WBEZ | Transportation http://www.wbez.org/news/transportation Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Changes in taxi industry leave cab owners underwater http://www.wbez.org/news/changes-taxi-industry-leave-cab-owners-underwater-111920 <p><p>If you were looking for a good return on investment in the last few years, it was hard to beat a Chicago taxi medallion. Medallions, which are city-issued licenses to operate cabs, increased in value at least fivefold between 2006 and 2013. But now after huge shifts in the industry, many owners are deep underwater on their medallion loans, and some say they&rsquo;re nearly worthless.</p><p>&ldquo;I haven&rsquo;t written a new taxi loan in well over nine months? Ten months?&rdquo; said Charlie Goodbar, an attorney and taxi fleet owner. &ldquo;The access to capital&rsquo;s disappeared.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago limits the number of medallions to roughly 7,000. Without those metal plates affixed to the hood, a taxi cannot operate in the city. Goodbar has facilitated hundreds of medallion sales over the years. But today, would-be buyers are finding it nearly impossible to find loans to purchase medallions.</p><p>&ldquo;I probably have put together at least 20-30 percent of all transfers, at some point probably more than half,&rdquo; said Goodbar. &ldquo;And as a market-maker, and as a license broker, and as an attorney, and someone who&rsquo;s in the lending business, how in good faith can I make a market when I can&rsquo;t value the asset or value cash flow?&rdquo;</p><p>Disruption in Chicago&rsquo;s taxi industry &mdash; both from the entry of competing rideshare services, and changes to city policies affecting medallion owners &mdash; have turned the business model on its head in just two years. At one time, investing or lending in a medallion purchase was a sound business decision, because cab owners could make a good living.</p><p>&ldquo;It was a way for an immigrant family to move up the social ladder and economic ladder through the use&nbsp; of leveraged financing in the taxi industry, and a lot of hard work,&rdquo; said Goodbar.</p><p>But today, Goodbar said it&rsquo;s nearly impossible to find a bank willing to lend money for a medallion purchase, and so the avenue that many immigrants once took is increasingly closed off.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" height="233" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Taxi%20medallions%202.0.jpg" style="float: left;" title="" width="350" /></div><p>You can tell by looking at the numbers. Between 2011 and 2013, when the market was robust, an average of 30-40 medallions changed hands monthly. But starting in February of 2014, that number dropped sharply, and never recovered. In 2015, only seven medallions were transferred in the first three months.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s no buyer in the market,&rdquo; said Shyam Arora, a medallion owner. &ldquo;So it&rsquo;s a piece of garbage.&rdquo;</p><div id="responsive-embed-taximedallions">&nbsp;</div><script src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/dailygraphics/graphics/taximedallions/js/lib/pym.js" type="text/javascript"></script><script type="text/javascript"> jQuery(document).ready(function(){ var pymParent = new pym.Parent( 'responsive-embed-taximedallions', 'http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-dailygraphics/dailygraphics/graphics/taximedallions/child.html', {} ); }); </script><p>Arora is one of those immigrants who found success in the taxi industry. He came from India in 2002 and bought a medallion a few years later. Today, he has three. He and his son drive two of the cabs during the day, and he leases the third. At one time, he had as many as four drivers for his small fleet &mdash; but those days seem long ago.</p><p>On a recent early morning, he took one of his cabs to a city-owned site on the South Side for an annual taxi inspection.</p><p>&ldquo;This inspection process is stressful, very stressful,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>This day, he was especially nervous. The car is a 2010 Toyota Prius with a whopping 313,000 miles on it. Arora knew inspectors would be looking for even the smallest flaw to take it out of operation.</p><p>&ldquo;Yesterday I spent $200 to the mechanic and the day before yesterday I paid $100 for detailing,&rdquo; he recounted.</p><p>He also got the engine cleaned, and drove an hour out to the suburbs just to pick up a small paint marker that he could use to cover minor exterior nicks. Altogether, he estimated spending $500 to get the car in tip-top shape &mdash; about three days&rsquo; earnings.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m losing nowadays, every day, in my business,&rdquo; said Arora. Three months ago, he fell behind on his mortgage and medallion loan.</p><p>Arora explained that most of his income comes from leasing his taxis to other drivers, rather than driving his own cab. But amid a shortage of taxi drivers in Chicago, he&rsquo;s struggled to find people to use his taxis. That&rsquo;s meant his vehicles sit empty about one-third of the time, while he still foots the bill for their medallion loans, the car payments, taxi affiliation fees and other expenses.</p><p>Even when Arora does have drivers, he said it&rsquo;s gotten much more difficult for them to find passengers. He blamed rideshare companies like UberX, Lyft and Sidecar for stealing business.</p><p>&ldquo;When you don&rsquo;t get a customer for an hour, the [taxi] driver gets so frustrated, he goes to Starbucks or he goes home,&rdquo; explained Arora.</p><p>Arora would love to sell his medallions and be done with it. But he knows he won&rsquo;t find a buyer at a good price. Plus, he&rsquo;s facing the same dilemma that homeowners once did during the recent housing crisis. Many borrowed significant sums of money against their homes as housing values increased, only to find themselves underwater on those loans once the market settled.</p><p>Similarly, Arora and many other owners borrowed heavily against their medallions while they increased in value. Arora said that helped his family get through the recession.</p><p>&ldquo;Medallions were the source of feeding everybody &mdash; every expense we have,&rdquo; he explained.</p><p>But now, he owes $600,000 against his medallions, and he knows that nobody will buy them for anything close to that amount.</p><p>Arora believes his only way out may be a loan modification. Goodbar says medallion lenders have every reason to cooperate.</p><p>&ldquo;There will be shakeout in the market, the lenders will have to work with the borrowers,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;because I think the last thing a large medallion lender wants is a bunch of medallions sitting in a drawer.&rdquo;</p><p>Arora hopes that&rsquo;ll be true in his case, because he wants to stay in the taxi business.&nbsp; Otherwise, he&rsquo;s looking at filing for bankruptcy.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 21 Apr 2015 19:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/changes-taxi-industry-leave-cab-owners-underwater-111920 Ice stalls Great Lakes shipping season http://www.wbez.org/news/ice-stalls-great-lakes-shipping-season-111806 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Great Lakes_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>For the second year in a row, the spring shipping season is off to a slow start. Ice still covers much of the lakes and most ports don&rsquo;t expect to see international cargo ships for another two weeks.