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The Takeaway

Honda's Deadly Secret Exposed

Monday, September 15, 2014

A new New York Times investigation examines how and why Honda failed, for years, to disclose widespread air bag problems that were causing fatalities.

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The Takeaway

Another 8 Million Cars Recalled. Was the GM Bailout Worth It?

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

On Tuesday, General Motors announced a recall of more than 8 million additional vehicle, bringing the total number of vehicles recalled by GM this year to 28 million. Uncertainty is once again swirling around GM's future, leading many to ask the questions: Why did America bailout GM? And was it worth it?

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Money Talking

Recalled Cars and Rigged Stock Markets

Friday, April 04, 2014

Why did it take GM over a decade to respond to a defect the carmaker has linked to 13 deaths and dozens of accidents? And has high-frequency trading rigged the stock market? Joe Nocera of the New York Times and Rana Foroohar of Time discuss.

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Transportation Nation

GM Will Offer 4G Broadband in Most Vehicles Starting in 2014

Monday, February 25, 2013

(Paul Eisenstein, The Detroit Bureau) General Motors will partner with AT&T to offer embedded 4G Internet access in “most” of the vehicles it sells in the U.S. and Canada starting next year, the maker announced during a mobile communications conference in Spain this morning.

An early leader in so-called “connected car” services with its OnStar system (which enables a partnership with car sharing company Relay Rides), GM sees a number of advantages in tapping into AT&T’s 4G LTE wireless service, promising it will expand the range of infotainment options motorists will have while also providing the potential to use the broadband service to improve vehicle safety.

Among other things, passengers will be able to tap into a WiFi hot spot that can handle up to eight different cellphones, table and laptop computers and other devices.

“In addition to allowing consumers to bring in and connect to personal mobile devices, the vehicle will also act as its own mobile device, enabling embedded vehicle capabilities,” said Mary Chan, president, Global Connected Consumer, General Motors.

GM is by no means the only maker that has that goal in mind. Audi has been offering broadband capabilities on several models, such as the A7 and A8 sedans, in recent years and uses that to merge Google images into its real-time navigation system, as well as to offer in-vehicle WiFi hotspots. BMW is also adding 4G capability, as is the Chrysler Group, the latter teaming up with Sprint to enhance its Uconnect infotainment system on vehicles such as the Ram 1500 pickup and SRT Viper sports car.

[Related: Honda’s Head in the Clouds with new HondaLink]

According to GM’s Chan, adopting 4G LTE will yield data speeds as much as 10 times faster than older 3G wireless technology. The challenge for AT&T will be to expand its own network coverage to ensure that motorists actually have access to the service.

The most recent Initial Quality Survey, or IQS, by J.D. Power and Associates found that infotainment-related glitches are now the number one source of complaints from new car buyers, surpassing traditional issues like wind noise or powertrain problems. On the other hand, other studies have illustrated that consumers can be swayed by manufacturers who offer the best in-car technologies.

[Related: Autonomous Cars, In-Vehicle Infotainment Steer New Direction at CES]

According to GM, the partnership with AT&T will allow the maker to begin offering or enhance existing features such as streaming audio, on-demand video, voice-to-text messaging and more.

It also will permit the maker to enhance the suite of safety and security features offered by the OnStar system, which was a pioneer in what then was known as telematics when it debuted in 1995.

OnStar had previously partnered with Verizon which had been serving GM vehicles through the much slower 2G network – so the switch in service providers is a major coup for AT&T.

“Introducing 4G LTE into GM vehicles is a game-changing opportunity,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility.”We’re working closely with GM to grow the connected car base, and provide unique and relevant services that will improve the connected experience inside automobiles for both drivers and passengers.”

With smart phones rapidly replacing conventional cellphone technology, communications industry experts say broadband is rapidly becoming the norm for consumers wherever that are. But the auto industry and automotive regulators see opportunities to use such technology for more than just keeping drivers in touch and their passengers entertained.

One active field of development aims to connect individual cars and a fixed highway infrastructure. This would improve the ability to stay on top of changing road conditions, for example, alerting motorists when there are accidents or weather-related issues. Such systems could warn oncoming traffic if a vehicle runs a red light.

Connected car technology is now undergoing extensive testing, including a major program in the Detroit suburb of Ann Arbor, Michigan. One question is how vehicles will communicate with one another. The Federal Communications Commission this month rejected an auto industry request to preserve an open spectrum of radio space solely for connected car systems, instead assigning some of it for such things as home and office WiFi.

GM sees even more options for the new alliance with AT&T. Having a high-speed, two-way line of communications with virtually every 2015 model and beyond could simplify vehicle maintenance, especially when it comes to the software-based control systems that are now found on every modern automobile.

[Related: GM Gets Siri-ous]

“We will literally start downloading maintenance and updates on equipment (in) vehicles that we used to have to bring in,” GM CEO Dan Akerson said during a conference call with company employees last year.

While today’s announcement focuses on vehicles that will be sold in the U.S. and Canada, the world’s second-largest automaker says it will look to offer similar services in other parts of the world, such as in Europe through its Opel and Vauxhall brands.

Originally posted on the Detroit Bureau. Sign up for their newsletter here

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Transportation Nation

The Bailout: By The Actual Numbers

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Vacant car dealership, 2008 (photo by Todd Lappin via flickr)

(Paul Kiel, ProPublica) Quick, how many billions in the red are taxpayers on the bailout of GM? AIG? Fannie and Freddie? Is it true that the government has reaped a profit from bailing out the banks?

It should be easy to find answers to such questions. But while it's a snap to find rosy administration claims about the bailout, finding hard numbers is much more difficult. That's why, since the bailouts began in 2008, we've maintained a frequently updated site to provide them. Now we've retooled our database to make it even easier to find these sorts of answers.

So you can effortlessly discover that it's $27 billion for GM, $23 billion for AIG, $91 billion for Fannie, $51 billion for Freddie, and yes, the bank investments have so far returned a profit of $19 billion.

