Questions of Fairness, Financial Viability of Free Transit Rides

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA, spoke to States Newsroom about public transit systems that waived fares to woo back riders after the COVID-19 pandemic. In some locales, officials are debating whether the free rides are financially sustainable. Most cities that have recovered their pre-pandemic ridership have large populations that depend on public transit because they don’t have access to cars, Taylor said. But reduced or free rides make less sense in cities with more affluent commuters, such as San Francisco. “It’s difficult to make an equity case for it,” Taylor said. “There is an excellent argument to be made for free fares in the right situation. But to do it universally would cost enormous amounts of money and actually convey benefits to high-income people who don’t need it.”


Moving Away From Public Transit’s Commuter Focus

Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to the Canadian Press about Ottawa’s transit system, once a model of innovation but now facing low ridership and budget woes. Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin, recalled attending a lecture about Ottawa’s transit success when he was a student in the 1980s. “Ottawa and Adelaide, Australia, were sort of the poster children for looking at a more cost-effective way to provide the metro-like service, but with less expensive buses,” he said. For decades, many people worked and studied in a concentrated area in downtown Ottawa, and the buses ferried riders on a transitway set apart from congested roads. Post-pandemic, transit systems would be wise to cater to communities rather than commuters, Taylor said. “The spatial and temporal characteristics of demand for transit are changing. It’s less downtown-centered, and more sort of moving from place to place,” he said.


Taylor on the Addition of New Toll Lanes on the 405

Brian D. Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Orange County Register about the opening of new express lanes on the 405 Freeway. Motorists who use the two express lanes on 16 miles of the freeway in Orange County will have the option of paying a toll or carpooling. The lanes will be free to three-person carpools, but two-person carpools during rush hours will need to pay. Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy, said express lanes help keep traffic flowing compared to general lanes. For example, the two express lanes on the 91 Freeway carry about 45% of its total traffic. “Those two lanes are operating so much more efficiently that more people are getting through as a result,” Taylor said.


Should Public Transit Be Free? It Depends.

In an updated episode of the Freakonomics Radio podcast, Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, weighed in on a question being taken up in cities across the country: If public transit is good for the environment, for social mobility and for economic opportunity, should it be free for all riders? “Public transit is very context-specific,” stressed Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin. Eliminating transit fares might make more sense in a place like Lubbock, Texas, where most riders are low-income, than in San Francisco, where many peak-hour BART riders have higher incomes than the average driver, he said. “Just saying generally, ‘Make it fare-free for everything, for all types of trips,’ I would not agree with that,” Taylor said. “The question is, do we need to give something valuable away to rich people for free on the argument that we want to help low-income people?”


Taylor on Angelenos’ Travel Choices During Freeway Closure

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to LAist about how Angelenos coped with the temporary shutdown of the 10 Freeway. “If one piece of our network goes down, there’s a lot of opportunities for people to make changes and move around those things,” said Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy. “People adjust their behavior by changing their routes, changing the time of their travel, and changing the mode by which they travel, in that order.” Now that the freeway has been reopened, it’s unlikely these changes will stick, he said. The disruption may have had the positive effect of making people more aware of their commuting options, he said, “but it’s unlikely that the event itself … might cause people to reconsider their travel choices.”


Taylor on Efforts to Reverse Worrisome Trends in Public Transit

Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to the New York Times about attempts by transit agencies to reinvent themselves in regions across the United States. In California, weekly ridership on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system is down to 32% of what it was before the pandemic began. As they come to terms with a future that no longer revolves around a downtown work culture, BART officials are considering whether to pivot toward serving more concertgoers and sports fans on nights and weekends. Meanwhile, Kansas City, Albuquerque and Boston have experimented with eliminating fares. Dallas is offering subsidized Uber rides to transit users. And the Washington Metro is investing in housing and retail shops at dozens of its stations. “This is a really challenging time,” Taylor said. “If anyone says that they know the way out of this difficult situation, they’re fooling themselves.”


A Sobering Look at the Future of Public Transit

Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to KALW’s “Crosscurrents” about the decline of public transportation in metropolitan areas around the country. “What is the future of these central cities that were the economic dynamos of the country?” Taylor asked, noting that planners and policymakers are turning their attention to how public transit can recover in a post-pandemic world. Ridership began dipping well before the arrival of COVID-19, he said, despite increased investment, service improvements and policies designed to discourage solo driving. Research by the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin determined that one key factor was that more Californians had access to cars. “Increased auto access in two forms was at the root of eroding transit ridership,” Taylor said. The number of cars per household increased at all income levels, and the rise of services such as Uber and Lyft offered people the chance to buy car trips one at a time.


Taylor on State’s Efforts to Boost Transit Ridership

A StreetsBlog article on transportation issues in California cited urban planning and public policy professor Brian Taylor, who testified at a joint hearing of the state Legislature. The hearing focused on how to build transit ridership after declines due to pandemic travel patterns, service cuts, safety concerns and rising rates of car ownership. Taylor spoke about systems for measuring how well a transit system is doing its job, including the amount of fares collected. “Farebox recovery requirements were set up as a performance measure in the 1980s to encourage agencies to build ridership” but have caused unintended problems in the years since, he said. ”If the goal is to increase transit ridership overall, it might make sense to change this threshold requirement. The government could reformulate funding and performance measures away from farebox recovery and towards the number of people being moved.”


Taylor on Newsom’s Proposed Transit Funding Cuts

Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy, was cited in a Sacramento Bee article about how the state’s funding cuts on transportation will negatively impact Californians. As ridership has decreased on public transit, Gov. Gavin Newsom is looking to make cuts to the current budget, but transit advocates argue that these cuts will only push more residents to become reliant on cars. With a large population of Californians commuting to work alone in their vehicles daily, the state’s plan to reduce car dependence may falter if transit budgets are cut. Taylor said that the state has a responsibility to continue providing funding for public transportation and suggested that a resolution to the funding issue could be to reform the current law that determines how much and where state funding is allocated, which is “structured in a way that limits the flexibility and the movement.”


Doctoral Student Honored for Transportation Research

Julene Paul, a Ph.D. student in urban planning, was named the 2021 student of the year by the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center, a federally funded network of eight partner campuses in Arizona, California and Hawaii. Paul works closely with the Institute of Transportation Studies and the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin. Her research includes a study of the effects of COVID-19 on transportation behavior, an investigation into trends in automobile ownership, and a deep dive into BlueLA, an electric-car-sharing program that provides services to low-income areas of Los Angeles. She has presented some of her work at national conferences and has been published along with her co-authors, including her advisors, Evelyn Blumenberg and Brian Taylor. Paul’s interest in transportation was stoked while studying urban policy and working as a research assistant for the Education Innovation Laboratory as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Later, while pursuing her master’s degree in city and regional planning at Rutgers University, Paul worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. After graduating from Rutgers, she went on to work as a program manager at the Federal Transit Administration. When asked for advice for the current generation of urban planning students, Paul recommended taking advantage of internship opportunities and seeking out mentors from these experiences. She also encouraged students to venture out beyond their required classes when possible. Paul said a UCLA Law course in employment law challenged her to think critically about transportation policies and their effects on workers.