</p><p>April is historically the busiest time of year for the more than 100 ports and commercial docks along the Great Lakes.</p><p>Rick Heimann is port director for Burns Harbor in Portage, Indiana.</p><p>Burns Harbor handles more international cargo than any other port along the Great Lakes, including 15 percent of U.S. steel shipments to Europe. But at the end of March, the docks are empty.</p><p>On any given year, an average of 500,000 trucks, 10,000 railcars and 100 ships will pass through the port.</p><p>It was so cold last year, he didn&rsquo;t see a cargo ship until mid-April.</p><p>Around this time last year, more than half of Lake Michigan was covered in ice. The U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard share the responsibility of clearing the Great Lakes waterways.</p><p>Every year, in early March, they deploy a fleet of icebreakers before the official opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a 22,000-mile-long waterway that connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.</p><p>But U.S. Coast Guard Mark Gill says it was 13 days after opening up the waterway that the first ship was able to reach the locks.</p><p>&ldquo;And a lot of ships incurred damage because they came out and the ice was too hard for them,&rdquo; Gill said.</p><p>Gill says the Coast Guard logged more than 11,000 hours of breaking ice in 2014.</p><p>According to the Lake Carrier&rsquo;s Association, last year&rsquo;s icey waterways cost the economy more than $700 million and nearly 4,000 jobs.</p><p>Mark Baker is president of the Interlake Steamship Company and a member of the Lake Carrier&rsquo;s Association. His boats carry steel. Others along this route carry grains.</p><p>Baker says it took one his ships 23 days to complete a trip that normally takes six.</p><p>&ldquo;And so what happened there was, their inventory levels became critically low. And in some cases, some steel mills last year had to idle plants and cut down on on production,&rdquo; Baker said.</p><p>Baker adds that the the repercussions of a bad shipping season would be felt throughout the U.S. steel industry, which feeds the U.S. auto industry. Baker says his steel is used in small plants in Michigan and Wisconsin.&nbsp;</p><p>The Lake Carriers Association wants the Coast Guard to invest in another heavy icebreaker to keep shipping lanes open during harsh winters.</p><p>But the Coast Guard says last year&rsquo;s winter was unique.</p><p>At the port of Indiana, Heimann says that&#39;s what scary.</p><p>&ldquo;Ice is something that you don&rsquo;t have control over,&rdquo; Heimann said. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t just say: &lsquo;Ice be-gone or bring the coast guard cutter in all the time.&rsquo;&quot;</p><p>He adds that the delayed start to the 2015 season doesn&#39;t phase him, but he is counting the days until the first ships roll in.</p><p>&ldquo;We are connecting the state of Indiana to the world,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re in the state of Indiana, the heartland of the USA, yet we are only six and a half days away from the Atlantic Ocean.&rdquo;</p><p>Last year, at a time of widespread delays, Burns Harbor recorded its highest cargo volume since the port opened in 1970.</p><p><em>Claudia Morell is a reporter in Chicago. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/claudiamorell" target="_blank">@claudiamorell</a></em></p><p><em>Front and Center is funded by The Joyce Foundation: Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Wed, 01 Apr 2015 16:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ice-stalls-great-lakes-shipping-season-111806 Illinois driver's licenses may not be good to fly by 2016 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-drivers-licenses-may-not-be-good-fly-2016-111540 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/dl sec site.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois residents might not be able to use their driver&#39;s licenses at airports starting in 2016.</p><p><em><a href="http://bit.ly/16TS2QC" target="_blank">The Daily Herald</a></em> reports the licenses don&#39;t meet requirements set by the 2005 Real ID Act that were meant to increase security. Illinois doesn&#39;t require a birth certificate to get a driver&#39;s license, which Illinois Secretary of State spokesman Henry Haupt said is one of the law&#39;s mandates.</p><p>Haupt said state legislators would have to approve funding for changes to driver&#39;s license requirements. He said he&#39;s not sure how much it would cost, but the Secretary of State&#39;s office previously estimated it would take $100 million to $150 million to be in compliance. The federal government isn&#39;t offering funding.</p><p>Driver&#39;s licenses meet the federal mandates in 22 states. Illinois is one of 21 states to be granted extensions. Seven other states refuse to follow federal requirements. A 2007 resolution passed in Illinois said the Real ID Act &quot;would provide little security benefit and still leave identification systems open to insider fraud, counterfeit documentation and database failures.&quot;</p><p>The Illinois Secretary of State&#39;s office hopes to unveil a new card with better security features in the near future, Haupt said, but it&#39;s not known whether it would meet federal requirements.</p><p>As early as 2016, the Department of Homeland Security website says fliers with noncompliant driver&#39;s licenses would need another valid ID, such as a passport or military ID. The requirements are already in place to gain entry at certain federal buildings and nuclear facilities.</p><p><strong><em>Correction, Feb. 11, 2015</em></strong></p><p><em>An earlier version of this story misstated the title for Henry Haupt. He is the Deputy Press Secretary for the Illinois Secretary of State&#39;s office.</em></p></p> Wed, 11 Feb 2015 14:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-drivers-licenses-may-not-be-good-fly-2016-111540 Union Station to get a facelift http://www.wbez.org/news/union-station-get-facelift-111491 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Union%20Station%20stairs.jpg" title="The staircase at Union Station will get an upgrade as part of $12 million in renovations. (WBEZ/Greta Johnsen)" /></div><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-union-station-funding-met-20150128-story.html">last week</a> that Chicago&rsquo;s landmark Union Station will be getting some repairs, thanks to $12 million from the station&rsquo;s owner, Amtrak. Emanuel said the station hasn&rsquo;t been keeping up with a changing transit system.</p><p>&ldquo;Union Station, given it&rsquo;s the third busiest rail hub, is actually fighting below its weight class,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p>The renovations are being called a &lsquo;first step&rsquo; toward expanding and modernizing the historic building. There is a <a href="http://www.unionstationmp.com/">Master Plan</a> for the whole structure &mdash; $500 million worth &mdash; but that&rsquo;s a long-term project.</p><p>I asked <a href="http://twitter.com/leebey">Chicago architecture critic Lee Bey</a> to show me around Union Station.</p><p>&ldquo;It isn&rsquo;t enough to get as far as you&rsquo;d want to in a building like that, but it&rsquo;s a good first step,&rdquo; Bey said about the $12 million in upgrades. &ldquo;And spent the right way it&rsquo;ll bring a bang that&rsquo;s quick and visible, and will then allow transportation officials to be able to rally other money and other assistance to it over time. And time is of the essence.