Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, was featured in a Los Angeles Times column about rising gas prices in California. On July 1, the state’s gas tax will rise by 3.2 cents to 50.5 cents per gallon. While many are opposed to raising gas prices, the tax is projected to bring in $7 billion this fiscal year to pay for much-needed repairs. Furthermore, road work and infrastructure projects can be done while fewer people are driving due to stay-at-home orders. Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy, explained that the gas tax also discourages use of fossil fuels at a time when the planet needs to be much more serious about addressing climate change. “It encourages people to move around by means other than burning fuel,” he said. “In a sense, a gas tax should put itself out of business by ultimately eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels.”
Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Fast Company about what public transit might look like after the coronavirus pandemic ends. Public transit ridership has dropped dramatically as a result of stay-at-home orders and the closure of non-essential businesses, but Taylor noted that some will need to return to using public transit eventually. “Public transit is really good at moving a lot of people in the same direction at the same time. That’s when the music happens,” said Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy. Public transit riders may see changes such as sanitation tools on board, masks and gloves, more frequent service, different routes, or even fare-free service. This summer, Taylor will be working on a project looking at alternative ways to measure transit performance in a system where social distance will have to be maintained.
Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy and director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, was featured in a CityLab article about the post-pandemic future of public transit. Taylor explained that bus and rail ridership tends to be more sensitive to economic changes than other modes, and the financial effects of coronavirus are poised to stretch long into the future. Passengers will inevitably return in dense cities, such as New York City and San Francisco, where transit is critical for thriving urban economies to function, he said. However, he predicted that some would-be passengers are likely to continue to work remotely even after restrictions are lifted, and others may instead choose to drive or bike. U.S. ridership has been in decline since 2014, and Taylor’s research has found that the largest drops in ridership have come from groups that were traditionally the heaviest, most economically dependent users of transit, such as low-income immigrants.
By Claudia Bustamante
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies will fast-track funding for research projects related to COVID-19 and its effects on public health, the economy and transportation, with those submissions due by April 19 and funding to be dispersed by June.
As part of its research goals for the next fiscal year, UCLA ITS and sister institutes at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Irvine pivoted priorities to investigate the effect of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 on transportation in the United States. This quick adjustment will allow researchers across the University of California system to collaborate and harness their collective expertise in transportation engineering, planning and policy.
Transportation and transit use have rapidly shifted in the country due to social distancing recommendations, shelter-in-place restrictions, quarantines and other mitigation efforts meant to slow the spread of the virus.
The collective UC Institute of Transportation Studies will prioritize research projects:
- looking into the response to the public health emergency, including the mobility needs of essential workers and vital goods;
- the capacity of both the private and public sectors to meet transportation needs during the crisis;
- the substitution of technology-enabled access for mobility in response to movement limitations.
It will also fund projects focused on the recovery of transportation services and systems when this public health emergency ebbs, including coping with the backlog of goods and people movement.
Brian Taylor, chair of UC ITS, said the California Legislature and executive branches, as well as regional and local governments and agencies, have come to rely on the statewide institute’s expertise and assistance in times of need.
“We aim to produce research that meaningfully informs public officials in making critical, and sometimes difficult, decisions about California’s transportation systems,” he said. “Now more than ever, UC ITS is committed to supporting the state with data and research to help it respond to and recover from the effects of this terrible pandemic in the weeks, months and years ahead.”
Taylor also serves as director of the UCLA branch and a professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Established by the California Legislature in 1947, UC ITS funds about 50 research projects a year that cover a wide variety of topics, including congestion management, performance evaluation for state transportation programs and policies, climate change mitigation strategies, micromobility like scooters and bike share, among others. Over the past 25 years, the four ITS branches collectively have formed one of the world’s preeminent university transportation research centers.
The institute’s annual research program will divvy up about $800,000 among projects tied to state-established priorities, including the COVID-19 response and other topics related to transportation and housing, transportation equity, innovative mobility, travel behavior, aviation, safety, and active transportation.
More information about the COVID-19 response and recovery solicitation is available here.
