When Your Hotel Is Overbooked, You Might Be ‘Walked’ to Another

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The term in the travel industry is “walked.”

That’s when a hotel tells a traveler with a confirmed reservation that it does not, in fact, have an available room and instead books a room for the guest at another hotel.

“Walking” is not new. According to hotel industry experts, however, it has been on the rise as the strong economy drives up hotel occupancy rates. At the same time, hotels have been under pressure to maximize their revenues, experts say. To do that, hotels, much as airlines do, try to predict who will not show up or cancel at the last minute. Sometimes, they guess wrong.

While hotels are not under any legal obligation to the guests they walk, it is industry policy to book guests a room in a comparable property and pay for that room, according to Reneta McCarthy, a senior lecturer at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.

Still, some travelers, like Paul Lanyi, a marketing contractor from Los Angeles, argue that a free night’s stay may not be worth the hassle. Mr. Lanyi said he had a confirmed reservation at the Waterfront hotel in Oakland, Calif., a couple of years ago. But when he tried to check in close to midnight, the front desk employee told him that the property was oversold and no more rooms were available.

To make matters worse, he recalled, the employee said that he hadn’t yet been able to find alternative accommodations. Luckily, the employee was able to secure a room at a nearby hotel, but Mr. Lanyi, who was on a business trip, said he didn’t end up going to bed until 2 a.m. “I had to wake up for an 8:30 a.m. meeting,” he said. “It was not fun.”

The hotel’s general manager, Chris Offutt, said that “during oversold situations, which are infrequent and largely due to high demand in the area, the hotel works to ensure guests are comfortably accommodated at a nearby comparable hotel.” She added, “Waterfront is committed to caring for our guests.”

Ms. McCarthy said, “If you’re a leisure traveler, you might be O.K. staying at another property that you don’t have to pay for. But, she added, “Business travelers aren’t paying for their room anyway, so they don’t care as much.”

While there are no official statistics on how many travelers get walked, and individual hotels are generally mum on the subject for fear of hurting their reputation and business, Bjorn Hanson, an adjunct professor at the Tisch Center of Hospitality at New York University, said a big reason walking was increasingly problematic was because hotel occupancy was at a high.

He said his research showed that 2019 was expected to have the highest hotel occupancy percentage since 1981 — more than 66 percent of the available rooms in the United States were expected to be occupied on an average night. In 2009, by comparison, 54.6 percent of rooms were occupied, according to the travel research company STR. On weekdays this year in business travel markets, Dr. Hanson said, he expected occupancy percentages in the 90s.

“In periods of high occupancy, hotels overbook more hotel rooms, which results in more guests getting walked,” Dr. Hanson said.

Walking is also growing because hotels are under increasing pressure to make as much money as they can, said Rummy Pandit, the executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University in New Jersey. “The supply side is growing faster than the demand side so hotels have more competition,” he said. “And they’re also getting competition from home rental companies like Airbnb.”

STR and Tourism Economics’ forecast for this year projects a 2.3 percent increase in revenue per available room, to $87.94. This would be the lowest year-over-year percentage change in that metric since the end of the financial crisis in 2009.

“In the current climate, hotels will overbook by 10 to 15 percent of their room capacity, which will result in more guests being walked,” Dr. Pandit said. “Properties use revenue management systems that estimate no-shows and cancellations, in additional to several other parameters, but these are only estimates.”

Dr. Pandit estimated that a 500- to 700-room property is likely to walk five guests on high occupancy days.

As to determining which hotels in which city are most likely to “walk” a traveler, Dr. Pandit said: “The probability of being walked is not necessarily dependent on the size of city. It would generally depend on demand and supply of hotel rooms at any particular time, and the specific policy of the operator in terms of overbooking in order to maximize occupancy.”

But, he added, “If you have to pick cities, I would say the chances of being walked are greater in large cities with higher number of year-round peak occupancy days.”

Some hotels try to assuage guests they have “walked” by giving them gifts.

Katie Perkins, who is a front officer manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village near Los Angeles, said that when she had to walk a business traveler, she tried to offer something meaningful. “Sometimes, it’s a massage, or, if they want to come back on a personal trip, I offer them an upgrade to a suite,” she said. “The next day, I call them to apologize again.”

Ms. Perkins added some companies that have a contract with the hotel for a negotiated rate include a clause that states that none of its employees can be walked.

How properties decide who gets walked depends on a number of factors. Ms. McCarthy said that men have a higher chance of being walked than women, solo travelers are more at risk than a couple or a family, and travelers with a reservation for one night have a higher chance than those staying multiple nights.

Travelers checking in late in the day also have a greater likelihood of being walked.

Dr. Hanson advised guests with confirmed reservations to arrive at their hotel at or soon after the official check-in time when more rooms are available. “If you’re going to be getting there late, call the property, reconfirm your reservation with a live person whose name you get and tell them when you’ll be arriving,” he said.

Being part of a hotel’s loyalty program, if it offers one, can also protect travelers, and if they are walked, the loyalty program may give them added benefits.

Marriott International, for example, has six tiers as part of its Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program and offers a cash gift card and loyalty points to walked members at all tiers, except the entry level basic. The amounts vary based on the Marriott brand. Walked travelers who are part of the second tier, called Silver Elite, with a reservation at a JW Marriott or W Hotels receive $200 and 90,000 points. If they’re staying at a Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis, they get $200 and 140,000 points.

And, according to a Marriott spokesman, John Wolf, the company always tries to ensure a member’s reservation is honored at the hotel of their choice.

Nonetheless, being a member of Marriott’s top tier didn’t help Zach Honig, the editor at large of the travel site The Points Guy. Mr. Honig said he was walked in October when he checked in for a two-night stay at the Courtyard Santa Monica. “The hotel was willing to put me up at a Le Meridien for one night but wanted me to come back there for the second night, which would have been a pain,” he said.

Following a lengthy back-and-forth with the front desk employee, Mr. Honig managed to get the property to approve a second night’s stay at Le Meridien. “It took a lot of my time and energy, but I have to admit, the compensation Marriott offered helped make the situation better,” he said.

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Honda Plans to Leave Britain as Brexit Draws Close

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LONDON — The Japanese automaker Honda has become the latest business to make plans to leave Britain as global forces reshape the car industry and the country prepares to exit the European Union.

Honda will close its plant in Swindon, England, which employs 3,500 workers, by 2021, according to a statement from two members of Parliament, Justin Tomlinson and Robert Buckland, who have been in contact with the carmaker.

Honda declined to respond to queries about the move, reported earlier by Sky News. “At this point, we are not able to make any comments regarding the speculation,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We take our responsibilities to our associates very seriously and will always communicate any significant news with them first.”

But in a joint statement, Mr. Tomlinson and Mr. Buckland confirmed media reports about the upheaval and said they were “disappointed and surprised” that the plant would be gone in two years.

“Honda have told us today that they will be consulting with all staff and there is not expected to be any job losses or change in production until 2021,” the lawmakers said in an emailed statement. “All European market production is being consolidated to Japan, where the company is based.” They said production in Turkey would also be affected.

Honda follows other companies that have retrenched in the face of sluggish markets, tougher environmental regulation and challenges from deep-pocketed technology companies that are pursuing electric and autonomous driving cars.

Last month, Ford said it was cutting thousands of jobs across Europe as emissions rules and declining demand ate into its profits. Another American carmaker, General Motors, pulled out of Europe in 2017 after persistent losses in the region.

But the losses in Britain, coming as the country tries to leave the European Union, have been striking. Nissan said in early February that it would be producing the next generation of its X-Trail SUV at its Kyushu plant in Japan, rather than at its factory in Sunderland, England. The plant will continue to manufacture other models.

Like Nissan, Honda stands to benefit from a new trade deal between the European Union and Japan, which will make it easier to produce cars in Japan for export to the bloc. Their production lines in Japan will also be closer to markets viewed as having greater growth potential, like China and Indonesia.

The sales market is changing across the globe. Car sales to individual customers appear to have peaked in the United States last year. An economic slowdown in China has deflated sales there. Silicon Valley tech companies are increasingly competing for talent among manufacturers.

