 collisions between Rees. St. and York St. This year that number has declined, he said.

According to Bates, while Queens Quay has had its issues the problem is mainly with the amount of people who use the street rather than with its design.

“When you overload something, it breaks down. . . There’s no correction for that. It’s just part of being downtown in an urban environment.”

About eight uniformed police will take part in this weekend’s blitz, plus parking enforcement officers, Bates said. The service intends to concentrate on issues like cyclists riding too fast, drivers making improper turns, pedestrians crossing the streetcar right-of-way, and road users of all kinds disobeying signals.

According to Bates, the officers will favour educating people over handing out tickets. “That’s all we can do, do our best to educate. It’s an ongoing process. It’s not going to end this summer.”

Laura Feltz, who has lived in the area for six years, said she welcomed the blitz. Her eyesight is deteriorating, and she sometimes has to be extra cautious on the street, especially at night.

“You don’t have to stay too long to see people doing the wrong things,” she said.

“You’ve got people who don’t obey signals, you’ve got pedestrians who are new to this city and they’re trying to understand where they’re going and not really paying full attention.”

The rules, one more time

Confused about the redesigned Queens Quay? Don’t worry, the police are here to help. This weekend they’ll be educating (and possibly ticketing) road users who don’t follow the rules. Here are the types of behaviour they’ll be focusing on.

  • Unsafe crossings: It’s not illegal to cross the street mid-block, Const. Barry Bates of 52 Division said, but with pedestrians forced to traverse both streetcar tracks and car lanes to get to the other side of Queens Quay, police will be advising people pay extra attention. “Use a crosswalk if you can,” Bates said.
  • Speedy cyclists: The Martin Goodman Trail that runs along Queens Quay is a popular cycling route, but some riders seem to love it a bit too much. Many don’t heed the signs to slow down. “This is a family area,” said Const. Bates. “As far as having a wide-open bicycle track, this is not it . . . Cyclists need to slow down and share the (trail).”
  • Reckless turns: A major cause of the high number of collisions last year was drivers ignoring left-turn traffic lights, particularly at the intersection with Lower Simcoe St. Waterfront Toronto has added additional signals to make it clearer to drivers when it’s safe to turn left, but police will be watching for motorists who ignore them.
  • Signal scofflaws: There are separate traffic signals on Queens Quay for drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and streetcars. During the blitz police will be watching for anyone who disobeys them. “Whatever group decides at one point, ‘I’m not waiting,’ it’s going to have a trickle-down effect to everybody else,” said Const. Hugh Smith.