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.


Taylor on Setbacks to Memphis’ Public Transit Vision

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke with the nonprofit newsroom MLK50 about changes to the public transportation system in Memphis, Tenn. Ridership on Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) lines plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic; current labor shortages have made it difficult to hire an adequate number of bus drivers; and the city’s plan to overhaul the transit system by 2040 remains underfunded. A recent round of cuts to routes and services has caused disruptions to riders, 71% of whom are from households earning less than $20,000. Taylor said that the people who use MATA are likely forced to by circumstances: Either they have to, because they can’t drive or don’t have a car, or they want to, because parking where they’re going is expensive. The second group “vanished” during the pandemic, Taylor said, noting that, when a bus system operates as infrequently as once an hour, it’s almost exclusively for the first group.

Manville on Shifting Dynamics of City Life and Work

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to CNET about recent changes in living and commuting patterns. The shift to remote work for many during the pandemic accelerated an existing trend of people moving outward to areas surrounding their former homes in big urban centers. “Once you were deprived of the opportunities that a fully open Los Angeles or, for that matter, a fully open San Francisco offered you, it was very hard to justify the cost of housing here,” Manville said. The pandemic has also had a large impact on traffic patterns and use of public transit. At the beginning of the pandemic, “traffic just plummeted to levels we have probably not seen in 100 years,” but congestion and traffic have almost returned to pre-pandemic levels as the economy has reopened, Manville said. The article also cited UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies Director Brian Taylor regarding the variables that lead to traffic congestion.

Taylor on Political Economy of Transit Projects

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss the political motivations behind transportation projects. The passage of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill has prompted discussion about the potential expansion of the MetroLink light-rail line in St. Louis. While light rail is popular among politicians and residents who use it as an occasional alternative to driving, most essential workers would benefit more from improved frequency and reliability of bus services. According to Taylor, “Opportunities to cut ribbons in front of things is much better [for elected officials] than making broad improvements.” He explained that while transit users benefit from improved service, politicians prefer dramatic, concrete improvements that will garner more political support from all voters. “The issue with a light-rail line is that most people don’t ride transit, but almost everyone can see the light-rail line,” Taylor said.

Taylor Encourages More Responsible Driving

Brian Taylor, director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to Vox about how to end the American obsession with driving. The transportation sector is one of the biggest sources of pollution, but many U.S. cities are built for drivers. Taylor explained that parking is often capitalized into the costs of the goods you buy, as opposed to selling parking spaces at their true value. “The default is that the storage of private vehicles tends to get priority if you look at how we’ve allocated curb space, and that creates all sorts of problems,” said Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy. To disincentivize street parking, Taylor suggested that municipalities raise the price at meters, manage curbs differently or remove parking altogether in some areas, allowing only for loading, unloading, and scooter and bike traffic. He imagined a future where drivers are more responsible for these costs and are more judicious of their car use.

Manville, Taylor on How to Get Traffic Under Control

Urban Planning faculty members Michael Manville and Brian Taylor spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the return of L.A. traffic levels to pre-pandemic levels. “Traffic is a product of people having places to go,” said Manville, but he noted that “it’s the last few vehicles on the road that are responsible for most of the delays.” Manville argued that congestion pricing is key to reducing traffic. “Traffic congestion arises because there’s excess demand and scarce road space,” he said. He also pointed out that congestion pricing can be used to increase equity “because the absolute poorest people don’t drive … [and] no one suffers from congestion more than people stuck on a bus.” Taylor added that “when traffic demand is near or above the capacity of the street and highway system, any changes — adding or subtracting relatively few cars — can have a significant effect on delays.”

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