Experts from the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) at UCLA Luskin are weighing in on the financial burden that the COVID-19 health crisis is placing on public transit agencies. “The virtues of public transit are precisely at odds with coping with the pandemic. … We now have essentially a mandate to not move, to not have a lot of people together anywhere,” ITS Director Brian Taylor told the Hill. The article also quoted Emeritus Professor Martin Wachs, who leads research into transportation finance at ITS. Both ridership and sales tax revenues are down, Wachs said, but transit is “a public service that we must keep operating during the crisis because people who have no option other than transit need to shop for food and get to doctors’ offices and hospitals.” On Curbed LA, ITS Deputy Director Juan Matute said Los Angeles’ Metro system may be forced to cut service dramatically or delay work on key projects. He also noted that, once the health crisis has lifted, “if there’s a severe recession, people who are out of work but still need to get around will become reliant on Metro.”
By Lauren Hiller
During a gathering March 5 at its first home on the UCLA campus, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies commemorated 30 years of scholarship, public advocacy and leadership on campus and in the community.
All five former Lewis Center directors — a who’s who of distinguished scholars — joined the current director, Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, at DeCafe Perloff Hall to discuss the milestones and issues facing the region during each person’s tenure. As each director spoke, it was evident that the center’s longevity is rooted in interdisciplinary scholarship and fostering the next generation of scholars.
In 1989, Ralph and Goldy Lewis donated $5 million to endow a research program at UCLA that studied regional policy issues. The following year, the Lewis Center opened its doors in Perloff Hall, the location of what was then known as the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, with founding director Allen J. Scott, distinguished research professor of geography and public policy. Scott was succeeded by Roger Waldinger, distinguished professor of sociology; followed in chronological order by Paul Ong, research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy, urban planning and civil and environmental engineering; and Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy.
“My parents both went to UCLA and they believed in the power of public education and need to support the public system,” said Randall Lewis, whose parents were homebuilders and interested in issues of growth, transportation, housing and air quality. “They felt as they were building houses, building communities, that they didn’t want to create problems. They wanted to find solutions.”
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who joined the UCLA community the same year that Lewis Center was established and received one of its first grants, kicked off the event.
“The Lewis Center best exemplifies the role that we’re asking our research centers to play: push research forward, support the educational mission of the school and its students, and serve as a public forum that disseminates important research-based information and data to a larger public,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate provost for academic planning.
Launched Amid Regional Turmoil
The early 1990s were a tumultuous time in Los Angeles. The aerospace industry, which was a backbone of the region’s economy, was collapsing. The 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 61 people and caused $6.7 million in damage, crippling major infrastructure like freeways. And civil disturbances fueled by racial injustices, police brutality, and poverty and social marginalization rocked the city.
“Los Angeles looked like, from some points of view, a basket case and getting worse,” Scott recalled. “And so we were, at a very early stage, involved in attempting to build responses to these problems and others.”
Scott and the Lewis Center published a series of working papers focusing on new industry (such as electric vehicles) to replace aerospace and an examination of the nature and causes of the crises in South Los Angeles.
By the time Waldinger took over in 1996, the immigrant population in the Los Angeles region had quadrupled within two decades. Yet, research on the impact of immigration on the Los Angeles region lagged behind frequently studied cities like Chicago and New York. The Lewis Center played an integral role in bringing Los Angeles to the forefront of regional studies with efforts such as Waldinger’s book “Ethnic Los Angeles.” Today, it’s hard to imagine a discussion of immigration and foreign-born individuals without considering L.A.
Waldinger said the center’s early research has transformed California policy. Although immigration policy is a federal issue, immigrant policy can be local, he noted, pointing to state measures that have aided California’s immigrant population.
Ong, the center’s third director, continued the multidisciplinary tradition of the Lewis Center and collaborated with scholars in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the natural sciences. As director, he published a seminal report on the undercounting of low-income people and communities of color in the 2000 Census.
Ong’s work also highlighted a core strength of the Lewis Center — its focus on addressing social justice issues for marginalized communities. He said the center also partnered with the County of Los Angeles and L.A. Metro to understand the transit needs of underserved communities.
DeShazo oversaw the Lewis Center during a time when its focus turned to environmental issues. In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), promoting ambitious climate solutions that even some legislators doubted could be achieved.
“Those were the days we didn’t even know where greenhouse gases were coming from,” DeShazo remembered. The first step was to identify sources and then to identify solutions to reduce emissions, including electric vehicles, rooftop solar energy and energy-efficient technology.
“Everything that we have today is what people thought was impossible to accomplish. The groundwork for that was laid in the 2006-2012 period,” DeShazo said.