We also make it easy for you to see which investments have resulted in losses (39 so far in total) and to sort bailout recipients by how far in the red or black they are. As always, our scorecard page adds it all up and shows where both bailouts — the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP ($55 billion in the red) and Fannie and Freddie (negative $142 billion) — stand right now.

Ultimately, the bailout of GM seems likely to result in the TARP's single biggest loss. But since the government still holds about a third of the company's stock (currently worth about $10 billion), we don't include it on our list of losers yet. It's possible the government will sell the stock for more than it's currently worth, recouping more of its investment.

For now, the reigning bust is the $2.3 billion investment in the bank CIT, which landed in bankruptcy less than a year after its bailout. Second on the list is Chrysler, which resulted in a $1.3 billion loss.

"The government's financial stability programs are expected to cost far less than many had once feared during the crisis, and we're continuing to make significant progress recovering taxpayer investments," said a Treasury spokesman.

Over time, that list of losing investments is likely to grow far beyond 39, because many of the smaller banks that have yet to repay the government are struggling. Although more than 300 banks have exited TARP (often repaying with money from another government bank program), nearly 400 remain. Of those, 162 are behind on their dividend payments to the Treasury Department. According to the GAO, the banks that are languishing in TARP tend to be weaker than those that have left, and at least 130 appear on a secret "problem bank" list kept by regulators.

The TARP's main bank program was supposed to be reserved for healthy banks, but among the losing investments are banks that were troubled even when they first received the money. Central Pacific Financial, a Hawaii bank, got its $135 million in early 2009 despite regulators having just ordered it to raise additional capital. As we reported then, the approval came two weeks after staff for Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who had helped establish the bank and owned a large amount of the bank's stock, inquired about the bank's application for funds. Both regulators and Treasury denied that the inquiry affected their decision. Taxpayers ultimately lost $61 million from the investment.

Also notable among the failed investments is South Financial Group. The bank received a $347 million government investment in 2008 about a month after its former CEO, Mack Whittle, retired with a $18 million golden parachute. Taxpayers ultimately lost $200 million while the CEO kept his package. Contacted by ProPublica, Whittle said, "I founded [South Financial Group] in 1986 and take offense that anyone would imply that retirement benefits were not warranted." He added that the benefits had been negotiated long before he announced his retirement in the summer of 2008 and that he'd retired by the time the bank applied for TARP funds.

Of course, the government has already turned a profit on its bank investments overall, because the biggest bailouts — particularly Citigroup and Bank of America (each received $45 billion) — resulted in large profits. None of the banks remaining in TARP have net outstanding amounts over one billion dollars.

The Treasury wants to get rid of those remaining bank investments as soon as it can — even when that means selling stakes in apparently healthy banks for a discount, as ProPublica's Jesse Eisinger reported last month.

What defines a profit? So far, the Treasury has allowed many banks to exit TARP after receiving most, but not all, of the amount owed. But in cases where the Treasury received enough other revenue (e.g. through dividend payments) from the bank to result in a net gain, we label that investment as a profit. So far, that's been the case for 26 banks.

The final cost of the TARP, the Fannie, or the Freddie bailout isn't possible to know.

For the TARP, it depends on the biggest remaining investments: AIG and the remains of the auto bailout, GM and GMAC (now called Ally Financial). The net outstanding amount of those three companies together is about $61 billion. At this point, it seems likely that Treasury will ultimately recoup its bailout of AIG. The auto companies, on the other hand, seem likely to result in a loss approaching $20 billion, according to both Treasury Department and Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Another big factor is the TARP's housing programs, its mortgage modification program chief among them. Although Treasury set aside more than $40 billion for its various initiatives, less than $5 billion has been spent so far, a testament to the limited reach of the programs. Since those are subsidies, none of that money will be repaid, and any spending ups TARP's tab. Earlier this year, the CBO estimated that ultimately $16 billion would be spent.

Of course, all of these numbers benefit from being put in a broader context. The Obama administration argues that the TARP should be credited with blunting the force of the financial crisis and saving "more than one million American jobs." Critics like former TARP inspector general Neil Barofsky say the program may have stemmed the damage from the crisis, but it did so by largely preserving the broken too-big-to-fail system that caused the crisis. It's also worth mentioning that the Federal Reserve played an enormous role in supporting the biggest banks and allowing them to exit TARP.

The fate of the Fannie and Freddie bailouts is even harder to figure, although the Treasury recently announced that all of the companies' profits from now on will be handed over to Uncle Sam each quarter. Their tabs should decrease, but how quickly and for how long they'll be allowed to exist is unclear.

For now, our site provides a snapshot of the two bailouts as they actually stand. We've been at it since 2008, and we'll continue to update it frequently.

 

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Transportation Nation

Big Three Automakers Post Double-Digit Sales Gains

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Ford Focus Electric (CC) by Flickr user Kevin Krejci

The recovery has been very good to the U.S. auto industry.

General Motors said Tuesday its August sales were double the company's expectations and are up 10 percent over 2011 numbers. Ford reports its numbers were up 13 percent. And Chrysler had its best August in five years, posting gains of 14 percent.

These numbers come at a fortuitous time for President Obama, who is making the $85 billion bailout of the auto industry a key talking point of his re-election campaign. Speaking Monday at a United Auto Workers rally in Ohio, Obama told the crowd: "If we had turned our backs on you, if we had thrown in the towel like that, GM and Chrysler wouldn’t exist today."

Read more about auto sales at NPR.


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Transportation Nation

China Not Treating U.S. Automakers Fairly, Says Obama Administration

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Shanghai traffic (photo by http2007 via flickr)

The United States filed a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization over what it says are unfair trade practices for imposing new duties on American-made cars.

According to the complaint, which was filed by the United States Trade Representative on Thursday, "the United States has requested dispute settlement consultations with China at the WTO in an attempt to eliminate these unfair duties."

Last year, Beijing imposed import tariffs ranging from 2 percent to 21.5 percent on larger cars and SUVs exported from the U.S. In 2011, the U.S. exported more than $3 billion of these automobiles to China.

China has argued that General Motors and Chrysler have benefited from government subsidies, enabling the companies to sell cars at less than fair market value -- thereby hurting the Chinese auto industry.

