- Associated Press - Monday, August 28, 2017

The Detroit News. August 24, 2017

Put brakes on driverless auto taxes

Driverless technology is taking off, but Michigan is taking a wait-and-see approach before joining some other states that are eager to begin levying new taxes on autonomous vehicles. That’s the right call.

Still, as the state Legislature starts rule-making this fall, it will have to answer these questions: Will the current fuel tax be sufficient for repairing roads and investing in smart infrastructure as mobility technology evolves? And if not, who will pay?

“There’s not yet consensus on (the) matter,” says Wade Newton, a spokesman with Auto Alliance. “This is one of the many areas that need to be explored when it comes to self-driving vehicles.”

Since automated cars are still being tested, this interim period is trial-and-error for legislators. Without clear signals from the market whether consumers prefer individual or third-party ownership of the vehicles, the challenge of devising tax policy is daunting.

For example, independent D.C. think tank Eno Center for Transportation recently proposed a mileage fee on automakers for self-driving cars operating autonomously that could raise up to $300 million per year, said Paul Lewis, vice president of policy and finance for the center.

The tax assumes, however, the market will prefer company ownership and pay-per-mile use, says Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Rob Morosi.

In Massachusetts, there is a 2.5 cents-per-mile tax on self-driving cars; in Tennessee, a 1 cent-per-mile fee on cars and a 2.6 cent-per-mile fee for autonomous trucks with more than two axles.

Michigan has not considered such a tax yet, Morosi says.

Currently, consumers pay state and federal gas taxes or registration fees, or a combination of both. The Michigan Legislature upped its gasoline tax and increased registration fees in 2015, but the federal gas tax hasn’t changed since the ‘90s.

As fuel economy improves and electric vehicles proliferate, the gas tax pool becomes shallower. Automated vehicles could further this trend since they economize fuel, are more likely to be electric and might break the existing tax model that’s based on individual ownership.

In addition, automated vehicles will need software that essentially “talks” to the car, also known as Dedicated Short Range Communications radios, says Collin Castle, an ITS program manager for the Michigan Department of Transportation. This means integrating these radios into existing freeways, at a cost of about $5,000 an installation, and re-engineering intersection signals, at about $20,000 a location.

“MDOT has made a significant investment in supporting infrastructure,” Castle said. “The cost may seem high, but we think there’s a cost-reasonable way to do this effectively.”

One way is through partnership with the private sector during testing and construction. MDOT recently partnered with 3M, a company that provided signs, barrels and pavement markings, and with General Motors Corp. for signal testing.

Rather than levy taxes pre-emptively, the state should seek first to encourage partnerships that would speed development so legislators can see how the market adapts to this new wave of smart vehicles.

Still, some underlying legislation remains crucial.

“We believe it’s important for legislation to happen now,” says Newton. “This will allow our innovation to be further refined and deployed into the market. These are truly potentially life-saving technologies that can expand mobility and remove barriers for the traveling public.”

The alliance supports the Self-Drive Act in Congress, which the House Committee on Energy and Commerce unanimously approved. The act regulates commerce, data security and motor vehicle safety - issues that could differ from state to state.


Lansing State Journal. August 24, 2017

Sports help shape young people

Over the next few weeks, students across the region will return to math classes and biology laboratories.

To English literature and creative writing - perhaps even to journalism - as the academic year begins.

But education is so much more than what’s learned in the classroom.

Education is a supervised experience in which young people learn how to socialize, deal with conflict, work together for common goals and so much more.

They learn to overcome adversity and live with disappointment.

They learn to celebrate skill and work through deficiencies.

They also learn how to participate in a community and interact with people with whom they may disagree from time to time.

In other words, they learn how to become productive citizens.

Participation in high school sports - and other extracurricular activities - provides the perfect training ground for what the world will be like post-graduation.

More than 3,000 student-athletes in Greater Lansing will compete for their schools throughout the year.

They wear their uniforms with pride, and boost the reputation of their community through healthy competition.

Other extracurricular activities can provide similar opportunities.

It’s just as important for communities to show their pride in the young people who represent them.

Support their endeavors by going to games, attending performances, participating in fundraisers, generally by being present.

There is a lot of science that supports community connection as a benefit for young people. Regardless of whether you have children, it is important to show your support.

Being celebrated in athletics and extracurricular activities are just some of the ways good behavior is reinforced for young people.

Sports - and music, theater, debate, robotics, etc. - help teach students skills that will contribute to their future success.

Let’s support them along the way, across the region.

As another school year begins, let’s be sure to show up as a community to support young people and encourage their development.