&rdquo;</p><p>He says beneath the crowded concourse and the dirty platforms that annoy many commuters, Union Station is still a work of art. Especially if you enter through the Great Hall on the east side of the building.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Union%20Station%20Great%20Hall.jpg" title="Union Station's Great Hall. (WBEZ/Greta Johnsen)" /></div><p>Sunlight streams in from huge windows high above us.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re like a king,&rdquo; Bey said. &ldquo;You come in and you&rsquo;re greeted by marble and beautiful columns and this grand space on the inside&hellip; you know, just to ride a train.&rdquo;</p><p>The area is simple and massive, almost like a museum or an elegant old theater.</p><p>&ldquo;What I&rsquo;m really impressed about in this building&hellip; is the volume,&rdquo; Bey said. &ldquo;The volume of the interior. And how few spaces there and in the city or any place where you can walk into a space like this&hellip; there&rsquo;s enough foresight by Amtrak and ownership to just let this space be what it needs to be. And that&rsquo;s beautiful.&rdquo;Like the Great Hall itself, train travel has a nostalgic sensibility.</p><p>Places like Union Station were often travelers&rsquo; first impression of Chicago as they arrived, or the last thing they saw as they left.</p><p>We stand under a coffered ceiling, looking up at a marble staircase with gilded handrails.</p><p>Yep, that staircase.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QJpRSf4q-hI?showinfo=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p>It&rsquo;s the staircase where the gangster bloodbath from <em>The Untouchables</em> was filmed.</p><p>It still makes a nice photo, but the stone stairs are worn deeply in the center from nearly a century of travelers&rsquo; shoes. Pieces are gouged out.</p><p>Fixing this staircase is part of the $12 million of repairs, along with the limestone facade out front.</p><p>The money is also meant for better, more energy-efficient doors and a more spacious passenger waiting area.</p><p>Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says Union Station sees about 300 trains a day, which is the same number that came through in the 1940s and 50s. More than 100,000 people move through Union Station every weekday.</p><p>The difference is, more than ever before, they&rsquo;re commuters rather than long distance travelers.</p><p>&ldquo;The crowds are sort of begging for this building to be more than just a place where you get off trains,&rdquo; Bey said. &ldquo;To make this more useful again, you&rsquo;ll have to do the cosmetic fixes, of course. But you&rsquo;ll also have to put spaces in here that do what the old spaces did &mdash; give you that embrace when you come in or that kiss goodbye.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Greta Johnsen reports and anchors weekends on WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/gretamjohnsen">@gretamjohnsen</a>. </em></p></p> Tue, 03 Feb 2015 11:44:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/union-station-get-facelift-111491 Rauner puts Illiana Expressway on hold http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-puts-illiana-expressway-hold-111394 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Illiana 3 (2).JPG" alt="" /><p><p>SPRINGFIELD, Ill. &mdash; A planned 47-mile expressway between Illinois and Indiana is on hold after new Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an executive order aimed at addressing the state&#39;s deep budget problems.</p><p>In his first act after taking office Monday, the Republican suspended planning and development of any major interstate construction projects pending a &quot;careful review&quot; of costs and benefits. Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said Tuesday the planned Illiana Expressway is among the projects that fall under the executive order, adding that it&#39;s part of &quot;a broader review to maximize taxpayer investment in infrastructure.&quot;</p><p>It was unclear Tuesday how long that review may take.</p><p>The $1.5 billion project would provide an east-west link between Interstate 65 in Indiana and Interstate 55 in Illinois.</p><p>Supporters, including Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, say the expressway would relieve traffic congestion on Interstate 80 south of Chicago and create much-needed jobs.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;re ready to build the Illiana whenever Illinois is,&quot; Christy Denault, communications director for Pence, said Tuesday.</p><p>Opponents have called the project unnecessary and say it could become a boondoggle, leaving taxpayers on the hook if toll revenue falls short. Among those who have been critical is Randy Blankenhorn, Rauner&#39;s pick to lead the Illinois Department of Transportation.</p><p>Blankenhorn, who currently leads the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, couldn&#39;t be reached for comment Tuesday. But he&#39;s said publicly he wasn&#39;t sure Illiana was a good deal for Illinois and could expose taxpayers to undue risk.</p><p>Environmentalists also oppose the project, saying it will spoil rural areas in Illinois&#39; Will County.</p><p>Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, supported the expressway. Last month, the Federal Highway Administration approved plans for the project, giving officials the green light to begin looking for public-private partnerships to construct, maintain and operate it.</p><p>Opponents have vowed to continue a fight against it, and a lawsuit is pending.</p></p> Tue, 13 Jan 2015 18:02:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-puts-illiana-expressway-hold-111394 Study proposes fairer rules for cab industry http://www.wbez.org/news/study-proposes-fairer-rules-cab-industry-111392 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Cabs.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago should revamp its rules for taxi drivers and create a task force to professionalize the industry, according to a report issued Tuesday by a group of labor, faith and community leaders. The Chicago Taxi Drivers Workers Rights Board, working in conjunction with Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 31, plans to pass along their findings and recommendations to a new city task force that is looking into changes for the taxi industry.</p><p>&ldquo;The system that the City has established to impose tickets, fines and licensure threats on drivers is at the root of an escalating collective worker anger,&rdquo; said Robert Bruno, a labor relations professor at the University of Illinois and an author of the report. &ldquo;And we believe it is in need of systemic change.&rdquo;</p><p>The group held a public hearing for taxi drivers in November to identify the key areas to target in the study. It found that cabbies resented having little to no input on rules that apply to their industry; the system of fees, fines and penalties that they work under are unnecessarily burdensome; and, they feel there is a lack of due process in the administrative hearings court that adjudicates tickets and complaints against cab drivers.</p><p>&ldquo;Cab drivers are sent to a special court, where the rules are arbitrary and opaque,&rdquo; explained Tracy Abman, Associate Director of AFSCME Local 31, &ldquo;where complainants are not required to be present or even reveal their identity, and where city prosecutors routinely threaten and coerce drivers into foregoing their right to a hearing.