“All of that is taking a huge amount of resource out of car companies,” said Peter Wells, a professor at the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff Business School. “They’ve got to access those new markets, restructure their operations; it’s an enormous burden financially. It’s putting strain on the whole sector.”

“It’s all going on around this industry and it’s proving to be a turbulent strategic time for the participants,” he said.

The continued stalemate over Brexit has made it more difficult for businesses to plan their operations past March 29, the day of departure. Investment in the country’s auto industry plummeted by half in 2018, prompting a recent plea from the automakers’ trade association.

“Brexit is the clear and present danger and, with thousands of jobs on the line, we urge all parties to do whatever it takes to save us from ‘no deal,’” said Mike Hawes, the organization’s chief executive, referring to the prospect of the country leaving the European Union without an agreement over the terms of departure.

The Honda decision is one of a series of unhappy announcements in Britain in recent months. The British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover has said it would be cutting 4,500 people from its work force because of “geopolitical and regulatory disruptions.” Dyson, the appliances company known for its vacuum cleaners, is moving its headquarters from southwest England to Singapore as it prepares to bring an electric vehicle to the market.

Nissan’s chairman in Europe, Gianluca de Ficchy, said that the company’s decision to adjust its assembly line was not based solely on Brexit but “the continued uncertainty around the U.K.’s future relationship with the E.U. is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future.”

Honda’s operations in Britain are highly dependent on being connected to the European Union; the company had already said it would close its factory temporarily in case no-deal Brexit triggered chaos.

About 40 percent of the components that Honda uses at the Swindon factory come from the European Union, while 35 percent of its exports are sent to the region, according to Patrick Keating, the government affairs manager at Honda Motor Europe.

Mr. Keating told a parliamentary committee in 2017 that Honda had “about 2 million components a day coming in on 350 trucks” from Europe.

Unite, a trade union representing the workers, was quick to blame Brexit. It said in a statement that “the chickens were coming home to roost big-time because of the Brexit uncertainty caused by the chaotic Tory government.”

The organization’s national officer for the automotive sector, Des Quinn, added that “this would be a shattering body blow at the heart of U.K. manufacturing.”

Stanley Reed and Stephen Castle contributed reporting.

Brexit and the British Auto Industry

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Chinese and Iranian Hackers Renew Their Attacks on U.S. Companies

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SAN FRANCISCO — Businesses and government agencies in the United States have been targeted in aggressive attacks by Iranian and Chinese hackers who security experts believe have been energized by President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year and his trade conflicts with China.

Recent Iranian attacks on American banks, businesses and government agencies have been more extensive than previously reported. Dozens of corporations and multiple United States agencies have been hit, according to seven people briefed on the episodes who were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

The attacks, attributed to Iran by analysts at the National Security Agency and the private security firm FireEye, prompted an emergency order by the Department of Homeland Security during the government shutdown last month.

The Iranian attacks coincide with a renewed Chinese offensive geared toward stealing trade and military secrets from American military contractors and technology companies, according to nine intelligence officials, private security researchers and lawyers familiar with the attacks who discussed them on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements.

A summary of an intelligence briefing read to The New York Times said that Boeing, General Electric Aviation and T-Mobile were among the recent targets of Chinese industrial-espionage efforts. The companies all declined to discuss the threats, and it is not clear if any of the hacks were successful.

Chinese cyberespionage cooled four years ago after President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China reached a landmark deal to stop hacks meant to steal trade secrets.

A 2015 deal between President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China that curtailed hacking intended to steal trade secrets appears to have been unofficially canceled.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

But the 2015 agreement appears to have been unofficially canceled amid the continuing trade tension between the United States and China, the intelligence officials and private security researchers said. Chinese hacks have returned to earlier levels, although they are now stealthier and more sophisticated.

“Cyber is one of the ways adversaries can attack us and retaliate in effective and nasty ways that are well below the threshold of an armed attack or laws of war,” said Joel Brenner, a former leader of United States counterintelligence under the director of national intelligence.

Federal agencies and private companies are back to where they were five years ago: battling increasingly sophisticated, government-affiliated hackers from China and Iran — in addition to fighting constant efforts out of Russia — who hope to steal trade and military secrets and sow mayhem. And it appears the hackers substantially improved their skills during the lull.

Russia is still considered America’s foremost hacking adversary. In addition to meddling widely and spreading disinformation during United States elections, Russian hackers are believed to have launched attacks on nuclear plants, the electrical grid and other targets.

Threats from China and Iran never stopped entirely, but Iranian hackers became much less active after the nuclear deal was signed in 2015. And for about 18 months, intelligence officials concluded, Beijing backed off its 10-year online effort to steal trade secrets.

But Chinese hackers have resumed carrying out commercially motivated attacks, security researchers and data-protection lawyers said. A priority for the hackers, researchers said, is supporting Beijing’s five-year economic plan, which is meant to make China a leader in artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies.

“Some of the recent intelligence collection has been for military purposes or preparing for some future cyber conflict, but a lot of the recent theft is driven by the demands of the five-year plan and other technology strategies,” said Adam Segal, the director of the cyberspace program at the Council on Foreign Relations. “They always intended on coming back.”

Officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Segal and other Chinese security experts said attacks that once would have been conducted by hackers in China’s People’s Liberation Army are now being run by China’s Ministry of State Security.

These hackers are better at covering their tracks. Rather than going at targets directly, they have used a side door of sorts by breaking into the networks of the targets’ suppliers. They have also avoided using malware commonly attributed to China, relying instead on encrypting traffic, erasing server logs and other obfuscation tactics.

Two Chinese citizens who are suspected of participating in an extensive hacking campaign to steal data from American companies.CreditManuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

“The fingerprint of Chinese operations today is much different,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, who once ran the National Security Agency’s East Asia and Pacific cyber threats division. Her duties there included determining whether Beijing was abiding by the 2015 agreement’s terms. “These groups care about attribution. They don’t want to get caught.”

It is difficult to quantify the number of industrial-espionage attacks, in part because they have been designed mostly to steal strategic trade secrets, not the kind of personal information about customers and employees that companies must disclose. Only Airbus has acknowledged in recent weeks that Chinese hackers had penetrated its databases.

Many of the attacks by the Chinese Ministry of State Security have been against strategic targets like internet service providers with access to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of corporate and government networks.

Last week, Ms. Moriuchi, who is now a threat director at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, released a report on a yearlong, stealth campaign by the ministry to hack internet service providers in Western Europe and the United States and their customers.

The lone hacking target to publicly confront the ministry was Visma, a Norwegian internet service provider with 850,000 customers. The goal of the attack on Visma was to gain broad access to its customers’ intellectual property, strategic plans and emails, including those of an American law firm that handles intellectual property matters for clients in the automotive, biomedical, pharmaceutical and tech sectors, according to Recorded Future.

The Visma attack was harder to trace than earlier incidents, which typically started with so-called spearphishing emails meant to steal personal credentials. This assault began with stolen credentials for a third-party software service, Citrix. And instead of using malware easily traced to China, the attackers used malware available on the so-called Dark Web that could have come from anywhere. They also used the online storage service Dropbox to move stolen emails and files.

Federal agencies are also trying to fend off new Iranian espionage campaigns.

After the Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear deal, Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, testified before Congress that her agency was “anticipating it’s a possibility” that Iran would resort to hacking attacks.

Stuart Davis, a director at a subsidiary of the security firm FireEye, which has attributed a recent wave of cyberattacks to Iranian hackers.CreditKamran Jebreili/Associated Press

The Iranian attacks, which hit more than a half-dozen federal agencies last month, still caught the department off guard. Security researchers said the hacks, which exploited underlying weaknesses in the internet’s backbone, were continuing and were more damaging and widespread than agency officials had acknowledged.

Iranian hackers began their latest wave of attacks in Persian Gulf states last year. Since then, they have expanded to 80 targets — including internet service providers, telecommunications companies and government agencies — in 12 European countries and the United States, according to researchers at FireEye, which first reported the attacks last month.

The current hacks are harder to catch than previous Iranian attacks. Instead of hitting victims directly, FireEye researchers said, Iranian hackers have been going after the internet’s core routing system, intercepting traffic between so-called domain name registrars. Once they intercepted their target’s customer web traffic, they used stolen login credentials to gain access to their victims’ emails. (Domain name registrars hold the keys to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of companies’ websites.)