Word of the complaint came as President Obama kicked off a two-day bus tour of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Ohio, a swing state, is home to thousands of auto workers.

"Americans aren't afraid to compete," said the president, speaking at a campaign event in Maumee (OH).  "We believe in competition. I believe in trade...so as long as we're competing on a fair playing field instead of an unfair playing field, we'll do just fine. But we're going to make sure that competition is fair."

White House spokesperson Jay Carney noted that this is the seventh such action taken against China, and denied the timing behind the announcement was politically motivated. "The fact is this is an action that has been in development for quite a long time." he said. "It simply can’t suddenly be a political action because it happens during the campaign."

China's once-booming auto industry is decelerating due to its slowing economy -- and its government's own efforts to get a handle on traffic. Earlier this month, Guangzhou became the third Chinese city to put a cap on annual car sales to combat growing traffic jams and pollution.

You can read a copy of the letter the USTR sent the WTO here.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Houston Gets Bike Share, In London's Mayoral Race, It's All About the Bikes, GM CEO Defends SUVs and Tsunami Motorcycle Washes Up on Canadian

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Poor Die More in Car Crashes (Link)

LaHood Convenes Meeting on To Save Dulles Silver Line (Link)as Pressure Grows to Drop Project Labor Agreement (Link)

As Fuel Prices Dip, So Does Fuel Economy in New Cars  (Link)

NY Officials to Add Barriers, Speed Monitoring to Stretch of Parkway Where 7 Died (Link)

NY, 44 Cities Blow Through Smog Standards (Link)

Montana Now One of Eight States That Can Instantly Verify Liability Insurance (Link)

New York's Comptroller Says He'll Block New "Taxi of Tomorrow" Contract Because the New Cabs Aren't Accessible (Link)

West Wing Fanatics, They Reunited the Cast...and Produced This: (Link)

Kate's Photo Essay on All The Things Germany has that You Don't: Fast Trains with Bike Cars, Plenty of Space for Parking Your Bike, Cool Trams (Link)

Houston's Bike Share (photo; Imelda via flickr)

 

CEO of GM, Dan Akerson, Defends SUVS, Bailout, in Chat with The Takeaway's Celeste Headlee (The Takeaway)

Vancouver's Bus Rapid Transit Greenlighted (The Columbian)

Houston Bike Share Pilot Launches (ahead of NY, SF & Chicago!) (Houston Chronicle)

London's Mayoral Race: It's all About the Bikes...And the Trains (in Shakespearean terms, no less) (NPR)

Benefactor will Fund Transit For Needy Boy Who Got An Agent Fired For Giving Free Rides (SF Chronicle)

SpaceX Rocket Launch Delayed (WMFE)

Chicago's New Red Line Depends on Transpo Bill (Chicago Tribune)

Business Big: Those Who Want Transit on Tappan Zee Either Ignorant or "Pure Obstructionists" (LoHud.com)

You Can't Get There From Here -- the NY Times Looks at How Hard it is to Get Between Smaller Cities (NY Times) and Other Ways Business Travel is Hell (NY Times)

And....Motorcycle Washed Away in Japanese Tsuanami Washes Up on Candian Island 4000 Miles Away (Fuji TV via Boston Globe)

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Transportation Nation

PHOTO: NYPD's Chevy Volt

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Chevy Volt marked NYPD patrol car (Photo: NYC Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services)

Forty percent of New York City government vehicles are hybrids or run on alternative fuels. The New York Police Department is exempt from the aggressive environmental vehicle procurement requirements of other city agencies and yet, they have at least one marked patrol car labeled for traffic enforcement.

As a commenter notes, this will be for meter maids and intersection control, not armed police officers.

 

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Transportation Nation

GM Halts Production of Chevy Volt for Five Weeks Due to Poor Sales

Friday, March 02, 2012

Image: © GM Corp

Chevy Volts aren't selling well. The Detroit Free Press reports that GM is shutting down the Volt plant in Michigan for five weeks to avoid an oversupply of the electric/combustion combination car that GM has invested heavily to market.

As the automaker bounces back from bankruptcy the Volt was meant to signal a new, cleaner, innovative era for General Motors. But after initial hype and design awards, the company has only sold about 7,600 Volts, far less than the 10,000 GM projected, according to the Free Press.

GM will temporarily lay off 1,300 employees at its Detroit Hamtramck plant from March 19 to April 23.

“The fact that GM is now facing an oversupply of Volts suggests that consumer demand is just not that strong for these vehicles." Edmunds.com Chief Economist Dr. Lacey Plache said. "The price premium on the Volt just doesn’t make economic sense for the average consumer when there are so many fuel-efficient gasoline-powered cars available, typically for thousands of dollars less.”

The Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car, has a waiting list of about 26,000 people, according to AutoBlog but has sold just 800 cars per month on average, which is more than the Chevy Volt.

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Transportation Nation

It's Morning in Hamtramck (Or: Let's Put the Nightmare Of The Volt Battery Fire Hearing Behind Us)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On the heels of a blistering Congressional hearing yesterday, where officials from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration were accused of sacrificing public safety to protect the government's investment in General Motors (sample tweet from committee chair, Republican Darrell Issa: @GOPOversight's Mike Kelly "takes the gloves off" to deliver accountability for #ChevyVolt subsidies you paid for), GM's new Volt ad is more in line with President Obama's take on the auto bailout in the State of the Union: “We bet on American workers.  We bet on American ingenuity.  And tonight, the American auto industry is back.”

The ad is the latest in a spate of 'Detroit pride'- themed commercials (think 'Eminem's "this is the Motor City. This is what we do"' Chrysler commercial from last year's Superbowl). In this one, a Chevrolet Volt assembly line winds through the streets of Hamtramck, Michigan -- described by Chevy as "a city within a city in the heart of Detroit."

“This isn’t just the car we wanted to build,” a narrator intones. “This is the car America had to build.” Watch below!

