Matute Comments on Vehicle Built for One

Juan Matute, urban planning lecturer and deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the New York Times about the Solo, a new electric vehicle built for one. The tiny, three-wheeled car is technically a motorcycle, though it’s fully enclosed and drives like a car with a steering wheel and foot pedals. The single-passenger vehicle provides a clean-energy solution for the 90% of Americans who commute alone by car, truck, van or motorcycle. However, Matute said that American drivers tend to buy “the most capable or largest vehicle that they need,” even if they need that capacity for only 5% of their trips. While other small three-wheeled vehicles have failed, the Solo is entering the market at a time of social distancing, and travelers are hesitant to touch what others have touched. Matute agreed that the Solo makes sense conceptually but argued that “what’s socially desirable and environmentally beneficial isn’t necessarily personally optimal.”


ITS Experts Assess Massive Hit to Transit Agencies

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.”

Matute on the Eerily Empty Freeways of L.A.

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the COVID-19 outbreak’s effect on L.A. freeway traffic. As reported cases of COVID-19 surge in Los Angeles County, residents are following recommendations to stay at home and avoid public spaces, resulting in strangely empty freeways. Urban planning experts explain that reducing the number of vehicles on the road by a small amount can greatly reduce freeway traffic. “Pretty much every freeway lane in L.A. experiences some degree of this phenomenon: Everything is going fine, then suddenly it all slows down,” said Matute, an urban planning lecturer at the Luskin School. Freeway lanes have the capacity to support between 2,000 and 2,400 vehicles per lane per hour, but traffic grinds to a halt when lanes hit their capacity. On some freeways, reducing the number of cars by 5% could cut rush hour travel time in half, experts say.


Matute on Downsizing of E-Scooter Companies

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Marketplace about the downsizing of e-scooter company Lime. Lime is reportedly pulling out of 12 cities worldwide and laying off 14% of its workforce. Since their first appearance, Lime scooters have been prevalent in many major cities. However, high maintenance costs have prompted Lime and other e-scooter companies to find ways to improve profitability. Matute noted that the U.S. cities Lime is pulling out of share a common physical obstacle to a sweeping adoption of e-scooters. He noted they are all Sunbelt cities where cars are widely used for transportation. “That makes integrating bikes, scooters and other lower-speed mobility options very challenging,” he said.


 

Matute Stresses Tactical Urbanism in Bus Transit Projects

Juan Matute, urban planning lecturer and deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to Streetsblog about the key obstacles to improving public transportation and bus infrastructure in cities. It can take years to build new bus routes, with funding and political opposition serving as obstacles along the way. According to Matute, “The key issue for the delay is funding with other people’s money such as state or federal discretionary apportionment and grant funds.” He also explained that “chasing funding also leads planners to create more ambitious, more costly projects with a more extensive planning process.” Planners are often tempted to create more elaborate and expensive projects beyond what is necessary for improving bus transit. Instead, transportation experts recommend introducing temporary pilot bus lanes, starting with “No Parking” signs and painting red bus lanes in order to quickly improve transit services at a low cost.


Matute on E-Scooters in Santa Monica

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to LAist about the future of e-scooters in Santa Monica. “Santa Monica has a relatively stable system … that can demonstrate to other parts of Southern California what might be possible,” Matute said. The city launched a pilot program of 3,250 dockless scooters in September 2018. Matute said its manageable level and investment in quality over quantity is key to its success, in comparison with Los Angeles’ pilot program of 36,000 e-scooters and e-bikes. “It would be hard for any group of people to regulate that many devices,” he said. Better roads and investment in bikeways are also key, he said. While Santa Monica’s new green bike lanes are a step in the right direction, Matute advocated for more bike lanes that are segregated from car lanes.


 

New LAX-it Shuttle Can Work, Matute Says

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to LA Curbed about the Los Angeles International Airport’s implementation of a new shuttle service called LAX-it. The airport ended curbside pickups by ride-share and taxi services at the end of October. Ride-share users must now use LAX-it, which shuttles passengers to an off-site lot that will reportedly be expanded by 50 percent to increase capacity and decrease long wait times. Matute said LAX-it would work if engineering and regulatory changes are made that prioritize shared transportation. “If they can’t implement these here, there’s a lot less hope for the rest of L.A.,” Matute said. He said Los Angeles World Airports should promote public transit options such as the FlyAway buses because they present good alternatives that would “eliminate all these headaches” the LAX-it service has created. “This is dictatorial fiat for transportation,” he said of the LAX-it service. “I’d like to see it go well.”


 

Bus Lanes Can Lead to Systemic Changes, Matute Says

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Curbed LA about the benefits of creating bus lanes. New York City recently created a bus-only street, which resulted in less traffic congestion. Matute said giving every bus in the United States a dedicated bus lane could lead to systemic changes. The public demand for more buses would outweigh the supply by the third week if this initiative were to be implemented, he said. “If the bus lanes were, in fact, permanent, in 10 weeks you’d see GM coming to a labor agreement and retooling factories to make buses,” he said.


 

Matute on E-Scooters Hitting an Invisible Fence

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the emergence of electronic geofences that slow down or shut down e-scooters to enforce rules of the road. Cities across California are testing the technology, which erects invisible fences to enforce speed and parking restrictions and, in some places, create dead zones. The rules change from neighborhood to neighborhood and have caused confusion and frustration among riders whose rented e-scooters come to a halt. Cities and scooter companies negotiate the restrictions, but “these aren’t on the books,” Matute said. “Given that what the companies are asked to do changes week to week, it can be hard for an individual to keep up with what’s permitted and what each company’s restrictions are.”

Matute on Monetization of Google Maps

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Fox Business about reports that Google Maps will soon launch advertising on the app — to the tune of $11 billion in annual revenues within four years, according to some estimates. The app has become so popular that its users are not expected to strongly object to the ads. “Google has developed a high-quality mapping product with a significant user base over the past two decades. That they haven’t fully monetized it sooner is the anomaly,” Matute said. Linking people with information about nearby businesses, services and events is a useful service, he added. Google has also announced plans to integrate bike riding, ridesharing and transit information into their maps. “Google Maps helps transit and commuters,” Matute said. “It provides them with easy-to-understand, actionable information in context, which can help them make informed travel decisions.”