“They’re taking whole mailboxes of data,” said Benjamin Read, a senior manager of cyberespionage analysis at FireEye. Mr. Read said Iranian hackers had targeted police forces, intelligence agencies and foreign ministries, indicating a classic, state-backed espionage campaign rather than a criminal, profit-seeking motive.

There is a long history of Iranian attacks against the United States, and episodes from five years back or longer are just now being made public.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced an indictment against a former Air Force intelligence specialist, Monica Witt, on charges of helping Iran with an online espionage campaign. Four members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were also charged with “computer intrusions and aggravated identity theft” directed at members of the United States intelligence community.

Also last week, the Treasury said it was putting sanctions on two Iranian companies, New Horizon Organization and Net Peygard Samavat Company, and several people linked to them. Treasury officials said New Horizon set up annual conferences where Iran could recruit and collect intelligence from foreign attendees.

Ms. Witt attended one of the conferences, the indictment says. Net Peygard used information she provided to begin a campaign in 2014 to track the online activities of United States government and military personnel, Treasury officials said.

Representatives for Iran’s Mission to the United Nations did not respond to requests for comment.

The recent Iranian attacks have unnerved American officials. But after issuing the emergency order about the ones last month, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has largely played them down.

An official with the cybersecurity agency said there was a belief that no information had been stolen and that the attacks had not “materially impacted” operations. But Mr. Read of FireEye and others said there had been a noticeable escalation in Iran’s digital espionage.

“If you tell the Iranians you’re going to walk out on the agreement and do everything you can to undermine their government,” said Mr. Brenner, the former counterintelligence official, “you can’t be surprised if they attack our government networks.”

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A Real Tube Carrying Dreams of 600-M.P.H. Transit

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MOAPA, Nev. — California just decided to sharply scale back its plans for a high-speed rail artery meant to transform travel up and down the state. But in the desert outside Las Vegas, the transportation ambitions still seem limitless.

Here, engineers working for Virgin Hyperloop One are testing a radically different type of mass transit: one that aims to move people and cargo in small wheel-less pods in a vacuum tube at speeds that could exceed 600 miles per hour. Today’s swiftest rail travel, at top speeds less than half as fast, would become a quaint anachronism.

The company, which counts Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group as a minority investor, is one of several in the United States, Canada and other countries developing hyperloop technology. The concept was promoted by Elon Musk, of electric-car and private-rocket renown, and then offered by one of his companies as open-source technology available to all. It works by propelling pods using magnetic levitation through a low-pressure, near-vacuum tube.

The low pressure minimizes friction and air resistance, greatly reducing the power needed. And because the pods travel in a tube, they’re not subject to shutdowns due to harsh weather, like snow or polar vortexes.

We’ve seen this concept before. Libraries used to send book requests to the stacks in pneumatic tubes. Until 1984, a similar network whisked messages around Paris. And a series of underground tubes once dispatched mail between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The concept was even tried with people for three years in New York’s subway. Beginning in 1870, Beach Pneumatic Transit, named for its developer, ran a passenger capsule moved by pneumatic power under Broadway in Manhattan, from Warren Street to Murray Street.

Virgin Hyperloop One, based in Los Angeles, began testing here in 2017 and is now doing so with a full-scale test track; its main competitors, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, also in Los Angeles, and TransPod, with headquarters in Toronto, expect to build their own test tracks this year. So far both are working with computer simulations.

In the barren desert 35 miles north of the Las Vegas Strip, Virgin’s 1,640-foot-long, 11-foot-high tube has been used for hundreds of runs, with an empty pod that in one test accelerated to 240 m.p.h.

A passenger pod at the Virgin Hyperloop One test center. Because the pods travel in a tube, they are not subject to weather-related shutdowns.CreditJoe Buglewicz for The New York Times
A sample section of a hyperloop tube. In addition to its Nevada site, Virgin Hyperloop One has projects in India and Ohio.CreditJoe Buglewicz for The New York Times

Plans call for the commercialized system to reach a continuous 510 m.p.h., with 670 m.p.h. possible.

To avoid making anyone sick, the system would take 30 minutes to accelerate to that speed, and the train would need to travel 42 miles to turn 90 degrees, said Ismaeel Babur, one of the company’s senior civil engineers.

Because of its slow takeoff rate, “you’ll feel 30 to 40 percent of the acceleration compared to an airplane,” Mr. Babur said. The trip will be so smooth, he added, that “coffee won’t slide even at 600 miles per hour.”

Each of the three companies has raised tens to hundreds of millions of dollars and developed its own patented approach to long-distance mass transit. TransPod, with $52 million in capital, has preliminary agreements to build a six-mile test track for a route that would eventually span the 180 miles between Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta, as well as a shorter track near Limoges, France, for one of several French routes under consideration.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which has raised $42 million, is in the design phase for a 1,100-yard test track in Abu Dhabi and is preparing to build a 350-yard test track in Toulouse, France.

Virgin, which has raised $295 million, is in the developmental stage with projects in India and Ohio. Last month, the Indian state of Maharashtra declared the company’s proposed hyperloop system between Pune and Mumbai as an official infrastructure project. Construction on a seven-mile test track could start this year, said Jay Walder, the company’s chief executive.

Passenger operations could begin by the middle of the next decade, cutting travel time between the cities to 30 minutes, one-fifth the current duration.

Part of the 1,640-foot-long tube at the Virgin Hyperloop One test site. It has been used for hundreds of runs, including one in which a pod reached 240 miles per hour.CreditJoe Buglewicz for The New York Times

“The more we see, the more we find the technology to be compelling,” said William Murdock, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, a nonprofit governmental transportation agency. Virgin Hyperloop One is working on a proposed system to connect Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh.

“Columbus is a freight logistics hub,” said Mr. Murdock, who hopes that the entire hyperloop route could be built in the next 10 years. “To commute quickly between Chicago and Pittsburgh would be fantastic.”

All three companies contend that because of energy cost advantages over other forms of transportation, a system will be able to break even in a decade after full-scale operations begin. Not only will commuters be able to get from place to place faster, but doing so will allow people to comfortably live far from their work, giving access to educational, cultural and health services normally out of reach.

Hyperloop developers expect pods to carry not only people but also high-value, low-weight cargo, offering an alternative to carriers using high-cost air transport, like FedEx and Amazon. In addition, they say, automobile manufacturers and others relying on just-in-time delivery of parts to keep inventory costs down would be able to get parts from distant locations.

A portion of the vacuum at the Virgin Hyperloop One site. The low pressure in the hyperloop tube’s near-vacuum minimizes friction and air resistance, greatly reducing the power needed.CreditJoe Buglewicz for The New York Times
“From the point of view of physics, hyperloop is doable,” said Garrett Reisman, professor of astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California. He expects technical issues to be solved.CreditJoe Buglewicz for The New York Times

While such visions are a distant dream, hyperloop companies have attracted key talent and enthusiastic municipalities.

Mr. Walder, Virgin Hyperloop One’s chief executive, is a former head of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and managing director at Transport for London. Before taking the job in November, he said, he asked Mr. Branson — who stepped down as Virgin Hyperloop One’s chairman last year — whether he was “still fully committed to this.”

“Not only was he committed, but he thought it was one of the most exciting things he’s ever done,” Mr. Walder said.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is taking a more holistic approach, looking to reinvent not only transport but also the way companies work and the way such a venture can be sustainably funded.

The company has only 50 full-time employees, but they’re augmented by 800 people around the world who work strictly for stock options, in exchange for putting in at least 10 hours per week on the project.

“This model gives us a fairly low burn rate,” said Dirk Ahlborn, the company’s founder and chief executive. “But there are communication challenges. Some teams work amazingly, and others do not perform at all. You’re competing with their free time, their wives and their babies. It’s definitely a different way to do things.”

Another difference from other transit systems will be the passenger experience. To keep the structural integrity of the near-vacuum tube, there will be no windows.

Plans call for Virgin Hyperloop One’s system, once in commercial operation, to reach a continuous speed of 510 m.p.h., with 670 m.p.h. possible.CreditJoe Buglewicz for The New York Times

“People would get sick looking at trees passing by at 600 miles per hour,” said Sébastien Gendron, TransPod’s chief executive.