&rdquo;</p><p>Abman contrasted that with the process that drivers for rideshare services like UberX and Lyft face when they are ticketed or charged with breaking the law. She said those drivers are able to face and cross-examine their accusers in the Circuit Court, and that taxi drivers should be able to do the same.</p><p>Rideshare services help non-professional drivers use their cars much like taxis, and have been legal in Chicago for several months. Former Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation legalizing the services statewide before leaving office this week.</p><p>Bruno said the pressure of competition against rideshare services could be positive for the taxi industry, if it moves to distinguish itself as a more professional industry. &ldquo;It could be wearing uniforms, it could be training programs, it could be incentives in terms of performance in which pay could increase,&rdquo; said Bruno. &ldquo;I think there are creative things that could be done.&rdquo;</p><p>The study recommends the creation of a task force to explore ways in which the industry could improve its services, as well as establish taxi-driving as a career path to the middle class.</p><p>Taxi drivers should see some relief next month, when an <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-moves-taxi-reforms-leave-more-money-cabbies-pockets-110877" target="_blank">ordinance</a> goes into effect that will lower credit card fees, penalties, and leases for most cabs.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef" target="_blank">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud" target="_blank">@WBEZoutloud</a></em></p></p> Tue, 13 Jan 2015 16:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-proposes-fairer-rules-cab-industry-111392 How driver's license suspensions unfairly target the poor http://www.wbez.org/news/how-drivers-license-suspensions-unfairly-target-poor-111332 <p><p><em>This is the second of two stories. Read the first story,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cant-pay-your-fines-your-license-could-be-taken-111309">here</a>.</em></p><p>If you get caught drinking and driving in Wisconsin, and it&#39;s your first offense, you lose your license for nine months. For a hit and run, the punishment is suspension for one year.</p><p>But if you don&#39;t pay a ticket for a minor driving offense, such as driving with a broken tail light, you can lose your license for two years.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s an incredible policy,&quot; says John Pawasarat of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. It&#39;s &quot;a policy of punishing people who can&#39;t pay their fines.&quot;</p><p>The practice &ndash; repeated in states across the country &ndash; is mostly impacting the poor and creating a spiral of bad consequences.</p><p>NPR&#39;s recent&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/series/313986316/guilty-and-charged">&quot;Guilty and Charged&quot; investigation</a>&nbsp;found that rising court fines and fees &mdash; reaching hundreds or even thousands of dollars per person &mdash; often hurt poor people the most.</p><p>Pawasarat, who runs the university&#39;s Employment and Training Institute and studies Milwaukee&#39;s poor neighborhoods, says one of the biggest barriers to getting a job is not having a driver&#39;s license.</p><p>&quot;Two out of three African-American men in this neighborhood, of working age, don&#39;t have a driver&#39;s license,&quot; he says while walking down Martin Luther King Avenue in Milwaukee. &quot;And are consequently unable to access the jobs that are beyond the bus lines.&quot;</p><p>But among the typical barriers to employment &mdash; such as having a prison record, or a poor education &mdash; a suspended license is the easiest to solve, says Pawasarat.</p><p>McArthur Edwards, who lives nearby, knows from personal experience.</p><p>&quot;It hinders you because most jobs are not in the inner city nowadays. And they get pushed far back. And the buses don&#39;t go out there. So the inner-city jobs that we have are not able to provide for our families that we have and to provide for ourselves,&quot; he says.</p><p>In 2013, Edwards was stopped by police and ticketed for driving with a broken light over his back license plate. State department of transportation records show that when he didn&#39;t pay the $64 fine, his driver&#39;s license was suspended for two years.</p><p>He kept driving and got more tickets. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 75 percent of Americans who get their licenses suspended, continue driving.</p><p>Edwards, who&#39;s 29, has come to the Center for Driver&#39;s License Recovery and Employability, where lawyers and case workers help people with low income get suspensions lifted.</p><p>His reason for wanting his license is simple: He wants a better job.</p><p>From time to time, Edwards is hired to work in warehouses around the city. But those are temporary jobs, often at around minimum wage.</p><p>That makes it difficult for him to pay both the landlord and the electric bill.</p><p>Edwards, who lived in foster care or state homes from the time he was 2, wants to be a good father to his four children, who are 4- to 11-years old.</p><p>&quot;I want my kids to look up to me. I want my kids to be like, &#39;Me and my father did that,&#39; or, &#39;I need these,&#39; or &#39;I want these,&#39; or &#39;the school said I needed this,&#39;&quot; he says. &quot;And I can&#39;t afford to buy it. Or I can&#39;t provide for my children. I don&#39;t want that to be that way.&quot;</p><p>Recently, Edwards responded to ads for long-distance truck drivers. Two companies promised to train him, but not until he has a valid driver&#39;s license.</p><p>It&#39;s a potential job that he speaks of wistfully. &quot;I like traveling. And trucking is a good way to travel. Just see the sights of America, man. It&#39;s a beautiful country,&quot; he says. &quot;I just want to see everything. I love the road.&quot;</p><p>To lift his suspension, staff at the center helped Edwards reset the original unpaid ticket.</p><p>For six other tickets &mdash; most of them for driving while suspended &mdash; he paid $600 on the $1,800 he owed. He then cleared the rest by doing community service.</p><p>The most common way that people lose their driver&#39;s license in Wisconsin is not for drunk driving or other unsafe driving. It&#39;s for failure to pay the fine on a ticket for a non-moving traffic offense. Those make up 56 percent of all license suspensions in the state, according to statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.</p><p>Nationwide, the numbers are similar: about 40 percent of suspensions are for unpaid traffic tickets, and for things like not paying child support, or getting caught with drugs &mdash; things that have nothing to do with unsafe driving, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.</p><p>People with money pay off their tickets and are done with the courts. When people don&#39;t pay, a minor ticket can set off a chain of problems.</p><p>Like for Angel Hinton, who also came to the center for help.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/hinton-img_0480-edit_custom-245e81c52238a85d88a7ad54b3619443cde2b637-s400-c85.jpg" style="float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="Angel Hinton with her daughter, Cameisha, 8. Hinton's business suffered after her license was suspended. (Joseph Shapiro/NPR)" />Hinton had a small janitorial business, but money was tight. So she challenged a parking ticket she received outside of the suburban office building she cleaned on Sunday mornings.