Sports - and other extracurricular activities - will shape them for a lifetime.

So will our support.


Times Herald (Port Huron). August 25, 2017

Concrete examples of our road frustrations

Write yourself a note and tape it to the dashboard of your car. Avoid the Kilgore Road Bridge over the Pine River in Kenockee Township. Who knows what is holding it up.

The Michigan Department of Transportation gave the St. Clair County Road commission some new, experimental concrete recently for repairing the bridge. The concrete is supposed to be stronger than regular concrete.

Except we’re not sure that MDOT knows its concrete from a hole in the road.

Case in point: The agency replaced the bridge that carries Pine Grove Avenue over the Black River Canal in 2001. Bridge lanes were closed for months and detours drove motorists crazy. One of the important features of the replacement bridge were the wide concrete sidewalks on each side.

While workers were collecting the orange barrels and throwing them into the back of a truck, concrete began flaking off the sidewalk on the east side of Pine Grove. The walkway on the west side lasted a few weeks more. Before long, both sides had shed several inches of crumbling concrete onto the road surface.

It would have been difficult to persuade anyone the bridge and the sidewalks were only 16 years old. They looked worse than Marine City’s half century-old sidewalks.

This is the concrete we can see. It makes you wonder about the concrete you can’t see. The concrete you can see carries a few pedestrians and bike riders, not the 24/7 glut of cars and heaviest-weight-limit-anywhere trucks that passes through that choke point every day. New concrete will be holding up the Kilgore Road Bridge. Pedestrians beware.

But the crumbling sidewalks are not the only reason a taxpayer might wonder whether MDOT can be trusted with its billion-dollar tax increase.

MDOT returned to the Black River Canal bridge this month to repair the sidewalks. It cleaned up and replaced the crumbling edge of the walkway with new concrete - almost.

The east side looks nice - for now. We’re waiting to see if the patch will flake off in little bits or slump, as a piece, onto the roadway.

The west side repair comes up short. Literally. About 40 feet of the edge was patched, but another 10 feet or so was ignored.

Maybe it’s another experiment.


Petoskey News-Review. August 25, 2017

Know the rules before flying a drone

They are becoming a common sight in Northern Michigan, much like seagulls and other birds in the air.

However, instead of the pleasant sounds of chirping, whistles and caws, this small flying object makes a buzzing sound as it watches and records everything around it.

This sight is not a feather friend. Our skies of Northern Michigan are starting to see more drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

We anticipate seeing more of these machines in the skies of Northern Michigan well into the future too, as prices for them come down to sometimes under $100 (the Petoskey News-Review actually has a drone, too). These machines are fun and do allow users to capture some stunning aerial images, either photographs or video. But, far too often we notice that those flying the drones don’t seem to understand there are rules that must be followed.

First of all, the operator of the drone must understand they could be required to have a license to fly it in some cases. A person using a drone for recreational or other amateur purposes is not required to have any sort of licensing to fly it. But, a person who is using the drone for any sort of commercial purpose - real estate, journalism or professional imaging services, for example - is required to obtain a license from the agency.

To obtain a license through the FAA, person must be at least 16 years old, “be in physical and mental condition to safely operate a small UAS” and pass a written knowledge test.

The process also include a security background check by the Transportation Security Administration.

Secondly there are several flight rules that licensed and unlicensed pilots must follow - although reporters and editors at the Petoskey News-Review have observed several of these rules being violated just this summer by some drone pilots flying in Northern Michigan. They are:

- Drones must give way (stay out of the way) of manned aircraft.

- Operators must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)

- Drones must be under 55 pounds

- Operators must follow community-based safety guidelines

- Operators need to notify airport and air traffic control tower before flying within 5 miles of an airport

On its website, the FAA offers these “safety guidelines” for hobby or recreational (non-licensed) drone operators:

- Fly at or below 400 feet and stay away from surrounding obstacles

- Keep your UAS within sight

- Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports

- Never fly over groups of people (we’ve noticed pilots violating this one at almost every festival this summer)

- Never fly over stadiums or sports events (this includes the Petoskey Northmen stadium)

- Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires

- Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol

- Understand airspace restrictions and requirements

The FAA lists the following as “must” rules for licensed drone operation:

- Must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)

- Must fly at altitudes under 400 feet

- Must fly during the day

- Must fly at or below 100 mph

- Must yield right of way to manned aircraft

- Must NOT fly over people

- Must NOT fly from a moving vehicle

Following these rules is not only a safety issue for the public, but helps spread good attitudes about drones and drone pilots. We encourage all drone pilots to follow these rules and help grow this activity in a positive way.


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