Cars, Homes, Skills, Worker Classification

Staying In A D.C. Hotel For Inauguration Weekend? Prepare To Be Gouged

By Mike Montgomery

This weekend will be a historically busy one for Washington D.C. Today, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in front of the U.S. Capitol, where his fans were out en masse to watch. Saturday, hundreds of thousands will flood the streets of the city to protest his presidency.

No matter which side of the fence they’re on, every D.C. visitor staying in a hotel had one thing in common: They all paid an insane amount for lodging.

We did some research into rooms this coming weekend and found that hotels are jacking up their prices by more than 800%. Book a room at the Fairmont in Georgetown earlier in January and you would have paid $190 per night for a room with a king bed. The weekend of the inauguration? That same room will cost you $1,600 per night (and you’ll have to book for at least three nights.)

Prices won’t be any better in Dupont Circle. A room at the Kimpton Carlyle Hotel, which would typically go for $99 per night, will cost you $899 per night the weekend of the inauguration.

It is a shame that these absurd rates put hotel rooms out of reach for most Americans who might want to either see democracy in action or protest the people who are soon to be running the country.

Read the full article here.

The Cautionary Tale Of George Hotz And The Self-Driving Car

by Mike Montgomery

George Hotz is one of the best-known hackers in America. At just 17 years old, he was the first person to unlock an iPhone so it could be used by multiple carriers. He cracked the security on the PS3 and was sued by Sony. The two settled out of court with Hotz promising he would never again tinker with Sony security.

After years of angering corporations, Hotz decided to go legit, trading in his black hat for a white one, signifying his status as a newly minted good guy. He worked for both Facebook and Google before starting his own company Comma.ai, last year. At this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, he unveiled the company’s first product — the Comma One, a $999 box that could help make Honda Civics and some Acuras almost self-driving cars.

But then, last week, any excitement Hotz’s announcement had created disappeared because of some regulatory intervention. All it took was one sharply worded letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for Hotz to pack up his toys and go home. The letter, which Hotz posted here, said that the NHTSA needed to ensure that the device didn’t have a “safety-related defect” that might put drivers in danger.

In a series of tweets, Hotz said: “Would much rather spend my life building amazing technology than dealing with regulators and lawyers. It isn’t worth it. The comma one [sic] is canceled. Comma.ai will be exploring other markets and products. Hello from Shenzhen, China.”

But Hotz’s story isn’t about a new product being regulated to death; it’s about entrepreneurs who fail to take the realities of our government into account when they start to build their companies. Certainly, the NHTSA was simply doing its job ensuring public safety, and perhaps the agency could have communicated its concerns in gentler way rather than Napstering the potentially revolutionary device. But had Hotz gone into this with a team that understood the regulatory environment, this axle-breaking speed bump could have been avoided.

Read the full article here.

Palm Springs Airport Faces Growing Pains: Modernize or Marginalize

by Mike Montgomery

Tonight, the Palm Springs City Council will make a decision about the future of the region’s airport that will move the Coachella Valley into the modern era, or leave it behind in the dusty past.

At issue is a vote to allow city staffers to consider regulations to let rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft pick up passengers at the airport. This matter should have been settled last month but instead of making a decision, the five members of the City Council kicked the can down the road, without even laying the groundwork for their staffers to begin the process of ushering in modern policies for Palm Springs International Airport (PSP).

It’s never an easy road for rideshare companies. The taxi lobby is deeply entrenched, moneyed and willing to fight for its dwindling market share rather than modernize and upgrade its offering. That fight is in conflict with consumer demand, which is clearly and quickly moving to rideshare companies.  Other major airports across the state, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose already allow Uber to pick up passengers. By keeping rideshare companies away from the airport, the City Council is turning the Palm Springs International Airport into a second-class transportation hub and marginalizing the area’s residents and tourists in the process.

Unfortunately, a cursory reading of the tealeaves indicates a disappointing outcome for rideshare companies. Currently, the City Council would likely vote against advancing this conversation. Never mind that this means rideshares can drop people off at the airport but not pick them up, a scheme that makes no sense to average people who are just looking for a ride. But such is the strength of the taxi lobby.  Common sense would lead one to believe that there is in fact no difference between allowing platform companies like Uber to drop off passengers (which is currently allowed) and pick them up, but the taxi lobby has done a phenomenal job of warding off competition and will continue doing so until the threat passes.

