Friday, May 25, 2018

Electric Scooter Companies Risk Backlash from Regulators for Customers' Risky Behavior



Several electric bike and scooter-sharing companies have started up within the past couple of years. One of the biggest companies flooding the streets of major cities like Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and San Fransisco is Bird, now referred to as the Uber of scooters, which seemed to appear out of nowhere less than a year ago. But, while the scooters have grown ever more popular among their growing base of users, Bird has faced backlash from the cities and some of their residents. According to Tracey Lien's L.A. Times article, despite Bird's efforts, the users of the electric scooters consistently ignore local laws and safety guidelines.

But what can Bird really do about it? The cities have tried upping regulations on the scooter companies, they've issued fines and citations, and they've even forced Bird to update their terms and conditions to try to guarantee safer practices. Still, little has changed in terms of user behavior. Bird can add extra rules to their app and make users agree to wear a helmet. Bird can even provide their customers with helmets for free. But there's no way for Bird to actually guarantee that their customers will use the helmets.

After trying to deal with the problem through the company, the cities have had to try other alternatives in promoting safer riding. They have been able to get companies like Bird to improve safety guidelines and commit to providing a percentage of their daily income to the city to go toward improving infrastructure, which could, in turn, promote greater safety and improve user experience. But, they've also tried going after the individual riders, which has worked, to an extent. By issuing citations and fines to scooter-riders not wearing helmets, local police have been able to get some riders to make a more conscious decision and wear a helmet because they don't want to have to pay over $100 for not doing so. Other users choose to avoid the scooters altogether, determining that the risk of a ticket is too high to justify the enjoyment or convenience that the scooters provide.

Still, others continue riding the scooters, and just hope that they never get stopped by the police. They find helmets to be uncomfortable, or inconvenient. Many riders don't wear helmets simply because they don't have their helmet with them. These types of ride-sharing services tend to attract spur-of-the-moment users, not those who knew they would use one from the time they left their house in the morning. The only way for every rider to wear a helmet is if all potential users carried around a helmet with them all day, which just isn't realistic. Some dockable bike-sharing companies have had systems where a user could retrieve a helmet when renting a bike, but such a business design had higher costs, which led many of those companies to go out of business. There have been dozens of injuries reported in recent months, mostly involving scrapes and bruises, but some with broken bones and head trauma. There doesn't seem to be an obvious solution to the problem at the moment, but if Bird and similar companies don't make a change, major cities could start banning the scooters altogether.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Washington D.C. Public Transit System Purchases Fleet of 14 Proterra Electric Buses



Technological innovations in this day and age, especially those in the realm of transportation, have been focusing more and more on green energy. From Tesla's cars to Nikola Corp's trucks, many companies are trying to steadily phase out the necessity of fossil fuels for long-distance travel. The problem with that goal is that, at the moment, green energy sources and vehicles that utilize those types of energy tend to be more expensive. To that end, the companies that focus on electric vehicles usually need some sort of governmental relationship to get off the ground. With Tesla, customers were able to get government rebates/subsidies after purchasing cars like Tesla's Model 3. According to Russ Mitchell's L.A. Times article, Proterra (a manufacturer of electric buses) sold 14 of its vehicles to the Washington, D.C., Circulator transit system earlier this month.

The complete cost of those buses was not reported, but Proterra's buses are known to cost somewhere between $700,000 and $900,000 each, so it's likely that this purchase cost D.C. quite a bit. On the one hand, spending millions of dollars on electric buses may seem exorbitant, but to another perspective, the fleet of buses serves to show millions of diplomats and tourists from around the world that the United States is working on developing technology with lower environmental impacts and better user experience. Though nearly a million dollars per bus is a lot of money, Washington D.C. gets tens of thousands of tourists each day who use the bus system to visit the various landmarks and museums.

Although Proterra is based out of Northern California, the company has a factory on each coast: one in the City of Industry, California, and the other in Greenville, South Carolina. The South Carolina plant has a perfect location to be accessible to the nation's capital, while the California plant is right in the center of all kinds of innovation going on in the state. The East Coast side of the business puts it in the view of politicians and lobbyists who make the decisions regarding public transportation around the country, and the West Coast side of the business has been able to draw from engineers and manufacturers already in the area for work in the aerospace industry.

Proterra doesn't have a monopoly on electric buses, though. California's plethora of skilled workers has made the Los Angeles area a hub for the development of electric buses and other such vehicles. Another company, called BYD, which is based out of China, has a factory in Lancaster. According to their own numbers, BYD has sold at least 722 buses, while Proterra has sold over 546. For such a pricey commodity, both companies seem to be doing relatively well in an industry that is fairly new. Even some universities are switching their bus systems to electric ones. There's no way to tell for sure, but it seems like the trend of electric buses could really take off throughout the nation in the near future.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Twitter Planning to Focus More on Video-Based Entertainment



Twitter, one of the most popular social media sites in the industry, is known for its short posts, called "tweets." Over the years, it has grown to allow those posts to include links, or images, or even videos, but mainly, the site is known for their users' ability to communicate via one-liners. Recently, Twitter increased the character count allowed in a message, doubling the approved size, and users have responded positively. Now, according to an article by Bloomberg LP, the company is looking to focus on more video-based options, especially those in the realms of news, sports, and entertainment.