</p><p>But the unpaid ticket meant she couldn&#39;t renew her car registration. She then got more tickets for expired tags. She missed a court date. She says she wasn&#39;t notified. That triggered an arrest warrant. And one day, she was stopped by police, pulled out of her car and handcuffed in front of her young daughter.</p><p>Without a license, she could no longer drive to the places she cleaned.</p><p>&quot;This basically ruined my life,&quot; she says. &quot;I mean, I was to the point that I&#39;m building my business. I&#39;m growing. And now I&#39;m back to depending on public assistance.&quot;</p><p>When Jim Gramling was a judge on Milwaukee&#39;s Municipal Court, he saw the problems that license suspensions created for poor people. He worked with lawyers, court officials and community activists to help start the Center for Driver&#39;s License Recovery and Employability, a public-private partnership between Wisconsin Community Services, a non-profit community agency; Legal Action of Wisconsin, which provides legal services to the poor; Milwaukee Area Technical College and the city&#39;s Municipal Court.</p><p>After retiring from the bench, Gramling immediately started working at the center as a volunteer lawyer.</p><p>&quot;What we see constantly here at the center are drivers who have accumulated a series of tickets that are directly related to their lack of income,&quot; he says.</p><p>Since the program started in 2007, it has worked with about 10,000 clients, helping nearly 3,000 get their license.</p><p>&quot;People should pay their tickets. No doubt about it,&quot; says Gramling. &quot;They should be held accountable for what they&#39;ve done that violated the traffic laws. But at some point, a balance has to be introduced into this. And the balance is, if people don&#39;t pay because they&#39;re low income and can&#39;t budget that expense, what&#39;s an appropriate penalty?&quot;</p><p>Gramling says most judges never ask people if they have the money to pay traffic tickets. So he argues for alternative penalties. For example, to let people pay in small monthly amounts, or arrange for community service instead.</p><p>The retired judge is also lobbying state lawmakers to end the two-year suspension on failure to pay a ticket.</p><p>Municipal Court officials declined to speak about the policy of giving two-year suspensions, but the threat of losing a license does push people who can pay, to pay. Then there&#39;s the issue of fairness: If there&#39;s no punishment for people who can afford to pay, but don&#39;t.</p><p>Still, a new analysis of city records by the non-profit Justice Initiatives Institute, says there&#39;s no evidence that the long suspensions stop people from driving and getting more tickets. Sometimes, people then get arrested and put in jail &mdash; which is expensive for the city. Mostly, the report says, the two-year suspensions just put poor people more in debt.</p></p> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 08:54:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/how-drivers-license-suspensions-unfairly-target-poor-111332 Can't pay your fines? Your license could be taken http://www.wbez.org/news/cant-pay-your-fines-your-license-could-be-taken-111309 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/desiree-seats_custom-53edb94a443a5c9d7ba9c3b6e5118097e0f8c447-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Drive drunk, drive recklessly, and the state can suspend your driver&#39;s license. But many police and motor vehicle administrators worry about a recent trend: A large number of suspensions are for reasons that have nothing to do with unsafe driving.</p><p>These reasons include unpaid traffic tickets, falling behind on child support, getting caught with drugs, bouncing checks; or minor juvenile offenses like missing school, using false identification to buy alcohol, or shoplifting.</p><p>Increasingly, people who study driver safety say this makes little sense.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.aamva.org/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&amp;ItemID=3723&amp;libID=3709" target="_blank">A study in 2013</a>&nbsp;from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators raised concerns that police and state and local motor vehicle officials find too much of their time and budget tied up going after people with suspensions for minor lawbreaking that has nothing to do with safe driving.</p><p>&quot;They want to focus on the people who pose a risk to the general population that&#39;s driving on the roadway. And those are usually the people who are suspended for ... things like hit-and-run crashes, DUIs, unsafe speed, reckless driving &mdash; those actions that we as a society consider severe and dangerous on the roadway,&quot; says Robert Eger, who wrote a study for the motor vehicle administrators.</p><p>In Milwaukee, Desiree Seats, 23, knows how a suspended license can be limiting, and how having a valid license can open opportunities: She lost her license before she even got it.</p><p>This summer, Seats went for her first driver&#39;s license and passed the road test. But instead of being given the license, she was told it already was suspended.</p><p>About six years ago, when she was 16, Seats had been caught shoplifting jeans and a shirt at a suburban department store. She went to court and was fined on a juvenile charge, but the fine never was paid. Seats says she didn&#39;t know about the fine and that neither she nor her mother would have had the money back then to pay it.</p><p>She still owed $315, and that kicked in a license suspension for two years from the day she was eligible to receive one.</p><p>Eger, a retired police officer who is now a professor at the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, Calif., found that nationwide about 40 percent of people whose licenses are suspended lose them for reasons other than bad driving.</p><p>It all started with laws passed by Congress in the late 1980s. First, a law took away the driver&#39;s license of men who didn&#39;t pay child support. Then came one for people caught with drugs.</p><p>Next, state lawmakers added hundreds of reasons that had nothing to do with unsafe driving. Eger found that at least 18 states will suspend someone&#39;s driver&#39;s license for failure to pay the fines on nondriving traffic violations. And four states will suspend it for not paying parking tickets. Among the other reasons: school truancy, bouncing a check, not paying college loans, graffiti and littering.</p><p>Eger says that no research shows that suspending a license will make someone likely to change his behavior.</p><p>But Colleen Eubanks of the National Child Support Enforcement Association says just the threat of losing a license makes a difference. &quot;It&#39;s an effective tool for motivating people to pay their child support,&quot; she says. Billions of dollars of child support are collected each year using this tactic.</p><p>&quot;Driving is a privilege, and if you&#39;re not willing to support your children and [you] expect society to do it,&quot; she says, &quot;then you should lose the privilege of driving.&quot;</p><p>But there&#39;s also evidence that when people lose a license for reasons unrelated to safety, they take suspensions less seriously. At least 75 percent of people who have had their licenses revoked just keep driving, according to the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.