(Hat tip to The Hill)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: GM Once Again World's Largest Automaker, LA Reaches Out to China to Fund Transit, NY Area Airport Terminals Among World's Worst

Friday, January 20, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Union Suspends Talks with NY MTA Over Contract (Link)
Children in Low-Income Manhattan Neighborhoods More Likely To Be Hit By Cars (Link)
MTA: Subway Blasting Not Creating Pollution (Link)
D.C. Metro Workers Charged in Coin-Stealing Scheme (Link)
Rural College Campuses Solve Student Transportation Challenges With Shuttles — And Bikes (Link)

photo by sciascia via Flickr

General Motors reclaims the title of world's largest automaker. (Detroit Free Press)

Federal safety regulators lack the expertise to monitor vehicles with increasingly sophisticated electronics, says one agency. (New York Times)

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke with a Chinese investment group about funding for a dozen transportation projects. (Los Angeles Times)

But what happened to the opossum after he rode the D train? (New York Times)

More information emerges from Capital Bikeshare data. Most common trips? Bike lane usage? It's in there. (Greater Greater Washington)

Opinion: Obama Throws SOPA and Keystone Red Meat to Liberals (It's a Free Country)

Watch a bicycle get stripped down on NYC's mean streets over the course of a year. (Video)

What's the best way to get users to embrace mass transit? (Slate)

New Jersey is preparing to use facial-recognition technology to scan 18 million photographs for signs of driver's license fraud. (AP via NJ.com)

Airport terminals at three New York-area airports are among the world’s 10 worst, according to travel group Frommer’s. (WNYC)

Road rage bleeds over to the bipeds in Canada: pedestrian bites driver. (CBC)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: GM Reinforces Volt Battery, Queens Convention Center Builder Wants Swift Subway Link, Buenos Aires Doubles Subway Fares

Friday, January 06, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Getting Around the Bay in 2012 Just Got Harder and More Expensive (Link)
Now He Can Say It: Walder Calls NY’s Infrastructure “Terrible” (Link)
Filling in the Blanks Of New York’s Infrastructure Plan (Link)

Buenos Aires subway (photo by posterboy2007 via Flickr)

GM is reinforcing the Volt battery with extra steel. (Detroit Free Press)

The company behind a proposal to build a new convention center in Queens said it will work with New York's MTA to fund uninterrupted subway service between Midtown Manhattan and the proposed convention center. (Wall Street Journal)

Buenos Aires is doubling subway fares after Argentina handed control of the system to the city--and decreased subsidies. (Bloomberg News via San Francisco Chronicle)

The feds have given final approval for a $1.7 billion transit line along Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. (AP via Sacramento Bee)

Freakonomics quorum: can Amtrak ever be profitable? Discuss. (Link)

RadioBoston kicks around solutions to prevent Boston's transit service from being slashed. Two words: congestion pricing. Other ideas: quasi-privatization, automatizing trains, and implementing zone fares. Read the comments section for even more. (WBUR)

NY Senator Charles Schumer wants the commuter tax credit back. (Staten Island Advance)

Yet another rescuer tries to save Seattle's historic Kalakala ferry. But: "It may have looked cool, but it was hard to maneuver and kept running into things." (NPR)

Ron Paul video from 2009: "By subsidizing highways and destroying mass transit, we ended up with this monstrosity."(Streetsblog)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Vermont Swiftly Repaired Irene-Damaged Roads; LaHood To Testify About High-Speed Rail Today

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Top stories on TN:

FAA Chief Randy Babbitt is on a leave of absence after being arrested for drunk driving Saturday night. (Link)
The White House declined to call for Babbitt's resignation. (Link)
MIT developed an algorithm to predict which vehicles will run a red light. (Link)

Repairing a post-Hurricane Irene Route 106 in Weathersfield, Vermont (photo courtesy of the Vermont Agency of Transportation)

Vermont’s success in swiftly repairing roads damaged by Hurricane Irene "is a story of bold action and high-tech innovation." (New York Times)

NYC DOT head Janette Sadik-Khan -- "the high priestess of people-friendly cities" -- went on Rock Center with Brian Williams to talk about street redesign. (NBC)

U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood will be on the hill today to testify about the nation's high-speed rail program. (The Hill)

California's high-speed rail program is starting to look iffy. (KALW)

Deepwater Horizon update: BP accused Halliburton of destroying evidence about possible problems with the cement slurry that went into drilling the oil well. (AP via NPR)

A California law going into effect next year puts a statewide cap on the amount of greenhouse gases coming out of smokestacks and tailpipes. (NPR)

NY's MTA is installing more cameras and driver partitions on hundreds of city buses. (New York Post)

England has tabled a decision on whether to begin work on HS2 -- the high-speed rail project running from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds -- until next year. (The Guardian)

Men over 45 are more likely to crash their cars on snowy, icy roads. “There may be a sense of invulnerability with four-wheel drive trucks leading the drivers to not slow down as much as they should," says a researcher who conducted the study. (Chicago Tribune via Inforum)

Sales of GM and Ford cars are on the rise in China. (Marketplace)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: North Dakota's Oil Boom Strains Towns, GM Offers To Buy Back Volts

Friday, December 02, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Houston receives first-ever federal funds for light rail (link)

Democrats want stricter "made in America" rules for infrastructure projects. (Link)

John Mica could lose his seat under a redistricting proposal. (Link)

North Dakota (photo by John McChesney for NPR)

House leadership has put the brakes on a long-term transportation spending plan. (Washington Post)

The oil boom in North Dakota is straining small towns. (NPR)

DC Metro prepares to hike fares to close a budget gap. (Washington Post)

GM said it would buy back Volts from owners worried about battery fires. (New York Times)

The BART board voted to turn off cell phone service only in "the most extraordinary circumstances." (San Francisco Chronicle)

A New Jersey state assemblyman wants an investigation into the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's toll-hike discrepancy. (The Star-Ledger)

Thousands turned out for a New York City hearing on hydrofracking. (WNYC/Empire)

Friday video pick: watch as a video projection installation on the side of the Manhattan Bridge turns the structure into something resembling a portal to another dimension -- or a scene from the Matrix. (h/t Laughing Squid)