The Lewis Center has also contributed to environmental justice scholarship, especially the designations of disadvantaged communities as a result of identifying where emissions were coming from and where populations vulnerable to those emissions are living.
Taylor next put the focus on housing affordability and transportation in light of large investments in public transit like Measure R, a sales tax that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years.
He said the center’s regional lens has a built-in advantage when it comes to studying housing affordability, transportation and access, which play out across a diverse geography.
Taylor’s tenure also overlapped with his role as chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. It was a position that helped him to advocate for the addition of faculty members and scholars who could tackle these regional priorities.
“Housing affordability was not my area of research,” Taylor said. “All I did was try to support and catalyze the intellectual leaders that are helping shape the important debates on this.”
A Legacy of Leadership
Acting as a consistent bridge to marginalized voices, the Lewis Center’s former directors see scholarship and professional development as their enduring legacy. Many onetime students have gone on to become academic leaders in their own right.
“I’m honored to follow in those footsteps,” said Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95. She became director in 2018 and has focused on how Angelenos live, move and work in L.A., with a particular interest in pathways out of poverty. The center recently launched the Randall Lewis Housing Initiative.
Has Los Angeles made progress over the last 30 years?
The answer is mixed, Ong said. A commitment to climate change initiatives and equity are highlights, but income inequality and social justice remain daunting issues.
“I’m proud of the fact that the Lewis Center continues to look at issues of inequality,” Ong said. “We’re dedicated to doing the research to find solutions, but it’s like swimming upstream.”
Still, Ong remains hopeful: “I know enough about [Blumenberg’s] history that there will continue to be a commitment from the Lewis Center to accomplish things that will bend us towards justice.”
Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to Public Source about the prospect of universal free public transportation. In December, Kansas City, Missouri, became the first major U.S. city to eliminate all public transit fares. Proponents of the move argue that doing so increases ridership, simplifies the experience of riding and benefits low-income riders. However, experts worry that eliminating transit fares is not a universal solution, especially for cities like Pittsburgh, which dwarfs Kansas City in ridership and fare revenue. “By offering free transit service for all trips, you run the risk of actually incurring a very high marginal cost to accommodate where your peak demand is,” Taylor said. He argued that there are better ways to increase ridership and serve the needs of those dependent on transit. Instead of eliminating fares, Taylor recommended spending fare revenue on services and programs that make transit more reliable and accessible.
UCLA Luskin faculty and students were well represented at January’s Transportation Research Board annual meeting in Washington, D.C., and much of their research was highlighted on Streetsblog USA’s Talking Headways podcast. Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS), and MURP student Yu Hong Hwang presented an updated analysis of the standard for setting speed limits, which has been in place for decades. MURP student Cassie Halls spoke about her research on the impact of a bus-only lane on Los Angeles’ Flower Street; Halls’ work won “Best Master’s Student Poster Presentation” at the annual meeting. ITS postdoctoral fellow Andrew Schouten discussed his research showing a decrease in public transit use among immigrant communities, possibly due to settlement patterns and an increase in car ownership. In the first Talking Headways episode, Taylor and Hwang’s comments begin at the 1:45 minute mark and Hall’s at the 18:16 minute mark. In the second episode, Schouten’s comments begin at the 23:28 minute mark.
In a CalMatters article, Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, weighed in on the prospect of offering free public transportation to youth to boost ridership across the state. Student ridership and overall ridership have increased dramatically in Sacramento following the implementation of a transit program that allows students in pre-kindergarten to high school to ride the region’s buses and light rail for free year-round. In an effort to emulate the Sacramento program at the state level, Assembly Bill 1350 would require all California transit agencies to offer free passes to anyone 18 and under in order to get state funding. Taylor said AB 1350 is a “small step in the right direction that could have positive effects,” although he believes “it would be best as part of a broader package to improve transit.”
Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about a decline in driving across the United States. The average number of miles driven per person has declined since its peak in 2004, the report said, citing migration to dense urban areas; young adults’ preference to use alternate modes of transportation; more online working, shopping and streaming; and a growing population of retirees who no longer commute to jobs. The trend is a break from the past, when the country’s driving pattern moved in sync with the economy, with people driving more when times were good. “In the midst of a fairly substantial economic recovery between 2009 and 2017, we’re seeing a decline in person trip-making, which suggests that something pretty fundamental is going on here,” Taylor said.