</p><p>&quot;You don&#39;t need a license to drive; you just need a car,&quot; says Jim Gramling, a former Municipal Court judge in Milwaukee. After Gramling retired from the court, he went to work as a volunteer lawyer at the Center for Driver&#39;s License Recovery and Employability, an organization he helped start. It&#39;s a place where those with low income can get legal help.</p><p>Courts will order arrest warrants when people don&#39;t pay court fines and fees. At the end of his time as a judge, Gramling dropped those arrest warrants for impoverished defendants. But they still had to pay off their fines. Similar ticket amnesties have been tried around the country &mdash; including this month in Ferguson, Mo. Those programs have had limited success.</p><p>In Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union took a different approach and argued in a 2013 lawsuit that the state discriminated against poor people when it took away their driver&#39;s licenses for failure to pay court fines and fees. About 200,000 drivers had their licenses suspended that year for not paying the fines. But a court has largely rejected the argument.</p><p>Gramling says people with money just pay off their fines &mdash; and avoid court. But people with little money often struggle when they get tickets.</p><p>&quot;Often they&#39;re living lives where they can&#39;t afford to leave a job early, or at all, to go to court. They can&#39;t hire a lawyer, can&#39;t afford a lawyer. So they often let the cases go by default and don&#39;t challenge tickets that maybe should be challenged,&quot; he says. &quot;It&#39;s tough.&quot;</p><p>In Milwaukee, Seats went to the Center for Driver&#39;s License Recovery; lawyers and case managers there helped her negotiate paying off her fine in small amounts over several months and get the suspension lifted.</p><p>She had already bought a car &mdash; a used, nine-year-old Hyundai Elantra. With a dependable car and a valid license, she figured she had everything she needed to start making money.</p><p>Seats, the mother of a 4-year-old boy, now works as a personal care assistant, helping a woman with a disability fix meals, bathe and get dressed.</p><p>A few days after getting her license, she also started a second job delivering newspapers, and she has also applied for a job delivering pizza. And the freedom of being able to drive helps her attend a technical college as well, where she&#39;s studying to become a pharmacy assistant.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;m very goal-oriented,&quot; she explains as she drives to the house of the woman she helps with chores. &quot;I have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish, in a set amount of time. And that&#39;s what I&#39;m working on now.&quot;</p><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/2014/12/29/372691960/cant-pay-your-fines-your-license-could-be-taken" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></p> Tue, 30 Dec 2014 10:19:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cant-pay-your-fines-your-license-could-be-taken-111309 Uber's troubles mount even as its value grows http://www.wbez.org/news/ubers-troubles-mount-even-its-value-grows-111221 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/reuters.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Uber, the ride-sharing service that is <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/04/368550291/uber-is-richer-than-ever-but-the-company-still-isnt-playing-nice" target="_blank">growing in value</a>, is also watching its troubles mount.</p><p>It&#39;s latest woes are in California where, as NPR&#39;s Laura Sydell tells our Newscast unit, the attorneys general of San Francisco and Los Angeles counties are suing Uber. Here&#39;s more from Sydell&#39;s report:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;Prosecutors say that Uber misrepresents and exaggerates how extensively it does background checks on drivers. Uber searches publicly available data bases on individuals but prosecutors say it needs to take finger prints to check for criminal histories like traditional taxi companies.&quot;</p></blockquote><p>Complaints against the company fall into two broad categories: One is the accusation that it doesn&#39;t screen its drivers properly; the other is the fact that it lacks permits to operate or is unregulated, and hence the charge that Uber has an unfair advantage over traditional taxis.</p><p><strong>Driver screening: </strong>The service was banned this week in the Indian capital, New Delhi, where an Uber driver is <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/12/10/369589675/alleged-rape-of-passenger-raises-concerns-about-how-uber-runs-abroad" target="_blank">accused of raping</a> a female passenger. Similarly, in Chicago, police said <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-chicago-investigating-uber-driver-20141209-story.html" target="_blank">today</a> they are investigating allegations that an Uber driver sexually assaulted a passenger.</p><p><strong>Permits: </strong><a href="http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2014/12/uber_to_portland_we_will_conti.html" target="_blank">Authorities in Portland, Ore.</a>, shutdown the service Dec. 10, saying its drivers don&#39;t have permits to operate in the city. A day earlier, a <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30395093" target="_blank">judge in Spain</a> ordered Uber to stop its service in the country after protests by taxi drivers. Also this month, <a href="http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=nl&amp;u=http://www.telegraaf.nl/binnenland/23423484/__Uber__beroep_over_uitspraak_app__.html&amp;prev=search" target="_blank">a Dutch court said</a> the company&#39;s low-cost UberPop service could not operate in the Netherlands, and <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/transport/448541/uber-privately-owned-vehicles-banned-in-thailand" target="_blank">Thailand</a> ordered the company to stop operations, too. In <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-08/rio-police-probing-illegal-uber-amid-car-seizure-threat.html" target="_blank">Rio de Janeiro</a>, Uber drivers were told to get off the road or risk having their cars seized. Uber says it will appeal those decisions, and continue to operate in some places where it has been <a href="http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2014/12/uber_to_portland_we_will_conti.html" target="_blank">ordered to stop</a>.</p><p>The developments comes amid a financial windfall for the San Francisco-based company. Uber <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/04/368550291/uber-is-richer-than-ever-but-the-company-still-isnt-playing-nice" target="_blank">announced last week</a> that it raised $1.2 billion in its latest round of financing. It&#39;s now valued at more than $40 billion. That valuation came, as NPR&#39;s Sam Sanders reported, amid bad press for the company. Sanders noted:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;Uber drivers have been <a href="http://www.buzzfeed.com/johanabhuiyan/behind-the-scenes-of-ubers-biggest-driver-protest" target="_blank">striking for higher fares</a>. The company has come under fire for how it uses ride data, with some even accusing Uber of keeping track of <a href="https://gigaom.com/2012/03/26/uber-one-night-stands/" target="_blank">riders&#39; one-night stands</a>. Recently, an Uber executive alluded to the possibility of <a href="http://www.npr.org/2014/11/18/365015988/uber-executive-lashes-out-at-journalists-after-negative-publicity" target="_blank">spying on journalists</a>.