Projection on the Bridge - Immersive Surfaces - As Above, So Below from Light Harvest Studio - Ryan Uzi on Vimeo.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: American Airlines Files for Bankruptcy, Pittsburgh's Transit System Faces a 35% Cut, DC's Metro Considers a "Tourist Zone"

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Building the Second Avenue Subway: the sandhog tradition stays in the family. (Link)

Choose your own rail adventure -- via computer games. (Link)

Audio tour: the worst road in California's wine country. (Link)

(photo by caribb via flickr)

American Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection. (Bloomberg, New York Times, Marketplace)

DC's Metro is considering a 'tourist zone' to make buying fare cards easier for non-residents. (Greater Greater Washington)

Pittsburgh's public transit system may be facing a 35% service cut if elected leaders don't resolve a state transportation budget shortfall. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Following two separate battery fires, GM is reassuring Volt owners that the car is safe. (Detroit Free Press)

Troy's new mayor wants to send back $8.5 million in federal aid to build a transit center. (Detroit Free Press)

The Wall Street Journal doesn't like Governor Cuomo's plan to use pension funds to repair infrastructure. "As an "investment opportunity," the Tappan Zee isn't Google." (Wall Street Journal)

But: the governor now says he won't use pension funds as an investment vehicle to fund the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Wall Street Journal)

Researchers found a link between Houston's buses and tuberculosis. (Atlantic Cities)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed: a unified transit system will lift the Metro Atlanta region. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

One former resident's account: I lived in Los Angeles for eight years without a car -- and you can, too. (The Source)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Blasting on Second Avenue Subway Temporarily Halted, Ford and GM Resume Rivalry, More on Tappan Zee Funding Plans

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Watch a video short about a desk toy who uses Google Street View to take a virtual road trip. (Link)

Houston's red light camera squabble has yet to be resolved. (Link)

Drag racers and drug smugglers drive Houston's car thefts. (Link)

Welding work on the 2nd Avenue Subway (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Blasting on the Second Avenue Subway project was temporarily halted after complaints about smoke and dust from nearby residents. (New York Times, New York Daily News)

More on paying for the Tappan Zee Bridge project: Governor Cuomo is looking for alternative financing (Bloomberg) -- but says talk of leveraging pension funds for infrastructure is "premature." (Poughkeepsie Journal)

Two California representatives want federal help with a struggling airport. (Los Angeles Times)

NPR finishes up its series on fuel economy with a look at making gasoline-powered engines more efficient. (NPR)

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey received a negative credit rating outlook. (The Record)

Florida's rejected high-speed rail funding is now California's gain. (Politico)

Ford and GM have a bitter rivalry that sometimes devolves into name calling. (Wall Street Journal)

If you see a NYPD officer rappelling down the Roosevelt Island Tram, don't be alarmed -- it's only an exercise. (NY1)

And: a map of every U.S. road accident victim between 2001 - 2009 (Guardian)

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Transportation Nation

In Michigan, President Touts Jobs Success, Jabs Romney

Friday, October 14, 2011

US President Barack Obama (C) and South Korea's President Lee Myung-Bak listen to plant manager Alicia Boler-Davis(3rd R) during a tour of the General Motors Orion Assembly plant October 14, 2011 in Lake Orion, Michigan. At left is GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Daniel F. Akerson. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Without mentioning him by name, President Obama jabbed leading GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney for his position on the auto bailout.

"When I took office, I was determined to rebuild this economy based on what this country has always done best -- not just buying and consuming, but building, making things, selling those goods all around the world, stamped with three proud words:  Made in America. And that’s why one of the first decisions that I made as President was to save the U.S. auto industry from collapse," the President said after touring a Chevy Sonic plant in Orion Township, Michigan.

Then, obliquely referring to Romney, who has taken a high-profile stance against against the auto bailout.

"There were a lot of politicians who said it wasn’t worth the time and wasn’t worth the money. In fact, there are some politicians who still say that. Well, they should come tell that to the workers here at Orion."

As we've reported, the politics of the auto bailout are nevertheless thorny for the President -- even in a state where lots of jobs were saved -- no one feels particularly thrilled when the big guys get a handout.  But Michigan is a must-win for the President next year, Romney has roots in Michigan (his father was governor), and its a classic swing state that can be tugged in either direction.

Here are the full transcripts of the remarks, as well as those of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak who toured the plant with President Obama.

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Hello, Detroit!  (Applause.)  Hello!  Everybody, please have a seat, have a seat.  It is great to be back in the Motor City.  (Applause.)  I notice the mood is a little brighter on this particular visit.  (Laughter.)  I’d like to think it’s because everybody is excited about the Korea Free Trade Agreement, but I suspect it might just have a little bit to do with your Lions beating up on my Bears.  (Applause.)  All right, all right, all right.  (Laughter.)  Don't get carried away now.  (Laughter.)  Not to mention your Tigers hanging in there last night.  (Applause.)

 

As you can see, President Lee is a pretty good politician.  (Laughter and applause.)  He knows how to get on your good side.  (Applause.)  Today I brought a good friend and one of our closest allies, President Lee of South Korea.  Some of you may know, President Lee has got a remarkable story.  He grew up a little ways from Detroit, but he embodies that same spirit that Detroit is all about.  Through sheer grit and determination, he worked his way from the humblest beginnings.  The South Korea of his childhood was an extraordinarily poor country.  But he worked his way up, worked his way up, went to school while cleaning streets, and eventually went on to run a Hyundai machinery plant -- so he knows a little bit about cars -- then the whole company, and ultimately was elected the President of the Republic of Korea.  And this is a country that's staged one of the world's greatest economic comebacks that we've ever seen.

 

So President Lee knows what it's like to go through tough times.  He knows what it's like when folks have counted you out.  And he knows what it's like to make a big comeback.

 

So with that, I want to welcome President Lee to Detroit and have him say just a few words.  (Applause.)

 

PRESIDENT LEE:  Thank you.  (As interpreted.)  Folks, I'm a little bit shorter than President Obama, so I'm going to adjust the microphone.  (Laughter.)  I hope you'll understand.