Instead, developers are looking at various exterior simulations that could be projected on large screens throughout the pod. “We could create a depth effect through video projection,” Mr. Gendron said. Even movies could be shown.

Mr. Ahlborn believes that showing advertisements and providing other services to travelers could provide additional income that would hold down fares.

“My vision is that the ticket model is not the best model,” he said. “We can enable a marketplace of services and generate a lot of money.”


But before such musings turn into reality, hyperloop proponents must prove that their systems work, that they’re safe for people and cargo and that they’re affordable.

“From the point of view of physics, hyperloop is doable,” said Garrett Reisman, professor of astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California and a former astronaut on the International Space Station.

The experience will be no different from riding in an airplane with the shades drawn, and technical issues around maintaining the vacuum within the tube will be solved, he believes.

Instead, hyperloop projects will face more mundane challenges.

“Getting innovative things through the regulatory and certification environments is very difficult,” Mr. Reisman said. “This could face an uphill battle in the U.S.”

Which companies will succeed, if any, is anyone’s guess. Yet each main player is rooting for the others, knowing that one failure will put a pall over the technology as a whole.

“The worst thing that would happen to us is if Virgin Hyperloop One is not successful,” Mr. Ahlborn said.

Whether any company can garner the necessary finance is still an open question, leading Mr. Ahlborn to wonder if any one can ultimately go it alone. “Maybe there could be a consolidation between our companies,” he said.

Rick Geddes, professor in the department of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, sees a different challenge. “The biggest problems for hyperloop will be securing rights of way and permitting,” he said.

Still, Professor Geddes believes that hyperloop systems will become a reality, as the time is ripe.

“There’s a sense that things are stale; we’re just adding to existing modes of transport,” he said. “Time is more and more a valuable commodity. The transportation industry is ready for a new way of thinking.”

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Facebook Targeted in Scathing Report by British Parliament

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LONDON — After 18 months investigating Facebook and online misinformation, a British parliamentary committee issued a scathing report on Monday, accusing the company of breaking data privacy and competition laws and calling for new regulations to rein in the technology industry.

Repeated scandals involving Facebook and other tech companies demand more government oversight, the committee concluded, including laws making internet companies legally liable for content shared on their websites.

“The era of self-regulation for tech companies should come to an end,” said Damian Collins, the chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which published the report.

The conclusions in Britain add to momentum globally for new regulations against the technology sector. Europe has been the most aggressive in taking on Silicon Valley, but a tougher approach is gaining ground in the United States, where the Federal Trade Commission is considering imposing a multibillion dollar fine against Facebook, and lawmakers have called for new data-privacy regulations.

The parliamentary report recommends the creation of a British watchdog to oversee the technology industry, similar to the country’s approach to regulating media companies. It also suggested legally requiring Facebook and other large internet platforms to remove what the government determines to be harmful content, or risk fines or other punishments.

Silicon Valley has long opposed making tech companies responsible for content on their sites. The industry argues that websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are simply unbiased platforms for others to share material, and that new restrictions could impede free speech.

“Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a ‘platform’ and maintain that they have no responsibility themselves in regulating the content of their sites,” the parliamentary report said.

Facebook acknowledged past mistakes and said it was open to “meaningful regulation.”

“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” said Karim Palant, a public policy manager for Facebook in Britain. “We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse.”

The blistering report concludes the committee’s work, which started as a study of how social media can be manipulated to influence elections like Britain’s 2016 vote to exit the European Union, but became a closer examination of Facebook business practices. The committee held several hearings related to Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica, the voter-targeting firm that gained access to 87 million Facebook users.

The committee does not have lawmaking authority on its own, but Mr. Collins said in an interview that he hoped the recommendations would be incorporated into a broader review of technology regulation underway within the British government. Policymakers are debating new rules to prevent online election meddling, and the spread of hate speech and terrorist content.

A British parliamentary committee would not typically cause much worry for a company of Facebook’s size, but the panel became a persistent challenge for the social media company.

Mr. Collins has threatened to force Facebook’s chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, to testify if he ever travels to Britain. In December, the committee released a trove of secret internal emails in which Mr. Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives discussed sharing access to user data with certain companies, like Netflix and Airbnb, while cutting off others.

The committee said the emails showed Facebook’s willingness to sacrifice user privacy to maximize revenue and generate more advertising dollars. Without new oversight, technology companies cannot be expected to change, the report concluded.

“The big tech companies must not be allowed to expand exponentially, without constraint or proper regulatory oversight,” the report said. “But only governments and the law are powerful enough to contain them.”

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New York City to Ban Discrimination Based on Hair

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Under new guidelines to be released this week by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the targeting of people based on their hair or hairstyle, at work, school or in public spaces, will now be considered racial discrimination.

The change in law applies to anyone in New York City but is aimed at remedying the disparate treatment of black people; the guidelines specifically mention the right of New Yorkers to maintain their “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”

In practice, the guidelines give legal recourse to individuals who have been harassed, threatened, punished, demoted or fired because of the texture or style of their hair. The city commission can levy penalties up to $250,000 on defendants that are found in violation of the guidelines and there is no cap on damages. The commission can also force internal policy changes and rehirings at offending institutions.

The move was prompted in part by investigations after complaints from workers at two Bronx businesses — a medical facility in Morris Park and a nonprofit in Morrisania — as well as workers at an Upper East Side hair salon and a restaurant in the Howard Beach section of Queens. (The new guidelines do not interfere with health and safety reasons for wearing hair up or in a net, as long as the rules apply to everyone.)

The guidelines, obtained by The New York Times before their public release, are believed to be the first of their kind in the country. They are based on the argument that hair is inherent to one’s race (and can be closely associated with “racial, ethnic, or cultural identities”) and is therefore protected under the city’s human rights laws, which outlaw discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion and other protected classes.

To date, there is no legal precedent in federal court for the protection of hair. Indeed, last spring the United States Supreme Court refused an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund request to review a case in which a black woman, Chastity Jones, had her job offer rescinded in 2010 at an Alabama insurance company after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.

But New York City’s human rights commission is one of the most progressive in the nation; it recognizes many more areas of discrimination than federal law, including in employment, housing, pregnancy and marital status. Its legal enforcement bureau can conduct investigations, and has the ability to subpoena witnesses and prosecute violations.

“There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people,” said Carmelyn P. Malalis, the commissioner and chairwoman of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

“They are based on racist standards of appearance,” Ms. Malalis continued, saying that they perpetuate “racist stereotypes that say black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”

In New York, it isn’t difficult to find black women and men who can speak about how their hair has affected their lives in both subtle and substantial ways, ranging from veiled comments from co-workers to ultimatums from bosses to look “more professional” or find another job.

For Avery, 39, who works in Manhattan in court administration and declined to provide her last name for fear of reprisal at work, the answer to how often she fields remarks on her hair in a professional setting is “every day.”

Avery said her supervisor, who is white, encourages her to relax her hair, which she was wearing in shoulder-length chestnut-colored braids. “She’s like, ‘You should do your hair,’ when it is already styled, or she says, ‘straight is better,’” Avery said. She added that the only hair color her supervisor approves of is black.

Georbina DaRosa, who is interning to be a social worker, had her hair in box braids as she ate lunch with a colleague at Shake Shack on East 86th Street on a recent weekend afternoon. Ms. DaRosa said her hair sometimes elicited “microaggressions” from her superiors at work.

“Like, people say, ‘I wouldn’t be able to recognize you because you keep changing your hairstyle,’ that’s typical,” said Ms. DaRosa, 24. Ms. Capellan, who is also black and whose ringlets were bobbed just above her shoulders, said: “It’s very different. There’s no discrimination because my hair is more acceptable.”

A 21-year-old black woman who gave her name only as Enie said she quit her job as a cashier at a Manhattan Wendy’s six months ago when a manager asked her to cut off her 14-inch hair extensions. “I quit because you can’t tell me my hair is too long, but the other females who are other races don’t have to cut their hair,” said Enie, who now works at a hospital.

There has long been a professional toll for those with certain hairstyles. Almost 18 percent of United States soldiers in active duty are black, but it is only in recent years that the military has dropped its prohibitions on hairstyles associated with black culture. The Marines approved lock and twist hairstyles in 2015, and the Army lifted its ban on dreadlocks in 2017.