Taxi officials have raised the false specter of alcohol and drug testing as an excuse to keep rideshare companies away from the airport. But if you think drug and alcohol testing do anything to make rides safer, think again. Study after study has shown that these tests are wildly inaccurate, easy to manipulate, and provide no additional safety.

Similarly, the taxi industry is trying to force ridesharing to use their antiquated system of fingerprint-based background checks. Again, rideshare companies have already found more effective methods for making sure their drivers are being safe. They do comprehensive background checks, monitor rides in real-time and encourage riders to rate drivers and file complaints (again in real-time) if necessary. The taxi companies cannot offer this level of service to their customers.

But my voice doesn’t count in this vote and neither do the voices of elected officials and residents of Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. The only people who matter are those five members of the City Council.

Uber recently circulated a petition in Palm Springs asking residents to voice their support for the continuation of the airport discussion — 3,000 people signed in one week. A taxi-led petition to stop the furtherance of Uber pickups at the airport garnered a mere 300 signatures. It’s clear that the people of Palm Springs, and its 1.5 million airport passengers, deserve to move into the future when it comes to their transportation choices.

The City Council should reconsider its stance in favor of pro-consumer policies rather than pro-incumbent protectionism and give the people what they want: an airport offering modern services for the modern era.

Why Clinton And Trump Need To Talk About Technology At The Next Debate

Technology is central to our lives. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to the candidates.

By Kish Rajan

This week’s debate between vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine was the second time we’ve seen candidates come together on the national stage to discuss the issues. For the second time, technology was basically left out of the conversation.

I guess that shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. This year’s election, more than any other I can remember, has been more about emotion than substance. The most important issues seem to be getting pushed to the sidelines in favor of personal jabs.

But I can’t help feeling disappointed. These debates have been a real missed opportunity. Tech is quickly becoming the driver of our economy. According to the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM jobs are growing at 13% per year, faster than any other sector. Tech jobs pay some of the highest wages, and for every new tech job, 4.3 more jobs are created in other fields thanks to the multiplier effect, according to the Bay Area Council.

At the same time, tech is decimating some industries and forever changing the nature of work. As technology makes everything from buying our groceries to writing news stories easier, traditional jobs are being lost and they’re not coming back. This is something our leaders need to face head on.

In the first debate, Hillary Clinton made a glancing reference to the power of innovation to create new jobs, but it was far from enough.

There’s a lot at stake in this election. In order to help grow the technology industry and protect workers, we need to modernize tax policies, come up with new strategies for education and workforce development, increase access to capital to start new businesses and reform regulations. These issues need to become part of the conversation.

Immigration is top of mind for many tech entrepreneurs but not in the way the candidates talk about it. Silicon Valley doesn’t want to keep immigrants out; it wants to let them in. The leaders in the Bay Area want to make it easier for entrepreneurs and engineers to cross our borders so new companies can be founded and others can hire the best and the brightest, no matter what country they’re from.

Then there is the sharing economy — I call it the Personal Enterprise Economy — which is growing in leaps and bounds. Companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Task Rabbit are remaking the economy in incredibly fundamental ways. A job is no longer for life; that’s just reality. These new companies are opening up new opportunities for people who may be underemployed or who just want more flexibility to control their own work life.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need regulations here to protect both workers and consumers. The choices the government makes about those regulations will have an enormous impact on whether or not this industry and its workers thrive.

And this new, tech-driven, future of work means that we need to rethink things such as tax breaks and benefits. Obamacare was a good start in that it gave everyone the chance to get health care without having to stay beholden to a specific employer. But we need to go further. More benefits need to be portable, sticking to the worker not the employer. We need to talk about things like wage insurance and evolving our tax code to reflect the changing nature of work.

There’s also the digital divide, a serious problem that is rarely publicly discussed among elite politicians. While at the top end of the economic scale people have access to iPhones, lightning-fast broadband and the newest whiz-bang wearables, too often people at the bottom are struggling with dial-up service if they have any access to the internet at all.

In order for this lower-income group to thrive, they need to be able to have steady broadband access, not just to be able to keep in touch with loved ones and take advantage of growing entertainment opportunities. This is much-needed technology that will allow them to apply for jobs, get online training and access benefits that are increasingly going digital.