 

Well, first of all, ladies and gentlemen, it's a great pleasure visiting your factory here in Detroit along with one of my closest friends, President Obama.

 

Well, folks, as you know, the global economy is going through some tough times, and so there's one thing on the minds of both President Obama and I, and that is jobs.  It is about creating good, decent jobs, and it is about keeping those jobs.  And this is what keeps us awake.  (Applause.)

 

Ladies and gentlemen, before I came here to see you, I just had a brief tour given to me by the members of this factory and I heard about the history, and I also heard about the danger of how this factory was on the brink of being closed.  But now, as you can see, we have so many people here, like all of you here working here and earning a good living.  And I think more than anyone else here in this factory, I think it's President Obama who's the happiest man to see this factory being so energetic and enthusiastic.  (Applause.)

 

Ladies and gentlemen, it was three years ago when I first met with President Obama, and back then I still remember how we talked about a lot of things.  And one of the things that was on President Obama's mind was how to revive the U.S. automotive industry.  Because we all know that the U.S. automotive industry was, and is, the leader in the world, and President Obama was concerned what he can do to revive Motor City and the United States automotive industry.  And we talked a lot about that.  And, folks, I know a few things about automobiles because back when I was in the private sector, I used to build cars myself.  So I know a thing or two about automobiles, and I think perhaps this was the reason why President Obama raised the subject.  But we talked a lot about how to revive the U.S. automobile industry.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, President Obama just briefly talked about my past, how I really worked hard throughout my life.  And I was once just like you -- I did work in factories, and I was also in the boardroom, as well, as a CEO of one of the largest companies in Korea.  But one thing I learned throughout my experience in my life is this:  During times of challenges, when you're faced with difficulties and if you want to create good jobs and maintain these good jobs, there’s only one thing and the surest way to do that is for the workers and for the managers to work together.  It is about cooperating together, and that is the surest way to ensure good jobs and for you to keep your jobs.  (Applause.)

 

And, ladies and gentlemen, we are here with President Obama because when I was a worker I knew that, more than anything, for all of us to enjoy good life is for all of us to have a good, decent job.  And I know how important it is for anyone to have a good, decent job.  And the factory here -- as I was looking around, I felt once again how important it is for all of us to work together because I know that three years ago GM Korea and GM Orion, you guys worked together to set up this factory.  And today, you are building models here and you're manufacturing cars that three years ago, GM Korea and your company has been working together.  And that is the reason why I came here, so I can see with my own eyes the good work that all of you are doing here.  (Applause.)

 

Folks, when I was President, as soon as I became President of Korea, I visited a GM Korea factory not once, but twice, which was quite unusual for the President of Korea to do so.  But I came here today -- and as I watch the factory and I took on a tour, I was very, very -- deeply impressed by the way you’re operating this factory.  I was impressed by the fact that this factory is very pro-environment.  You take care of the environment.  Also you’ve adopted the latest IT technology so that efficiency is up.  You have the highest standards, and you're building excellent cars here in this factory.  And I am confident that this factory is going to continue, and it’s going to make good cars, and your lives are going to be good.  And I’m sure -- and I’m confident in the future.  (Applause.)

 

Lastly, folks, I just want to say one thing before I go.  As you know, the KORUS FTA will soon be implemented.  I know, folks, that some of you here may think that with the implementation of the KORUS FTA, that somehow your jobs may be exported or go somewhere else.  But let me tell you one thing -- that is not true.  (Applause.)  I am here with President Obama today because I want to give this promise to you, and that is that the KORUS FTA will not take away any of your jobs.  Rather it will create more jobs for you and your family, and it is going to protect your jobs.  And this is the pledge that I give you today.  (Applause.)

 

Soon, folks, Motor City is going to come back again, and it’s going to revive its past glory.  And I have all the confidence in the world that you are going to do that.

 

Thank you.  (Applause.)

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Give President Lee a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

 

All right.  Well, thank you, President Lee.

 

Thank you, to everybody who has joined us here today.  A couple of people I just want to mention.  First of all, the CEO of General Motors, Dan Ackerson, is here.  Where is Dan?  (Applause.)  There he is.  The UAW President, one of the key people who helped make this agreement possible -- that is my dear friend, Bob King.  (Applause.)  And my U.S. Trade Representative, who spent a lot of long nights with his Korean counterpart -- Ron Kirk is in the house.  (Applause.)

 

I just want to follow up President Lee’s remarks with a few words about what the Korea Free Trade Agreement will mean for American jobs and for the American economy.  In the last decade, we became a country that was known for what we bought and what we consumed.  And a whole bunch of goods poured in here from all around the world, and we spent a lot of money and took on a lot of debt, in a lot of cases, to buy those goods.  But it didn't necessarily produce a lot of jobs here in the United States.

 

So when I took office, I was determined to rebuild this economy based on what this country has always done best -- not just buying and consuming, but building; making things, selling those goods all around the world, stamped with three proud words:  Made in America.  (Applause.)  And that’s why one of the first decisions that I made as President was to save the U.S. auto industry from collapse.  (Applause.)

 

There were a lot of politicians who said it wasn’t worth the time and wasn’t worth the money.  In fact, there are some politicians who still say that.  Well, they should come tell that to the workers here at Orion.

 

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Because two years ago it looked like this plant was going to have to shut its doors.  All these jobs would have been lost.  The entire community would have been devastated.  And the same was true for communities all across the Midwest.  And I refused to let that happen.  (Applause.)

 

So we made a deal with the auto companies.  We said if you’re willing to retool and restructure, get more efficient, get better, get smarter, then we’re going to invest in your future -- because we believe in American ingenuity.  Most importantly, we believe in American workers.  (Applause.)  And today, I can stand here and say that the investment paid off.  (Applause.)  The hundreds of thousands of jobs that have been saved made it worth it.

 

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  An American auto industry that’s more profitable and competitive than it’s been in years made it worth it.  (Applause.)  The taxpayers are being repaid.  (Applause.)  Plants like this are churning out groundbreaking fuel-efficient cars like the Chevy Sonic -- the only one of its kind that’s made and sold in the United States of America.  (Applause.)