And certain black hairstyles are freighted with history. Wearing an Afro in the 1960s, for instance, was often seen as a political statement instead of a purely aesthetic choice, said Noliwe Rooks, an author and professor at Cornell University whose work explores race and gender. Dr. Rooks said that today, black men who shave designs into their hair as a stylistic choice may be perceived as telegraphing gang membership.

“People read our bodies in ways we don’t always intend,” Dr. Rooks said. “As Zora Neale Hurston said, there is the ‘will to adorn,’ but there is often a backlash against it.”

Chaumtoli Huq, an associate professor of labor and employment law at City University of New York School of Law, said that attitudes will change as black politicians, like Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia, and Ayanna Pressley, who represents Massachusetts in Congress, rise in prominence.

“As more high-profile black women like Abrams and Pressley opt for natural hairstyles, twists, braids, we may see a positive cultural shift that would impact how courts view these guidelines that seek to prevent discrimination based on hair,” Ms. Huq said.

Hair discrimination affects people of all ages. In the past several years, there have been a number of cases of black students sent home or punished for their hairstyles. In New Jersey, the state civil rights division and its interscholastic athletic association started separate investigations in December when Andrew Johnson, a black high school student, was told to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit a wrestling match.

Last August, an 11-year-old student in Terrytown, La., was sent home from school for wearing braids, as was a 6-year-old boy in Florida who wore dreadlocks. In 2017, Mya and Deana Cook, twin sisters in Massachusetts, were forced to serve detentions because officials said their braids violated their school’s grooming policy.

Similar instances in New York City could fall under the human rights commission’s expansive mandate, as do instances of retailers that sell and display racist iconography.

In December, the commission issued a cease-and-desist order to Prada, the Italian luxury fashion house, after the window of its SoHo store was adorned with charms and key chains featuring blackface imagery.

The fashion company instituted training in the city’s human rights law for employees, executives, and independent contractors. It also immediately pulled the line of goods from its United States stores.

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Elizabeth Warren Wants a Wealth Tax. How Would That Even Work?

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When the United States government wants to raise money from individuals, its mode of choice, for more than a century, has been to tax what people earn — the income they receive from work or investments.

But what if instead the government taxed the wealth you had accumulated?

That is the idea behind a policy Senator Elizabeth Warren has embraced in her presidential campaign. It represents a more substantial rethinking of the federal government’s approach to taxation than anything a major presidential candidate has proposed in recent memory — a new wealth tax that would have enormous implications for inequality.

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan: a tax on a family’s wealth above $50 million at 2 percent a year, with an additional surcharge of 1 percent on wealth over $1 billion.CreditCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

It would shift more of the burden of paying for government toward the families that have accumulated fortunes in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. And over time, such a tax would make it less likely that such fortunes develop.

It would create big new challenges for the I.R.S. in ensuring compliance. There is a reason many European countries that once had a wealth tax have abandoned it in the last couple of decades.

And that’s before you get to the legal and political challenges. There is an open debate around whether a wealth tax is constitutional. And some of the most powerful families in the country would certainly deploy their vast resources against a wealth tax, and against any candidate who embraces it.

The comedian Chris Rock had a routine in the early 2000s in which he expounded on the distinction between those who are rich and those who are wealthy.

Shaquille O’Neal, the star basketball player, was rich, Mr. Rock said. The team owner who signed his paycheck was wealthy. And that, in a nutshell, gets at the conceptual difference between trying to tax people’s income, as the tax code does today, versus their wealth.

Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal in 2002: Rich, but perhaps not wealthy.CreditLucy Nicholson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The C.E.O. of Walmart makes about $22 million a year. He is rich by any definition. But the Walton family, descendants of the company’s founder, are mind-bogglingly wealthy. The Bloomberg Billionaires index estimates that Sam Walton’s three living children are worth around $45 billion each, putting them each among the 20 wealthiest people in the world.

A family that has accumulated enormous wealth can escape with surprisingly low income levels, and therefore tax burdens.

In an extreme example, Warren Buffett owns enough stock in Berkshire Hathaway to put his estimated net worth at $84 billion, but he pays himself $100,000 a year to be its chief executive. Even in years when his wealth rises by billions, he must pay tax only on his comparatively modest income and on the gains from shares that he chooses to sell.

Ms. Warren and other advocates of a wealth tax argue that this accumulation of untaxed or lightly taxed wealth is a bad thing. They say that it enables the creation of democracy-distorting dynasties who accumulate political power, and that tax policy should be used to rein them in more than the current tax code does.

Developed by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, two University of California, Berkeley, economists who are leading scholars of inequality, the proposal is to tax a family’s wealth above $50 million at 2 percent a year, with an additional surcharge of 1 percent on wealth over $1 billion.

Mr. Saez and Mr. Zucman estimate that 75,000 households would owe such a tax, or about one out of 1,700 American families.

A family worth $60 million would owe the federal government $200,000 in wealth tax, over and above what they may owe on income from wages, dividends or interest payments.

If the estimates of his net worth are accurate, Mr. Buffett would owe the I.R.S. about $2.5 billion a year, in addition to income or capital gains taxes. The Waltons would owe about $1.3 billion each.

The tax would therefore chip away at the net worth of the extremely rich, especially if they mainly hold investments with low returns, like bonds, or depreciating assets like yachts.

It would work a little like the property tax that most cities and states impose on real estate, an annual payment tied to the value of assets rather than income. But instead of applying just to homes and land, it would apply to everything: fine art collections, yachts and privately held businesses.

They are both philosophical and practical.

On the philosophical side, you can argue that people who have earned money, and paid appropriate income tax on it, are entitled to the wealth they accumulate.

Moreover, the wealth that individual families accumulate under the current system is arguably likelier to be put to work investing in large-scale projects that make the economy stronger. They can invest in innovative companies, for example, or huge real estate projects, in ways that small investors generally can’t.

It could disincentivize the kinds of moonshot investments that don’t pay steady, predictable returns but can transform society. After all, if wealthy investors are on the hook for a wealth tax every year, they may strongly favor investments that pay a steady, reliable dividend over those that are risky and will take many years to pay off.

Then there are the practical concerns.

Figuring out a person’s total net worth can be a lot of work. Just ask anyone who has had to sort through a large estate after the death of a relative to submit estate taxes.

Warren Buffett owns enough stock in Berkshire Hathaway to put his estimated net worth at $84 billion.CreditRick Wilking/Reuters

If the deceased owned financial assets like stock and bonds, it’s pretty easy to check a brokerage statement and surmise the value. But if the estate consisted of a collection of rare antiques — or interests in various real estate or oil and gas projects, or closely held companies — estimating the value is harder.

It can require an army of appraisers and other experts and an often prolonged period of I.R.S. audits and disputes over valuation.

“Presumably, a wealth tax would apply to the same sort of base, except that it would be annual rather than just when a person dies,” said Beth Shapiro Kaufman, an estates lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale.

The very wealthy would have a permanent, continuing need to tally the value of their assets and defend those valuations to the federal government. The Warren plan includes substantial new funding for I.R.S. staff to enforce the law.

And some people may have their wealth tied up in things not easily converted to cash. An early investor in Uber or another company that has achieved a high valuation without going public might have a high enough net worth to owe a wealth tax, but not the easily accessible funds to pay it.

Mr. Zucman argues that people wealthy enough to owe this tax would generally have ample access to credit, and that the law could even be structured to let people pay their tax obligations with illiquid assets.

Gene Sperling, a former National Economic Council director in the Obama and Clinton administrations who now supports a wealth tax, said: “If we were sitting here in 1932 saying we need to create a Social Security system, it would have seemed very complex, but if it’s important enough, you don’t let some complexity become a reason not to push forward.”

The wealth tax Ms. Warren proposes would also apply to assets that American citizens own overseas. So in theory, a wealthy American citizen would owe tax on his Panamanian bank account and his Swiss ski chalet.

Ensuring payment would be tricky, which is why the proposal includes all those new I.R.S. employees and stronger international coordination to stop tax avoidance and evasion — as well as an “exit fee” that Americans would need to pay if they sought to renounce their citizenship.