Twitter has been putting in quite a bit of hard work toward making that goal a reality. Already, the social media network has made deals with 30 media companies, including Comcast, Viacom, and Disney. After announcing the Disney partnership last week, Twitter's stocks went up by 4.5%. The company hopes that such partnerships will make the social media platform into more of a hub for live and pre-recorded video streaming.

Many viewers, especially from the younger generations, don't use televisions for the majority of their entertainment. They use smartphones, tablets, and computers to stream from the internet rather than using cable. If Twitter is able to capitalize on that trend and capture a sizable audience of viewers, they could exponentially increase usage of the platform. If more viewers went onto Twitter for news, entertainment, and sports, then they would also stay for everything else the site has to offer, which would improve viewership across the board.

Over the past year, the number of views on Twitter videos has gone up nearly two-fold in regards to daily viewership, and nearly half of the site's advertisement revenue comes from such videos. From "SportsCenter Live" to "Comedy Central's Creator Room," all of the new channels will likely bring in a variety of diverse viewers, who will, in turn, connect their own communities to the platform. The shift to video and live streaming could be the move that pushes Twitter ahead of some other competitors, both in social media and in entertainment.

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Amazon's In-Car Delivery Proposal is a Huge Risk Amid Privacy Concerns



Even in the midst of widespread concern among consumers about their private information and how corporations might be able to use it, Amazon has a brand new delivery feature that they are looking to offer. The feature essentially boils down to this: on specific models of cars (especially those built in 2015 or later), if given permission by the consumer, Amazon deliverers would be able to deliver packages straight into the trunk of a car parked anywhere. David Pierson and Tracey Lien's article in the L.A. Times outlines some of the positive and negative aspects of such a proposed service.

In this modern age, many consumers like features like the one Amazon is proposing because it can make life easier. They don't have to make sure to be home for a delivery, boxes don't get left on a porch, and generally, their deliveries are safer and better protected. Many consumers also like to integrate as much technology into the experience as possible and would value the ability to order something from the road and have it appear in the trunk of their car a day or two later. The move is also good for Amazon because it brings their consumers tighter into the Amazon network, making them more likely to choose to shop with Amazon again in the future.

On the other hand, especially in the aftermath of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data scandal, many consumers are wary of giving companies more of their personal private information. It is well-known that Amazon makes money off of selling the data of their customers. They sell advertisement space based on what a customer had searched for on their site in the past. With the integration of in-car delivery, Amazon could also track physical locations, length of time at those locations, and how often the consumer goes to those locations. All of that data is useful to Amazon and its advertising customers, but its also something that most consumers don't want companies to have access to.

Amazon is taking a big risk with this and other somewhat invasive delivery features like in-house delivery. If they're able to become an industry standard before the government gets involved, they could avoid being blocked by regulations. But, if they fail to win over consumers, they could be the reason for even stricter regulations. Amazon, just like other large companies, wants to get as much access to as many lives as possible. The more information they have, the more they are able to adjust their marketing to keep consumers even more involved. It's an endless cycle that locks customers in for life.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

SpaceX to Build Port of L.A. Facility for Big Falcon Rocket



Space exploration has been a topic of interest for the past several decades of human history, ever since humans first figured out some of the mysteries of rocket propulsion. From the Space Race to landing on the Moon to the International Space Station, so much effort and many resources have gone into traveling space and learning more about it. Within the past decade or so, the United States government elected to put an end to their space exploration program, citing budget concerns. Fortunately for the industry, a private company called SpaceX stepped in and is now working on the rocket ship that may one day take humans to Mars. According to Samantha Masunaga's L.A. Times article, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners unanimously voted this week to allow SpaceX to build a facility at the Port of L.A. where they will be working on their latest BFR rocket-spaceship combination project.

While the project isn't expected to start for at least 2 to 3 years, it is expected to provide many new jobs in the area. The lease will be for 10 years, with options for 20 or 30, at SpaceX's preference, and rent for the 19 acres of land will be over $1 million per year. SpaceX will also be given the ability to get the rental rate lowered by making significant improvements to Terminal Island, where the Port is located, in the first 20 years of operating there.

The BFR, which stands for Big Falcon Rocket, is expected to be the largest and most advanced rocket of the generation. At 340 feet tall and 35 feet in diameter, SpaceX plans to use the rocket to replace their current go-to, the Falcon 9, for the eventual colonization of Mars as well as for trips to the Moon. The first phase of construction has been planned, involving an 80,000 square foot "hangar-like" building. In the second phase, the facility will be expanded to 200,000 square feet. And, all the while, SpaceX's 40-person design and production team will be working on plans for the actual rocket itself.