</p><p>&quot;Uber has also been accused of going to extreme lengths to bring down competitors. The company has hired <a href="http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/26/6067663/this-is-ubers-playbook-for-sabotaging-lyft" target="_blank">stealth riders</a>, giving them burner phones to cancel fares, and giving them cash payments to lure drivers from other services like Lyft.&quot;</p></blockquote><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/10/369922099/ubers-troubles-mount-even-as-its-value-grows" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></p> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 10:56:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/ubers-troubles-mount-even-its-value-grows-111221 Are Chicago's shorter yellow lights unsafe, or just unfair? http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 <p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s red light cameras are under increased scrutiny, after a <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/redlight/"><em>Chicago Tribune</em> investigation</a> found glitchy cameras may have issued thousands of tickets in error. The report also found many yellow lights are slightly short of the city standard of three seconds.</p><p>WBEZ has been looking into yellow lights too &mdash; and we&rsquo;ve found something else. Many traffic experts say Chicago flouts industry best practices with how it programs its traffic control devices &mdash; and one engineer says it may be &ldquo;entrapping&rdquo; drivers into running red lights.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Should I run? Should I stop?</span></p><p>Our inquiry started with Pavel Gigov, a North Side resident who, incidentally, is not a transportation engineer. Gigov drives a car, and like many of us, he&rsquo;s gotten a red light camera ticket or two. He got one in April at an intersection he normally drove through on his way home from work, and thought something was strange.</p><p>&ldquo;The light turned yellow and my immediate reaction was, OK, let me figure out what to do,&rdquo; Gigov recounted. &ldquo;And before I could actually even put my mind around what the decent thing to do is &mdash; should I run? should I stop? &mdash; it was already red and I was in the middle of the intersection.&rdquo;</p><p>The intersection was at W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave., in Chicago&rsquo;s West Ridge neighborhood. The streets are pretty wide: each has six or seven lanes across, and like many Chicago roads, the speed limit is 30 miles an hour.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" src="https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m16!1m12!1m3!1d209.6174687124326!2d-87.69939310755217!3d41.99043739075356!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!2m1!1scalifornia+ave+peterson+ave!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1409930061367" style="border:0" width="600"></iframe></p><p><em>Gigov received his red light camera ticket at the intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Like many Chicago intersections, the streets have a speed limit of 30mph.</em></p><p>Gigov said the moment he crossed into the intersection, he saw the flash of the red light camera going off.</p><p>&ldquo;And I knew that there was something that was going to be in the mail pretty soon,&rdquo; he laughed.</p><p>Sure, enough, Gigov got a $100 ticket in the mail. He paid it, but still, he wondered: wasn&rsquo;t that yellow light kind of short?</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Is it safe? Is it fair?</span></p><p><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation says</a> the city&rsquo;s yellow light intervals &ldquo;fall within the guidelines of the Federal Highway Administration&rsquo;s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and adheres to recommendations by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s half-true.</p><p>First, the true part: <a href="http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009r1r2/html_index.htm">the MUTCD does, indeed, recommend</a> that yellow lights fall between 3 and 6 seconds. At the intersection where Gigov got his ticket, a frame-by-frame video analysis of the traffic signal showed that the yellow light lasts exactly three seconds &mdash; the minimum recommended under the MUTCD guidelines.</p><p>But three seconds falls short of what the yellow light interval should be, if the city were to follow ITE recommendations as it claims. Gigov said he worries that in flouting best engineering practices, Chicago may put drivers at risk. Particularly at red light camera intersections, where each traffic violation could bring dollars into the city&rsquo;s coffers.</p><p>&ldquo;Are we trading in accidents for revenue?&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Unfortunately in the City of Chicago, that&rsquo;s a legitimate question.&rdquo;</p><p>The city claims it implements a blanket policy on yellow light intervals, regardless of whether there&rsquo;s a red light camera: three seconds when the speed limit is 30mph or lower, and four seconds when it&rsquo;s 35mph or higher. &ldquo;Chicago&rsquo;s yellow times are more than adequate for a driver traveling the speed limit to react and stop safely,&rdquo; it states on the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">CDOT website</a>. The policy bucks a growing trend among transportation agencies nationwide.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea of a constant time is not typical,&rdquo; said James Taylor, a retired traffic engineer in Indiana.</p><p>While there&rsquo;s no federal mandate that requires transportation agencies to follow a method in determining yellow light intervals, Taylor said more places are adopting a <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">mathematical equation</a> that has been developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</p><p>&ldquo;It keeps getting more and more widely accepted,&rdquo; said Taylor, &ldquo;as opposed to the system you&rsquo;re talking about where we just say let&rsquo;s just make all of them three (seconds), or three-and-a-half, or something like that.&rdquo;</p><p>A 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">survey</a> of more than 200 transportation agencies in the U.S., Canada and Germany, found only 6 percent timed their yellow light intervals the way Chicago does. By contrast, the largest chunk &mdash; almost 40 percent &mdash; used the ITE equation.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Using the ITE formula</span></p><p>The ITE formula for the length of yellow lights factors in the specific conditions of an individual intersection, such as speed limit and the grade of the road. It also uses numerical assumptions based on extensive field studies.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="Y=t+(1.47V/2a+64.4g)" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-1.png" style="height: 64px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Where:</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Y = total clearance period (in seconds)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>t = perception-reaction time (usually 1 second)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>a = deceleration rate (ft/sec&sup2;)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>g = percent of grade divided by 100</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The equation assumes a perception-reaction time, <em>t</em>, of one second for the average driver, based on field measurements. In other words, it takes about that long for a typical driver to see that the light has changed to yellow, and to decide what to do.