There’s an old line attributed to a 17th-century French politician that the art of taxation is to pluck a goose so as to obtain the largest possible quantity of feathers with a minimum amount of hissing. In the recent past, wealth taxes have failed that test.

In the early 2000s, 10 developed countries had a wealth tax, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That is now down to three: Switzerland, Norway and Spain. France recently changed its wealth tax into a tax only on real estate, more akin to the American property tax.

One problem was that some of the wealth tax plans kicked in at a relatively low level, meaning a vast number of upper-middle-class people faced its nuisance and expense. In Europe, especially, it created incentives for people to relocate.

Mr. Zucman says the United States, as a large country, is better positioned than small countries where wealthy citizens are likely to be highly mobile already. The idea is that Americans will be less likely to renounce their citizenship to avoid paying out a couple of percent of their net worth every year.

An income tax is clearly authorized by the 16th Amendment, which states that Congress has the power to “lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.” A wealth tax is more likely to raise constitutional questions, and it’s a near certainty that well-funded opponents would wage a legal battle against it.

(Josh Barro at New York Magazine lays out the legal questions here.)

There is. Some tax experts say changes to existing law would accomplish many of the goals of a wealth tax.

One example that Leonard Burman of Syracuse University and the Urban Institute has suggested is to eliminate a provision of current law in which assets that increase in value can go essentially untaxed across generations.

If you start a company and its value appreciates over your lifetime, then it is transferred to a family member upon your death, no capital gains taxes are collected on those decades of appreciation. The family member gets to start over at its current valuation for capital gains purposes.

This “step-up” provision is one of numerous ways that families can accumulate great wealth with minimal taxation. It could be eliminated. Laws could be changed to make it harder to avoid the estate tax, which currently kicks in at about $11 million for a married couple.

If you want a tax system that leans more aggressively against dynastic wealth and high inequality, there are, in other words, tools that don’t involve quite the risks and challenges of a wealth tax.

But those are a lot harder to capture in a campaign ad, and in the public imagination.

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Galleries From A to Z Sued Over Websites the Blind Can’t Use

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On Dec. 13, a blind Manhattan resident named Henry Tucker filed federal lawsuits against 10 art galleries, saying their websites were not accessible to people who could not see. The galleries’ names included Adam Baumgold Fine Art, Adelson, Agora, Albertz Benda and Acquavella.

The next day, Mr. Tucker and his attorneys moved on to the B’s.

For decades, lawyers for the disabled have used the Americans With Disabilities Act to force businesses to make their spaces more physically accessible, by adding ramps, widening doorways or lowering countertops.

But the steady migration of commerce and culture to the internet has given rise to a new flood of litigation, over the accessibility of websites to the visually impaired. The number of such lawsuits nationwide nearly tripled in 2018 over the year before.

The businesses being served with website-access lawsuits include moving companies, colleges, insurance companies, sightseeing tours, restaurants and yoga studios. Representatives of practically every sector of the economy have been called to task, from the fashion company Anna Sui to Playboy.com to SoulCycle to Zachys Wine Auctions.

Among the latest batches of businesses taken to court were dozens of New York art galleries, sued in methodical fashion. Over 10 days in December and January, one plaintiff, Mr. Tucker, took letters A through H, and another man, working with the same lawyers, tackled the rest.

Depending on one’s perspective, the suits are either salvos for civil rights or a way for lawyers to scrape the internet for a quick paycheck.

Most lawsuits are quickly settled, with the visually impaired plaintiffs earning a few hundred dollars per lawsuit and their lawyers pocketing thousands in legal fees.

“It’s blackmail, that’s really what it is,” said Mark Borghi, the owner of Mark Borghi Fine Art, who was sued in the “M” batch.

The two New York lawyers who are suing the galleries, Joseph H. Mizrahi and Jeffrey M. Gottlieb, are among the most prolific in the country in this field, according to a survey of federal court filings by the international law firm Seyfarth Shaw, which defends businesses. The two lawyers have filed reams of complaints against other companies, too, including CorePower Yoga, the Honey Baked Ham Company and Camp Bow Wow Franchising, a day care for dogs.

In an interview, Mr. Gottlieb said he and Mr. Mizrahi “vehemently disagree” with the suggestion that these lawsuits are designed extract money from defendants.

A new flood of litigation, over the accessibility of websites to the visually impaired, has targeted a variety of companies, including, clockwise from top left: Acquavella Galleries; Adelson Galleries; the clothing retailer Anna Sui; and Agora Gallery in Manhattan.CreditSuccession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photographs by Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

“This law has been around for a long time, and just like any other law, you can’t plead ignorance as a defense,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “They knew they should have fixed the websites,” he added. “But we find that once you have a lawsuit, that’s when they fix their websites.”

Their motives notwithstanding, the lawsuits expose what advocates for the blind say is a real problem: Many websites remain unusable to the visually impaired, even if those people equip their devices with software and hardware adapted for that use.

“Think about your own daily life and how much you use the internet,” said Chris Danielsen, the director of public relations at National Federation of the Blind, and a blind person himself. “And then imagine almost every day you encountered something that you literally could not do.”

Courts have said that the Americans with Disabilities Act, which says public accommodations must be accessible to everyone, applies to websites. But there are no regulations outlining exactly what is required of company websites, and the Act, passed in 1990, does not provide specific guidance.

According to advocates, a website could make itself accessible by providing narrated descriptions of what is on the screen or by working with software that does so. An accessible site could also be compatible with a device that turns text into Braille by raising and lowering arrangements of small dots. Federal government websites use what’s called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, but those guidelines are not mandated for private companies.

After some high-profile settlements and court decisions that favored disability rights, advocates and defense lawyers say that plaintiffs’ lawyers, some of whom did not work in this space before, have taken notice.

At least 2,258 website accessibility cases were filed in federal courts last year, almost three times the number filed in 2017, according to the survey conducted by Seyfarth Shaw. About two-thirds of the cases, 1,564 of them, were filed in New York. Florida, a distant second, saw 576 suits.

“The landscape is looking rather bleak for defendants,” said Minh N. Vu, a partner at Seyfarth and the head of the group that conducted the survey.

Businesses that are sued typically react by making their websites accessible, to avoid the expense of a long and possibly futile court battle. Because the disability law says defendants can be liable for plaintiffs’ legal fees, the businesses also usually negotiate a cash settlement to get the case dropped to avoid a massive legal bill.

Gallery owners say they expect to reach settlements of about $10,000 to $15,000 each.

Playboy.com is one of the few businesses fighting the suits. The complaint against the publisher was filed on behalf of a legally blind man from Queens named Donald Nixon, who also sued at least 54 other businesses. It alleges that the “plaintiff and visually-impaired persons have been and are still being denied equal access to defendant’s website, and the numerous goods and services and benefits offered to the public through the website.”

Among other defenses, Playboy.com has argued it is “not obligated by law or otherwise to implement any policies or procedures demanded in the complaint.”

SoulCycle is just one of many businesses being served with website-access lawsuits. Others include moving companies, colleges, insurance companies, sightseeing tours, restaurants and yoga studios.CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times

Mr. Nixon declined to comment, and Mr. Tucker, who is suing the galleries, did not respond to attempts to contact him. Mr. Gottlieb, one of Mr. Tucker’s lawyers, said that his clients come to him, and that he does not go looking for plaintiffs.

Lawsuits remain a crucial way to ensure the disabled have access to the world around them, their advocates say; and having settlements cover attorneys’ fees means that people without tens of thousands of dollars to spare can hire a lawyer. But some advocates fear that giant batches of lawsuits, filed in quick succession and then settled confidentially, may do more harm than good, even if they get individual websites to change their practices.

“It gives a bad impression of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it gives a bad impression about the importance of web accessibility,” said Lainey Feingold, a disability-rights lawyer whose focus is on digital accessibility.

“Drive-by lawsuits,” as critics often call them, have been an issue dating back to the 1990s, when they were more focused on physical access to buildings. A recent bill called the ADA Education and Reform Act would have required a written complaint and given businesses a grace period to begin necessary fixes before they could be sued. It passed the House in the last Congress, mostly with Republican support. But it was vigorously opposed by the National Federation of the Blind because, a spokesman said, it made it more difficult for the disabled to get their needs addressed. The Senate did not take up the bill.