 

And for folks who haven't tried it, you've got to sit in that car.  There's a lot of room in there.  (Laughter.)  Felt -- even for a pretty tall guy like me, I felt pretty good.  They took away the keys, though.  Secret Service wouldn't let me -- (laughter) -- I checked in the dash.  It wasn't there.

 

Now, here's the thing.  We live in a global economy, and that means most of the potential customers for American companies like GM won't just be here in the United States; they'll be all around the world.  And the more goods and services we sell abroad, the more jobs we create here at home.  (Applause.)

 

In fact, every $1 billion in exports supports thousands of American jobs.  And that’s why I’ve set a goal of doubling our exports -– and that's a goal that we’re on track to meet.  That’s why we worked with Panama and Colombia, as well as South Korea, to resolve outstanding issues with these trade agreements, and that's why I pushed Congress to pass them as soon as possible.  (Applause.)

 

Now, Korea is one that is critically important, because understand Korea has 50 million people; it's one of the fastest-growing countries in the world.  It's one of our closest allies and our closest friends.  And -- President Lee and I talked about this when we had dinner the other night -- our trade is basically balanced between the United States and Korea.  They buy as much stuff from us as they sell to us -- and that's how fair and free trade is supposed to be.  It's not a one-sided proposition.  (Applause.)  That's how trade is supposed to be.  And I know President Lee doesn't mind me saying this, even though he's a Hyundai guy.  (Laughter.)  If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais from Korea, then I know Koreans should be able to buy some Fords and Chryslers and Chevys that are made right here in the United States of America.  (Applause.)

 

The other thing that happened was -- this took a little longer than some people expected because I wasn't going to sign just any trade deal.  President Lee wasn't either.  We had to work hard to reach an understanding.  It was like a scene from a GM dealership, where folks are negotiating about the heated seats and the extended warranty, and you’re going back and forth and trying to figure how does it fit together so that it works for everybody.  But when all was said and done, President Lee and I walked away with a trade agreement that is a win-win for both of our countries.  (Applause.)

 

Here in the United States, this trade agreement will support at least 70,000 American jobs.  It will increase exports.  It will boost our economy by more than our last nine trade agreements combined.  And as I said, the good thing is we’ve got a balanced situation.  It’s not just a matter of folks sending a bunch of stuff here.  Koreans are also buying American products.  That's what makes it a win-win.  (Applause.)

 

And by the way, I also held out on sending this agreement to Congress until they promised to renew a law called the TAA -- Trade Adjustment Assistance -- that helps American workers who’ve been affected by global competition so that they are able to help transition.  (Applause.)

 

Now, it’s because of all these benefits -- it’s because of all these benefits that this trade agreement won the support of business and labor, from automakers and auto workers, from Democrats and Republicans.  That doesn't happen very often.  And it was good to finally see both parties in Congress come together and pass legislation that is good for the American people -– an agreement that will not only build on our strong economic relationship that’s been existing for years to come, but also promises, as we’ve seen at this plant, the capacity for us to exchange ideas and technologies and systems, which will improve productivity on both sides.

 

Nearly a decade ago, when a Korean business named Daewoo Motors went bankrupt, it was General Motors that stepped in and saved that company, which is now known as GM Korea.  And years later, it was the engineers from GM Korea who helped make the Chevy Sonic possible, and the collaboration with that company that’s helped save this plant and these 17,050 -- 1,750 jobs.

 

So on a larger scale, the closer economic ties between the United States and Korea are going to lead to more jobs, more opportunity for both nations.  (Applause.)  Already, Korean investment -- and by the way, it’s not just in the auto industry.  Already, Korean investment is creating jobs here in Michigan, with LG Chem planning to make lithium ion batteries in Holland, Michigan; and Hyundai manufacturing suspension modules in Detroit; and Mando opening a new research and development center for brakes and steering in Novi.  In Korea, American businesses are going to be pursuing those same investments and opportunities.  So it’s truly a win-win for everybody involved.

 

So I just want to say thank you to President Lee for his cooperation and for his leadership.  I want to thank the members of Congress who fought so hard to get this done -- especially the delegation from this state.  I want to especially thank the people of Detroit for proving that, despite all the work that lies ahead, this is a city where a great American industry is coming back to life -- (applause) -- and the industries of tomorrow are taking root, and a city where people are dreaming up ways to prove all the skeptics wrong and write the next proud chapter in the Motor City’s history.  (Applause.)

 

And that’s why I came here today.  Because for every cynic that's out there running around saying it can't be done, there are a whole bunch of folks that are saying, "Yes, we can."  (Applause.)

 

Yes, times are tough.  Times are tough and they've been tougher in Detroit than just about anyplace else.  But we’ve made it through tough times before.  We do not quit.  We've rolled up our sleeves.  We remembered our history.  And we said to ourselves there's nothing that we cannot do when we're willing to do it together.  You are all a testimony to the American spirit.  (Applause.)  These cars are a testimony to the American spirit.  And if we can take that same spirit and apply it across the board to all the challenges we face, there is nothing that we cannot do.

 

God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

 

 

 

 

 

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President Heads for Michigan To Argue Auto Industry Bailout Saved State

Friday, October 14, 2011

President Barack Obama Drives a Volt During a Michigan Visit in July 2011 (White House Photo)

UPDATED WITH UAW PRESIDENT  COMMENTS ON TRADE AGREEMENT:

President Barack Obama is on his way to Michigan with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, where the two will tour the GM Assembly plant that produces the new Chevy Sonic subcompact.   The argument that the auto bailout early in his presidency was good for Michigan, the auto industry, and the U.S. is not an argument the president is willing to lose.

"At the beginning of his administration, President Obama made the very tough and unpopular decision to restructure GM and Chrysler – a decision that saved over a million American jobs and revitalized an entire American industry,"  according to materials on the visit released by the White House.  "In the year before GM and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, the auto industry shed over 400,000 jobs.  Since these companies emerged from their restructurings, the American auto industry has created 128,000 jobs."

