Uber's handing out free breathalyser tests and rides in Toronto

He drinks, they drive. Image: Uber via YouTube.

The rate of drink-driving accidents in Canada triples after midnight. But an unlikely white knight has stepped in to help: rideshare company Uber, late of such inspired PR efforts as rides with "incredibly hot chicks" and getting banned in Frankfurt for lacking proper licenses (the ban was later lifted).

The company installed a breathalyser on a street in Toronto, where late night revelers can blow into a disposable straw to test their alcohol levels. The station then automatically summons an Uber taxi if you're over the limit.

Here's the promo video:


Yes, "Uber Safe", the campaign's tagline, seems a little ironic considering recent stories of violence against passengers, or the driver who wouldn't give a ride to a gay couple. But the company clearly needs to clean up its public image - and this doesn't seem like such a terrible way to go about it. 

One downside is that any sane Torontonian would go out and get as hammered as possible, just to ensure they can get a free ride home. It therefore seems a little unlikely the campaign will be long-running. But an Uber spokesperson hinted to Buzzfeed that the breathalyser could pop up in other cities: 

We’ve been thrilled by the interest this has generated and we will continue to find ways to help people remember that ride-sharing is a responsible choice... terms of where we might take the Uber Safe breathalyzer next… stay tuned!

In our unbiased opinion, London would be the ideal choice. 

 
 
 
 

Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.


There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).