The cost to fix an existing website can vary enormously. Lisa Spellman, the owner and director of the 303 Gallery in Chelsea, said it would cost her $3,000 to $4,000. Philippe Alexandre, the president of the Alexandre Gallery in Midtown, said he paid a consultant $150 to install an audio component to his site. Expert testimony in a case against Winn-Dixie, the grocery store chain, estimated it would run the company $37,000.

Mr. Borghi said that he was happy to make his gallery’s website accessible and that he was able to do it with a free widget from WordPress, which added narration, larger fonts and keyboard navigation. But he said he was not sure if that made him fully compliant; the lawsuit against his gallery is still pending.

“We really don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” Mr. Borghi said. “How do you describe a black and white Franz Kline? Or any abstract picture, how do you describe it and to what depth of description does one need to put?”

Art galleries might not seem like an obvious target for this type of litigation. But Georgina Kleege, a lecturer at University of California Berkeley and the author of “More Than Meets the Eye: What Blindness Brings to Art,” noted that blindness is not a “monolithic condition.” Some people can see colors or shapes. Some are born completely blind, but more often they lose some or all of their vision late in life.

“Even people who are born totally blind live in a visual culture,” Ms. Kleege said. “It’s a social justice issue in terms of inclusion. People need to have access to cultural institutions as much as to other institutions.”

Indeed, Eve Hill, a disability-rights lawyer who often represents the National Federation of the Blind, said there are plenty of blind and visually impaired people who want to buy art.

“Blind people put art on their walls, too,” Ms. Hill said. “Too often for the same reason sighted people do: It goes with the furniture.”

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In Bid to Conquer Oscars, Netflix Mobilizes Savvy Campaigner and Huge Budget

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LOS ANGELES — Netflix called it “‘Roma’ Experience Day.”

On a Sunday in December, the streaming giant rented two soundstages on a historic movie lot in Hollywood to evangelize for “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón’s art film about a domestic worker in Mexico. Oscar voters perused a museum-style exhibit of “Roma” costumes. Mr. Cuarón and his crew sat for hours of panel discussions.

Breakfast? Lunch? Provided. There were “Roma” stickers, and “Roma”-stamped chocolates. Attendees were even superimposed into a “Roma” scene to share online.

All of it struck some voters as over the top. It was certainly a display of just how badly Netflix wants an Oscar — and how much faith it has put in the person behind the event, a strategist named Lisa Taback, to get it done.

Ms. Taback, 55, is an Oscar-campaign veteran who cut her teeth at Miramax with Harvey Weinstein in the 1990s and whose résumé includes best-picture winners like “The King’s Speech,” “The Artist” and “Spotlight.” Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, called Ms. Taback “the best of the best” when he named her vice president for talent relations and awards in July, adding that he wanted to “expand and deepen our efforts to celebrate the incredible creators and talent who bring their dream projects to Netflix.”

The hiring went off like a sonic boom in Hollywood, reverberating to the highest levels of rival studios. “Awards Landscape Rocked as Netflix Poaches Leading Strategist,” The Hollywood Reporter headline read. Netflix had aided its own awards operation while dealing a blow to competitors by taking a top campaigner off the market.

And now the costly Oscar push that Ms. Taback has orchestrated for “Roma” is starting to look historic. Mr. Cuarón’s film, shot in Spanish and Mixtec and deemed a masterpiece by many critics, heads into the 91st Academy Awards next Sunday as a strong contender to win the Oscar for best picture. If Netflix notches its first such triumph, “the game changes forever,” said Marty Kaplan, the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the University of Southern California.

If a film primarily distributed online wins, the debate in Hollywood about what constitutes cinema is over. It would strike a blow to the big multiplex chains, which have refused to show “Roma” because Netflix offered them an exclusive play period of only three weeks; three months is the norm. As far as box office figures, Netflix has said the film has appeared in about 250 theaters in the United States since it was released on Nov. 21, but it refuses to disclose ticket sales. A win by “Roma” could embolden old-line studios like Universal and Warner Bros. to shorten their own theatrical “windows.”

Winning would also make it easier for Netflix to compete with traditional studios for top filmmakers. (Its lone Oscar for a feature-length film to date has been best documentary, in 2018.) Even victories in lesser categories — “Roma” has 10 nominations in total and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” earned three more — would buoy the Netflix brand, giving the company a glow of excellence and helping it defend against a coming onslaught of competitors. Disney, WarnerMedia and Apple are all introducing megawatt streaming services this year.

Netflix declined to comment for this article. Strategists like Ms. Taback try to avoid the media spotlight, especially before the Oscars, contending that they don’t want to take attention away from the films. Another reason, of course, is that no studio wants to look like it is trying to manipulate voters.

With so much at stake, Netflix has empowered Ms. Taback and her colleagues in the company’s publicity department to mount a big, bombastic, back-up-the-Brink’s-trucks campaign. “Roma,” a black-and-white period film with no known stars, cost just $15 million to make, but the company has spent an estimated $25 million to $30 million on promotion. Some rival companies, yowling behind the scenes about overspending by Netflix, insist those figures are conservative. Netflix insiders have howled back, saying that some of its spending has been to advertise “Roma” to consumers.

Whatever the cost, the campaign is easily the most lavish in history for a foreign-language film. (No foreign film has ever won best picture.)

Lisa Taback’s Oscar-steering résumé includes best-picture winners like “The King’s Speech,” “The Artist” and “Spotlight.”CreditTodd Williamson/Getty Images

In truth, no film wins the top Oscar unless it’s paid for. All eight of this year’s nominees have been draped in for-your-consideration campaigns for months. Awards strategists estimate that Warner Bros. has spent around $20 million to promote “A Star Is Born,” with that film’s director, Bradley Cooper, flying private to campaign stops in New York, Los Angeles and London. Disney has not been stingy with its campaign for “Black Panther,” which has included television spots, lavish ads in The Los Angeles Times and stumping by Oprah Winfrey.

Universal sent a bound volume of five books to voters on behalf of “First Man,” in addition to an annotated copy of the screenplay. It didn’t help much: “First Man” received four Oscar nominations but was shut out of the marquee categories.

This has been one of the most rough-and-tumble Oscar seasons in memory. Backstabbing and subterfuge are always part of this game, but the vote-mongering has grown more intense than usual, in part because there has been no clear front-runner for best picture. “BlacKkKlansman,” “Roma,” “Green Book” and “Black Panther” are in a dogfight for the prize.

“Competition has never been more fierce because it seems there is a battle for the future of Hollywood, the film industry and the Oscars themselves — not just in terms of saving the telecast from plummeting ratings, but also in terms of Netflix having a seat at the table,” said Sasha Stone, a longtime Oscar observer who runs the blog AwardsDaily. “Whether publicist- or civilian-driven,” Ms. Stone added, whisper campaigns and the resurfacing of old Twitter posts have been widespread.

Ms. Taback is not the only awards strategist involved in this year’s race who used to work for Mr. Weinstein, who is credited with turning Oscar campaigning into a blood sport. Tony Angellotti has led the “Green Book” get-out-the-vote effort; he helped Mr. Weinstein push films like “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love” to best-picture victories in the 1990s. “BlacKkKlansman” has been steered by Dani Weinstein (no relation), who served as the Weinstein Company’s publicity chief from 2012 to 2016. Cynthia Swartz, who spent the 1990s at Miramax, has been consulting on both “BlacKkKlansman” and “Black Panther.”

Even so, Ms. Taback is the only one to work for Netflix, which has poured money into its hunt for Emmys and Oscars on a scale that Hollywood executives say they have rarely if ever seen before. Most studios, for instance, sent a couple of movies on DVD to voters for consideration this season. Netflix sent 17.

Ms. Taback, who grew up in Los Gatos, Calif., where Netflix is based, previously ran her own company, LT-LA Communications, and in recent years worked for studios like Lionsgate, A24, Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox. She brought her entire LT-LA staff to Netflix, where the awards department now has roughly 20 people.

The “Roma” campaign started in some ways on Aug. 13, when Ms. Taback and Netflix’s film publicity chief, Julie Fontaine, got buzz started by inviting a handful of film reporters (this one included) to an off-the-record cocktail party and screening of footage. Mr. Cuarón was on hand to chat afterward.

