Amtrak is doing Amtrak, telecoms are ruining your car, and Dieselgate is alive and well in the statehouses of America. All that and more in this Friday edition of The Morning Shift for December 10, 2021.
Federal vaccine mandates have been in the general public discourse since before the COVID-19 vaccine was even available, and public transportation is pretty much the only place/service where masks are required by all occupants. You’d imagine, then, that Amtrak had ample time to prepare for this eventuality. But, no — instead, the company said it’ll probably have to cut some trains in January to make up for the personnel shortage.
That doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize that, to Amtrak, cutting trains in January is coded language for cutting trains through March. From Reuters:
Amtrak President Stephen Gardner told a House Transportation subcommittee that roughly 95% of its 17,000 employees have been fully vaccinated ahead of a Jan. 4 deadline.
“We anticipate proactively needing to temporarily reduce some train frequencies across our network in January to avoid staffing-related cancellations, with our plan to fully restore all frequencies by March or as soon as we have qualified employees available,” he said.
Gardner said in written testimony he expects the reductions to be in long-distance services “because of the relatively small crew bases at intermediate points along multi-day long-distance routes where conductors and engineers report to work.”
He noted that many engineers, conductors and on-board service employees retired or left Amtrak and it temporarily halted hiring due to funding uncertainty.
Without additional employee vaccinations Gardner said Amtrak is “currently determining what service reductions will be necessary and intend to communicate them publicly by next week.”
Amtrak’s reportedly only recovered 70 percent of pre-pandemic traffic volume — a bad sign when the airline industry is sitting between 85 and 90 percent in recent weeks, including Thanksgiving. As part of the infrastructure bill, Amtrak is due to receive $22 billion directly, a chunk of that earmarked to finally repair and replace chunks of the Northeast Corridor line including the crumbling Hudson Tunnel between New York and New Jersey. There will be another $44 billion available to the company through competitive grants.
It’s prime time for Amtrak to ramp up hiring, but it apparently doesn’t know how to do that. Reuters again:
An inspector general report released on Thursday said Amtrak plans a big boost in hiring but faces challenges.
The report found Amtrak’s Human Resources Department “does not have sufficient leadership or staff to effectively recruit, screen, hire, and onboard new employees, which will likely hinder the company’s plans to add 2,500 to 3,500 new employees” by late 2022.
Like any tri-stater who’s had to commute into Manhattan for work, I rag on Amtrak all the time. Honestly though, as an operation perpetually in shambles, it’s amazing they’re able to run any trains at all.
One month after Jessica Barraza brought her case against Tesla for fostering a hostile work environment, another female employee has stepped forward. From Reuters:
Erica Cloud, a Tesla assembly line worker, accused defendants including her former manager of “continuous and pervasive” sexual harassment in a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court in California on Wednesday.
She alleges the manager hugged and massaged her while making crude and suggestive remarks. She said she is now experiencing retaliation from other managers after complaining to Tesla’s human resources team about the misconduct.
Tesla and other defendants subjected her to “a hostile work environment stemming from animus towards her gender, sexual harassment,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges that Tesla and other defendants failed to prevent and take corrective actions over sexual harassment and retaliation.
Tesla has a history of requiring workers to sign mandatory arbitration agreements in order to be hired, as The Washington Post noted in its story about the earlier lawsuit in November. Claims of workplace harassment rarely come to light.
Ordinarily this would be the part of the news where we might be able to share a statement from the company on the matter explaining its position, but Tesla doesn’t express accountability for anything, so it gets away with pretty much everything.
The Drive’s Rob Stumpf penned an excellent explainer on the planned shutdown of 3G networks next year. Basically, wireless carriers will repurpose that spectrum for low-band 5G, and that’s going to destroy internet-related functions in a number of existing vehicles. Yes, 3G is slow for, say, browsing Instagram, but it’s ideal for relaying simple data, like traffic information. Many cars built over the previous decade used 3G for such purposes, and they’ll all be kneecapped by the impending change.
The truth is a large number of new cars made in the last decade, even some in the 2021 model year, were built with their connected services running on 3G. That includes things like in-nav traffic and location data, WiFi hotspots, emergency call services, remote lock/unlock functions, smartphone app connectivity, voice assistants, and even concierge services. With few exceptions, most of those features in most of those cars will no longer work by the end of 2022 when AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all pull the plug.