Closing this divide needs to be a priority for our government. It would be great if our next president acknowledged this and talked about ways to fix the problem.

Technology can help create new jobs and move the economy forward but it can also leave people behind in its wake. We need to be dealing with both sides of the issue.

There are two more debates on the schedule. I’ll be watching next Sunday’s town hall closely to see if the candidates talk more about technology. I hope they will. Personal insults and clever one-liners are great for reality TV. But they don’t help much when it comes to leadership.

ZEV program running out of gas?

By: Kish Rajan

With the clock ticking down to the end of this year’s legislative session, our leaders in Sacramento are debating initiatives that will put more clean cars on the road, boost air quality and innovation, and improve the health of our residents. We must take advantage of this brief window of opportunity to recalibrate the state’s primary mechanism for encouraging electric vehicle adoption – the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) credit system.

California – led by Gov. Jerry Brown and the state air resources board — leads the world in the transition to zero tailpipe emissions, powered by ingenuity not only in the technological realm, but in the policy arena as well. The goal was to bolster the efforts of automotive entrepreneurs to accelerate the deployment of clean cars up and down the state, in an industry notoriously immune to change.

The ZEV credit program as it’s currently structured won’t get us to where we need to be – currently, fewer than four percent of cars sold each model year are electric.

To ignite and accelerate this shift, state policymakers introduced so-called “ZEV credits”, a program to incentivize car companies to devote significant resources toward developing and deploying electric vehicle models that excite drivers.  This is the carrot for the automotive industry to move forward. The intent was to inject vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions into the marketplace; it was smart, creative regulation to bolster innovation and creativity that should be a national model.

These credits were designed to work with companies small and large, legacy and upstart, in order to push the clean car market forward.

Yet, despite the best intentions of state regulators, the ZEV credit program as it’s currently structured won’t get us to where we need to be – currently, fewer than 4 percent of cars sold each model year are electric.

Read the full article here.

Tech Entrepreneurs Can Learn A Lot About Marketing From Tesla

By: Mike Montgomery

Beating expectations on Wednesday, Tesla Motors TSLA -4.11% reported $1.6 billion in revenue for the first quarter on a 45% sales jump from last year. The fact that the climb came with a 57 cent per-share loss didn’t bother investors who were braced for a 58 cent per-share loss.

The Elon Musk hype machine rolls on as Tesla prepares to roll out 500,000 units of its newest car, the Model 3.

Cars are not the kind of thing people usually wait hours in line to buy. But that’s exactly what happened last month when Tesla Motors started taking down payments for the Model 3. The car won’t even be available until 2017 and certainly no one has given it a test-drive, but at $35,000, it costs less than half the price of a Model S — and that’s all most people need to know.

Silicon Valley types like to throw the word “disruption” around a lot, but Elon Musk is truly disrupting the car industry. Not only did he manage to create a car so exciting that people are lining up overnight just to put down a payment, but those locations where customers were dropping their money? They’re not even actual stores. You can’t buy a Tesla there — you can only purchase one online. The storefronts you see are simply places where people can test-drive the vehicle. This business model, which bypasses the dealership, is of course upsetting the car-sales landscape and is under attack by the dealership lobby.

But it’s important to remember that disruption in and of itself should never really be the end goal. Not every industry needs to be disrupted. If entrepreneurs are going to work to disrupt, they have to make sure there is a positive end goal — that consumers are going to benefit, that work is going to become more efficient or that some overall good comes from the disruption.

Read the full article here.

Mercury News: New economy requires a new safety net

By: Mike Montgomery

When the California Labor Commission ruled that Uber drivers are employees and should therefore be entitled to benefits, it showed how out of touch our regulators are with the new economy.

The ruling is another reflection of outdated thinking about the employee-employer relationship. Digital platforms and apps are reinventing the intersection of supply and demand. This change may have skyrocketed with ride- and home-sharing, but we will soon use these systems for all types of services, from parents finding Little League batting coaches for their kids, to truckers picking up extra loads on their routes.

These new platforms are creating profound change. Over the last 40 years we’ve gone from a workforce where an employee had two or three employers over his or her lifetime to workers now switching careers regularly and even scaling by hiring their own employees along the way…

(Read the full article here)

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