Then came screenings for the film at a string of important festivals. As the campaign intensified, Netflix had celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron host “tastemaker” screenings in Hollywood for Oscar voters. There were parties at restaurants like Spago in Los Angeles and the Pool in New York.

Additionally, mailers went out to voters of awards groups that are important stops on the route to the Oscars: an elaborate pamphlet containing a digital player that ran the “Roma” trailer on loop; Mexican chocolates with a note (“!FELICES FIESTAS!”) from one of the film’s actresses; a six-pound, $175 book of stills.

A barrage of ads in Los Angeles — in trade publications, on Netflix-owned billboards — continued for months.

Everyone who matters in Hollywood knows Ms. Taback, and they all seem to have a strong opinion. Admirers call her “brilliant” and “scrappy” — a “general” who figures out clever ways to connect films to the cultural moment. Detractors complain that she is ruthless and takes more credit for campaigns than she sometimes deserves.

“Am I a ruthless tiger about pushing someone out of the way? No. My strategy has never been that,” Ms. Taback told the trade news site Deadline in 2017. “My strategy has been to be tireless. I’ll take clever over nasty any day of the week.”

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Brexit: For Wall Street Banks in London, It’s Moving Time

anastasios pallis

In Paris, an empty Art Deco postal office is on its way to becoming Bank of America’s headquarters for its European brokerage arm. Where telegraph operators once tapped out messages, hundreds of traders and sales people will be working by spring.

In Frankfurt, Morgan Stanley’s European hub will double its staff of 200. Germany’s financial center, which wooed financial firms in London with a “Fall in love with Frankfurt” video, is welcoming investment bankers from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.

The financial landscape of Europe is changing as banks shift employees and hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of assets from London to new subsidiaries across the bloc in time for Britain’s divorce from the European Union, a process known as Brexit, on March 29.

Banks are adjusting contracts with “Brexit clauses” to protect themselves if the separation is chaotic. Lawyers are checking regulations, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, to gird for possible future contractual disputes.

Cities across the Continent have been vying for a piece of an industry that represents about 7 percent of Britain’s gross domestic product and more than a million jobs there.

Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin and Luxembourg will be the first to secure new business as financial services companies gauge how profitable London remains. In the next months, these cities, along with Madrid and Milan, will find more traders, compliance teams, human resource managers and technology workers in their midst. Amsterdam will become home to more European markets.

One big Brexit beneficiary is Dublin, where Bank of America, Citigroup and Barclays are expanding their ranks. “Dublin is our headquarters for our European bank now, full stop,” said Anne M. Finucane, vice chairwoman of Bank of America, which employs more than 800 people there.

“There isn’t a return. That bridge has been pulled up,” Ms. Finucane told the European Financial Forum on Wednesday. “From a trading perspective, likewise Paris would be the European trading arm.”

Since January, there have been near-daily revelations about what Britain stands to lose after leaving the European Union. Britain’s Office for National Statistics this week showed growth last year was the weakest since 2009, and growth in the last quarter was 0.2 percent.

Brexit uncertainty was blamed, in part.

London’s financial district, Canary Wharf. Few expect London to lose its might overnight, but international banks will no longer view it as their best gateway in or out of Europe. CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times

Many financial companies are redeploying staff by the dozens — not the hundreds — because they are waiting to see whether the end is a messy breakup or a phased withdrawal, said David Pascoe, senior vice president for Europe at Cartus, a relocation company that moves 162,000 people a year.

So far, banks from the United States have relocated fewer than 1,000 employees from London. But the number could grow to 5,000 as the March deadline approaches, said banking officials and analysts.

“We’re seeing such a diverse range of cities because banks are saying they’re not going to be caught out again by having all their operations in one city,” Mr. Pascoe said. “They don’t want one country upsetting their operations again.”

Few expect London, a dominant player in cross-border lending and foreign-exchange trading, to lose its might overnight. But international banks will no longer view London as their best gateway in or out of Europe.

The fragmentation of the industry will weigh on companies and Europe’s wider economy. The cost of building and running operations in different locations could filter through to clients, making financial services more expensive. Bank of America alone has spent $400 million moving assets and workers to Dublin and Paris, it said this week.

The effects could be worse in Britain if the economy deteriorates significantly and borrowing becomes more expensive. The country is staring down Brexit but also trying to end austerity measures that have been in place for over a decade, a big challenge.

In a worst-case scenario, the Bank of England calculated in November that Brexit could shrink the economy by 8 percent and send house prices plunging by 30 percent. British banks could suffer if a souring economy leads to nonpayment and defaults on mortgages, according to S&P.

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, said uncertainty over Brexit was weighing on the financial system. CreditAndy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, last week said the “Fog of Brexit” and its uncertainty were “weighing more heavily on activity, predominantly through lower business investment and tighter financial conditions.”

What is certain is that London is poised to lose some ability to move money around easily between its neighbors.

Passporting, which allows firms in one European member state to offer their services across the entire bloc, will no longer be available to Britain after Brexit. This has prompted banks to open subsidiaries and offices in well-positioned European Union capitals.

Lenders have spent hours writing through lending agreements to mitigate the loss of passporting rights. Countries including France, Germany and Italy have legislation in the works to give banks some leeway if their transfer arrangements are not completed in time, a sort of “mopping-up exercise to make sure nothing falls between the gaps,” said Susanne Whitehead, a lawyer specializing in corporate lending at Hogan Lovells in London.

There are also forecasts that the entire European Union will suffer. By 2030, the new barriers between the British and European Union markets could shave some 60 billion euros a year from financial firms’ productivity, according to an estimate by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“From the perspective of the banks, it is layering on another cost of doing business,” Barney Reynolds, a financial services lawyer in London with Shearman & Sterling, said of Brexit.

Still, bank executives in the United States have sounded a calming note when asked about their Brexit plans. They have characterized the political brinkmanship and stuttering negotiations as inconsequential to their operations. Most began planning for a no-deal exit soon after the 2016 referendum that set Brexit in motion, according to advisory firms consulting with the banks.

In January, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, James Gorman, said in an analyst call that he hardly worried about Brexit: “That’s not in my top 200 issues today.” Morgan Stanley’s new German-based securities trading subsidiary won provisional approval from credit rating agencies last year, along with several other banks.

Banking executives in the United States, like James Gorman, chief executive of Morgan Stanley, were less worried about Brexit. CreditSasha Maslov for The New York Times

Still, it could be a different story if the economic fallout is severe.

“The real risk is the macroeconomic risk rather than a regulatory risk,” said David Pinto-Duschinsky, who works in London for Promontory Financial Group, a consulting firm. “If there is no deal, it will be large shock to the economy.”

Big global banks are expected to be resilient. But volatile markets and weaker economic activity could eat away at earnings, said Moody’s, the credit rating agency.

The potential fallout has some banks inserting clauses into new contracts to guard against a no-deal exit. Such clauses are intended to secure a process for handling unforeseen events related to Brexit, said Jennifer J. Kafcas, a finance lawyer in London at McGuireWoods.

Some borrowers have asked for clauses in their loan agreements to prevent banks from wiggling out of commitments by claiming that Brexit created a “material adverse change” in conditions, said Ms. Whitehead of Hogan Lovells. Banks too have been careful with framing the language of such clauses: they want to retain the right to recover loans further down the line.

“If that borrower loses access to markets or its supply costs rocket, the banks would not want to see that their carve-out stops them taking action,” Ms. Whitehead said. “Knowing that Brexit is on the horizon, they would’ve thought about what impact it would have on their business going forward. But nobody has a crystal ball.”

The European Union has prepared legislation, in the case of a no-deal Brexit, for transactions like derivatives clearing. Many banks in London have protectively asked their clients to sign over derivatives contracts to new jurisdictions.

Britain and Switzerland have also signed a deal to recognize each other’s insurance regulations.

These measures are the beginning of what could be a decade of realignment. “At the moment, they’re working on the solutions to allow them to continue servicing clients in the hard Brexit scenario,” said Vishal Vedi, a partner in the risk advisory practice at Deloitte.

But, he added, “the footprint will look very different in five years.”

Emily Flitter and Michael J. de la Merced contributed reporting.

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