The President has to thread a narrow needle here -- arguing both for the political wisdom bailout and for the recently-passed trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and other nations.  The White House argues the agreements will create jobs, though free trade agreements have not exactly thrilled labor unions, as a whole.

To counter that, the White House released an op-ed penned by UAW Chief Bob King.

" The UAW fully supports this trade agreement because the automotive provisions, which are very different from those negotiated by President George W. Bush in 2007, will create significantly greater market access for American auto exports and include strong, auto-specific safeguards to protect our domestic markets from potentially harmful surges of Korean automotive imports," King wrote.

"Unlike the 2007 negotiations with South Korea, the labor movement, and particularly the UAW, had an opportunity to be part of the 2010 discussions on strengthening the trade deal. Working with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and other members of the Obama administration, then-Ways and Means Committee Chairman Levin and top management from the auto companies, the UAW believes the new agreement will help protect current American auto jobs, contains meaningful trade law enforcement and makes stronger labor and environmental commitments."

As we've reported before from Michigan, the politics of the auto bailout are tricky -- people do see it creating jobs, but, as with the bank bailout, it's hard to swallow big corporations getting handouts when you're totally broke yourself.   Two years after the bailout, Democrats lost key Michigan races in a rout.

Nevertheless, the President and his team have argued again and again that the bailout was wise, and he'll do so again today.

We'll have more on his remarks later.

 

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GM Signs Car Share Deal, Joins Other Automakers Warming to Trend

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A potential rental car. (Photo (CC) by Flickr user Carol Browne)

America's largest automaker is embracing carsharing. GM has signed a deal with peer-to-peer car sharing company RelayRides to make it easier for drivers to rent out their cars by the hour to neighbors, the companies announced Wednesday.

"We could stand on the sidelines and watch or we could choose to participate and try to make it into a favorable business model, which in this particular case we have," GM's Bob Tiderington tells TN.

GM will adapt its OnStar anti-theft technology to facilitate car rentals, making it cheaper and simpler to sign up with RelayRides as a car-lender. In exchange, GM gets a percentage of every rental of an OnStar equipped car. OnStar enables remote locking and unlocking of a car. So, an owner who wants to rent out their car no longer has to install a separate device to let neighbors open the door and get the key, they will be able to use a mobile phone app instead.

When the plan launches in early 2012, all GM vehicles built after 2010 with OnStar service and current subscription will be "carsharing ready," says Tiderington, who is the head of new business development initiatives at GM. That's 1.7 million cars that could be turned into peer-to-peer rental cars right off the bat, in theory. "Our intent over the next four to five months is to also include [model years] going back to 2005," which boosts the figure to 6 million, Tiderington points out. Right now, RelayRides only operates in San Francisco and Boston, so nothing close to that will actually come on the rental market. According to Innovative Mobility Research, car sharing in North America has grown from 400,000 users in 2009 to 640,000 in July 2011. Consultants Frost & Sullivan predict car sharing users will reach 4.4 million by 2016. That's for company-owned fleets, RelayRides is one of the first and largest efforts to date of for private car owners to rent out their vehicles when they aren't in use.

There hasn't been a study yet on how demand and supply for peer-to-peer car sharing has functioned so far.

"We're still a small company, we're 18 months old," said Andrew Haddad, CEO of RelayRides. "I think [the OnStar partnership] will significantly spread car sharing to people who weren't considering it before, because it's easy. If its hard it won't spread." RelayRides pays about $500 in all to equip each participating car with the add-on device that lets a renter open the vehicle with a membership card. That's cumbersome for the owners, Haddad says. But OnStar cars will just need to turn the service on.

The other reason he's optimistic about partnering with a major carmaker is outreach to all those millions of GM owners. “We do plan to go out and reach out to these folks, both the current subscribers and people that are not active,'” GM's Tiderington says.

This partnership is notable, says Susan Shaheen, Director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at University of California at Berkeley. "Mobility services represent a new approach that can complement the core business model of automakers,vehicle sales, as well as the introduction of new technologies to consumers--such as alternative fuel vehicles and safety, real-time traffic, and parking assist devices."

2011 has been a year substantial growth for car sharing partnerships. Ford teamed up with Zipcar--which issued an IPO in April--for a pilot program on university campuses. BMW paired with Sixt on a one-way car rental program. Daimler is planning to expand it's car share company Car2Go, which only uses Daimler's Smart cars. The Austin-based one-way car sharing company is expected to set up shop in San Diego next.

The spread of RelayRides and other P2P companies, such as Getaround and Wheelz, is still unclear," Shaheen says. "I have not seen data yet to validate "matches" of demand and supply and overall consumer response." She plans to study the spread.

GM is optimistic. RelayRides says it plans to expand, and GM sees that as a marketing opportunity. "I think of it as a low hassle test drive," Tiderington tells TN. The more people he can get behind the wheel of a GM car, the more chance they'll buy it, he says. “So if you have one vehicle and 50 people rent it,  some of those people are going to end up buying a product."

“You do it in certain markets, like say San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C., markets like that where we don’t tend to do incredibly well, and we look at it as, ‘what do we really have to loose?’ We’ve already lost in the sense we have low market share there, so we look at it as a really good idea from a marketing perspective to get our product out there.”

That's a shift from a few years ago when automakers were lukewarm to the idea of car sharing and considered it a threat to sales. If several people could all share one car, they would buy fewer new vehicles overall went the worry. But Tiderington agrees with car sharing advocates that an idle car is a wasted resource. He wants GM cars on the road, and out in front of other potential buyers as much as possible. Plus, he points out that if renters put on significant mileage to a car, it will "turn over" faster, and the owner will buy a new one sooner.

He also predicts that new buyers will factor in potential rental income. “Say you want to buy a Chevy Volt, to some people, it might be a little bit of a stretch for them. The upside to it is they buy it, they get it into this program, they rent it out, they make maybe $200, $300 a month it helps, in a sense, offset their cost.”

Dealers will be making exactly that case for new GM vehicles in San Francisco and Boston.

 

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