The end of 3G is perhaps the most under-covered story in the industry right now with the widest potential impact, involving millions of cars from nearly every major automaker. At the same time, the response from car companies has been uneven at best—as we’ll explain here, automakers’ plans range from upgrading people’s vehicles to 4G or 5G (for a fee, of course) to shrugging their shoulders and quietly acknowledging that their cars are about to lose a lot of features.
Yeah, this is an extremely under-covered issue. Verizon, T-Mobile and the like often attempt to justify 5G with fantastical edge cases and theoretical scenarios that don’t really exist or won’t for at least a decade, like surgeons performing triple-heart bypasses from hundreds of miles away with remote-controlled robot hands. Rather than building out existing, just-fine LTE networks to reach underserved parts of the country that currently don’t and have never enjoyed stable internet access, wireless carriers are knocking down 3G towers for 5G and rendering anything that uses them obsolete.
As for cars, some manufacturers are planning to retrofit existing models with new modems and such. Critically though, not all will. Toyota and Lexus, for example, will tell you to take a walk or buy a new 4Runner if your 2019 model loses its connected car functions next year. Cars are longer-term appliances than smartphones, so they get particularly fucked over by data infrastructure and platform changes. Go peep The Drive’s list of potentially-affected models, because there are some that are shockingly current, like the 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman.
Specifically, between 200 and 300 Model 3s. Earlier this year, the NYPD was reportedly testing the feasibility of a Model 3 as a patrol car, and now Electrek has found and shared a notice of a public hearing about the procurement of more cars, the exact purpose of which isn’t known yet.
“IN THE MATTER OF a proposed contract between the Department of Citywide Administrative Services of the City of New York and Tesla, Inc., located at 3500 Deer Creek Rd., Palo Alto, CA 94304, for procuring Tesla Model 3 All-Electric Sedans. The contract is in the amount of $12,360,000.00. The term of the contract shall be five years from date of Notice of Award. PIN #: 8572200042, E-PIN #: 05622S0005001.”
City fleets are, in theory, an excellent place for EVs — charging stations are common for one, plus you do a lot of idling in the city and doubly so if you’re a patrol car, running stationary for hours. It’ll be interesting to see which makes and models win out as municipalities transition to EVs, especially given that Detroit’s Big Three have historically had that market cornered.
Every state is getting its shot at Volkswagen, and the latest is Illinois. From Reuters:
Volkswagen AG’s U.S. unit will pay $3.5 million to resolve a lawsuit by the state of Illinois against the German automaker for updates of emissions software arising from the 2015 diesel cheating scandal.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Volkswagen’s bid to avoid lawsuits filed by officials in other states seeking damages. VW had earlier warned of potential astronomical damages in the state and local suits.
“Volkswagen intentionally tampered with vehicles it claimed to be environmentally friendly but were actually releasing harmful emissions,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a statement.
The Illinois settlement is worth about $300 for each of about 12,000 vehicles.
Reuters notes that Volkswagen paid New Hampshire and Montana $1.5 million in September for similar reasons. Ohio and Texas have outstanding cases, as do counties in Florida and Utah. While the automaker previously settled with the federal government to the tune of $20 billion, it’s still vulnerable to state and local action and at this rate, will be forever. Good.
Not on this day — tomorrow, actually — Gran Turismo 2 released in 1999, 22 years ago. First came the Japanese launch, on December 11. Then, merely two days before Christmas ’99, we got it here in North America. Europe had to wait until the end of January.
GT2 is a very interesting title in the Gran Turismo lineage. It was absolutely huge for its time, with more than 500 cars if memory serves, including classic American and European models that the first installment never saw. It was also incredibly messy. There was a supposed to be a drag race mode that ended up cut just before release. If you ran the Max Speed test on the game’s Test Course too many times, it would corrupt your save. It was physically impossible to get to 100 percent completion with the initial release, unless you had the European version whereby you could exceed 100 percent if you switched the game’s region at startup and nabbed both Opel and Vauxhall versions of the same cars.
It also had a bangin’ intro with music from a great band. Let’s watch it together.
The first F1 race I ever watched on TV was the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis — you know, the one it took the sport like 15 years to recover from in this country. I was hooked until about 2013 or so, when the cars looked the shittiest they ever have and maybe ever will, and the racing wasn’t close at all. I didn’t start paying attention again until 2018, and now we’re on the cusp of a historic day in motorsport this Sunday. Whatever happens, we’ll be talking about it years from now.
Who ya got?