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The fraction shown in the equation calculates how long it should take to decelerate to a stop, based on a typical driver&rsquo;s approach speed (<em>V</em>), a comfortable deceleration rate (<em>a</em>), and the grade of the intersection. Traffic engineers recommend using the 85th percentile of approaching traffic to determine a typical approach speed. If that hasn&rsquo;t, or cannot, be measured, a commonly accepted approximation is to add 7mph to the speed limit. &nbsp;Field studies have also found that a comfortable deceleration rate, <em>a</em>, for drivers is 10 ft/sec&sup2;. In Chicago, the grade of the street, <em>g</em>, is negligible, so we assume it to be zero.</div><p>Plug the numbers in for the intersection where Gigov received his yellow ticket, and it yields a yellow light interval, <em>Y</em>, of 3.7 seconds &mdash; that is, 0.7 seconds longer than it actually lasts. Studies show that could significantly change outcomes at an intersection.</p><p>&ldquo;Increasing the yellow by one second would decrease violations by 50-60 percent, and reduce crashes by 35-40 percent,&rdquo; said Davey Warren, a transportation engineer who spent most of his career with the Federal Highway Administration.</p><p>That agency has been pushing transportation departments nationwide to adopt the kinematic equation. In fact, in 2012 it made a change to the MUTCD that would require agencies to switch to engineering practices to determine yellow light intervals by mid-June of 2017.</p><p>Many traffic engineers were surprised to hear that Chicago does not already use widely-accepted engineering practices to calculate its yellow light intervals.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a general rule with engineers, you should be following the best accepted practice unless they can document valid reasons for not doing so,&rdquo; said Warren.</p><p>WBEZ requested multiple times to interview someone at Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation. The department didn&rsquo;t respond. The department also failed to respond to a request under the Freedom of Information Act for its programming instructions for traffic control devices.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">After the yellow, comes the all-red</span></p><p>But before you worry that the city&rsquo;s putting drivers at risk by skimping on yellow light times, there&rsquo;s a twist. In addition to recommending a mathematically-derived yellow light interval, transportation engineers also recommend something called an <em>all-red interval</em>. That&rsquo;s a brief moment after the yellow light, where the lights are red in <em>all directions</em>. It gives a chance for cars still caught in the intersection to finish crossing before the opposing traffic gets a green.</p><p>The ITE recommendation for the all-red interval has changed over time. However,a 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">study</a> by the National Cooperative Highway Research Board proposed the following guideline for the calculation:&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="R=(W+L/1.47V)-1" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-2.png" style="height: 59px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><p>Where:</p><p><em>R = all-red clearance interval (seconds)</em><br /><em>W = intersection width (ft)</em><br /><em>L = length of vehicle (ft)</em><br /><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s worth noting that there&rsquo;s some debate over subtracting the number 1 on the right side of this equation. The &nbsp;ITE contemplates both possibilities. The NCHRP study found in field studies that it typically takes one second for drivers to perceive and react to a change to green after the all-red interval. So in its conclusions, it recommends subtracting that reaction time, to keep traffic flow more efficient.</p><p>Across transportation engineering literature, the standard length of a vehicle, <em>L</em>, is 20 feet, and again, the approach speed is approximated by adding 7mph to the speed limit.</p><p>At Gigov&rsquo;s intersection, where the streets were approximately 60 feet wide, the formula above yields an all-red clearance interval of 0.47 seconds. That means a vehicle that was caught in the intersection when the light turned red, would still have about half-a-second to finish its transition before opposing traffic gets a green light.</p><p>It turns out, the actual all-red clearance interval at the intersection of W Peterson Ave and N California Ave alternates between one and two seconds. Both of these are much longer than the formula recommends.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-lights-2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>At a typical intersection in Chicago, where speed limits are 30mph, the city sets yellow lights at three seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of at least one second. By comparison, best engineering practices recommends a yellow light of 3.7 seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of .47 seconds. Experts say that while the total clearance times are close (4 seconds and 4.17 seconds, respectively), the misallocation of time between the yellow and all-red intervals may entrap drivers into more violations.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Data on actual yellow lights from CDOT&rsquo;s website and field measurements at intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Recommended calculations based on the<a href="http://www.ite.org/bookstore/IR-113.pdf"> kinematic equation</a> developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size: 22px;">&lsquo;Entrapping drivers into running red lights&rsquo;</span></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Together, the yellow light and the all-red interval add up to what&rsquo;s called a &ldquo;change period.&rdquo; That &ldquo;change period&rdquo; at the intersection where Gigov got his ticket equals the three-second yellow light, plus one or two seconds for the all-red interval -- a total of four or five seconds. Engineering practices would yield a nearly similar result: a 3.7 second yellow light, followed by 0.47 second all-red interval, totaling 4.17 seconds.</div><p>The difference is, Chicago shortens the yellow portion of the change interval, and lengthens the all-red portion.</p><p>&ldquo;So from a safety standpoint, it&rsquo;s probably OK, but the thing is they&rsquo;re misallocating the times,&rdquo; said Warren, &ldquo;and so they&rsquo;re basically entrapping drivers into running red lights.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, Chicago&rsquo;s yellow light intervals may not be unsafe, but they may be unfair.</p><p>Gigov said if the city wants to win back public trust when it comes to its use of red light cameras, it should use to the most up-to-date engineering guidelines when it programs its traffic control devices.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re the city of Chicago, and your fiduciary duty is to serve residents of the city, and not to increase the revenue in such a borderline shady way,&rdquo; said Gigov.</p><p>Last year, anger over red light camera tickets in Florida prompted a reexamination of yellow lights. It turned out, yellow lights in that state were also timed contrary to engineering formulas. So Florida&rsquo;s Department of Transportation mandated the lights be lengthened.</p><p>Gigov said he hopes Chicago will do the same.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 08:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955