The government's decision to grant SpaceX access to the land on Terminal Island seems to fit the right balance. Even though it was great for national pride, the space program had to be shut down because it simply wasn't affordable anymore. By facilitating the efforts of a private company to explore outer space, the government is simultaneously remaining involved in the exploratory effort, enabling the clean-up and improvement of Terminal Island, and is bringing in some revenue, rather than taking a deficit in regards to outer space. Perhaps there are other industries that would be better served by a partnership between the government and private industries.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

TV Networks Looking to Cut Commercials in Exchange for Higher Viewership



People who watch television today, especially Millennials, have discovered that with improving technology come opportunities to make the viewing experience more enjoyable. It is a generally accepted fact that very few people actually enjoy commercials of any kind. Sure, some SuperBowl commercials stand out, but in general, commercials tend to be repetitive and boring, and simply get in the way of the TV program trying to be watched. According to Stephen Battaglio's L.A. Times article, more and more television customers are finding ways to avoid commercials in their daily viewing.

Streaming services like Netflix give consumers an alternative to normally scheduled broadcast television. They can watch all the TV shows and movies they want (albeit within a limited library of titles) without any commercial breaks for around $10 per month. TV ratings are continuously declining because even though television has the earliest airing time for many sought-after shows, if a viewer is willing to wait an extra day, they can watch the same episode without the annoying commercials and advertisements.

When digital recording devices became popular within the last decade, primetime shows had to change their strategy to engage the viewers who would simply watch later and fast-forward through any commercials. When remote controls were first invented, TV channels stopped having commercials in between different shows because they found that viewers were more likely to change channels during that transition. Especially as younger viewers adapt to new technology, networks will have to adjust accordingly if they don't want to lose an entire demographic for the foreseeable future.

In response to the changing viewership, networks are working on cutting down the amount of ad time to meet the expectations of their viewers. Many viewers want to see fewer ads, and if that doesn't happen, they'll just turn to alternatives like streaming. Some channels have up to 18 minutes of commercials per hour of television. Some have stated that they're looking to cut ad time by up to 50%. Others are working on other strategies, such as airing two long ads, one at the beginning and one at the end of a TV show, without a commercial break in the middle. Their hope is that viewers will be more attentive to ads if there are fewer of them. If those networks can convince advertisers that the reduction in clutter will improve their brand, then they may just be able to bring in the same amount of ad revenue even with less air time commited to commercials.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Liquidation Sales Could Offer Great Discounts for Savvy Shoppers



Several retail chains over the past few months have had to start shutting down some of their less-profitable stores and liquidating their merchandise. One of the more notable examples, Toys R Us, was in the news recently about having to close down all of its over 700 locations. Many economists blame the surge in store closures on the success of online retailers like Amazon. When a shopper can get the same product for the same price (or cheaper) without ever having to leave the house, why would they ever shop at a brick-and-mortar store? Compounded with the decreased number of customers is the fact that traditional retailers have inherently higher costs (rent, electricity, more employees, etc).

Well, according to an article by the Associated Press of the L.A. Times, if they play their cards right, a retailer's loss could be the savvy shopper's gain. A shopper has to be careful, though; liquidation sales aren't always a good deal. You have to compare prices and check online deals if you want to make sure you're not being tricked by the "CLOSING" sign in big letters. Liquidators are aiming to make as much money as possible from the merchandise before they completely go out of business. Therefore, it makes sense that the liquidation prices would be at some equilibrium: high enough that the store can make money, but low enough that they can entice shoppers to buy the merchandise.

One of the tricks that retailers use to make the deal seem better is to focus on the percentage discount, rather than the final price of the product. Often, they will raise the prices, then mark a discount on it, so that it seems like it's significantly cheaper than usual when, in fact, the amount of money saved is pretty minor. The way to avoid such tricks is to compare the final discounted price with the price of the product at other stores or online. It's only a good deal if the overall price is low, not necessarily if there's a large percentage discount.

Additionally, shoppers should be aware that there's a happy medium in getting the best deal on the greatest selection of products in a liquidation sale. The sales tend to start at a 20% discount and prices go down over time until all of the merchandise is gone. If a shopper waits long enough, they can save the most money. On the other hand, if they shop earlier, they have a greater selection of products to choose from. There's a sweet spot in the middle where the discounts are relatively high AND the selection is relatively expansive. Shoppers looking to find the best deals (especially on clothes and toys, because those tend to be more discounted than electronics) should try to find that sweet spot.

If you have a gift card for a store that's closing down, use it immediately! Even if you know the chain is being bought out by another retailer, use the gift card, because the store credit may not be honored by the new owners. Once in a while, gift card holders can get a settlement after the retailer's bankruptcy, but that requires filing claims, something that many customers forget to do until after the deadline. Finally, even though liquidation sales can have great deals, shoppers should be careful that the items they're buying are of good quality and not defective. Often, sales during a liquidation are final, and the stores don't allow returns, so be careful when shopping and only make purchases when the merchandise seems to be in good condition.

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