Gas Hike a Litmus Test for Mass Transit, Matute Says

Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the impact of soaring gas prices on transit ridership in Los Angeles. The article said many Angelenos are concerned about the number of homeless people and the increase in violent crime on the Metro, which slashed its bus and rail service this year amid a COVID-fueled driver shortage. Many transit planners have argued that the cheap cost of driving vehicles keeps commuters from jumping on a bus or train. Matute noted that the spike in gas prices will now serve as a litmus test for mass transit. “If driving gets 50% more expensive because of the increase in gas prices and you’re not seeing a corresponding increase in ridership, maybe there’s something you have to look at about their service, improving it, whether it be reliability, safety or passenger experience,” Matute said.


Matute on the Resurgence of E-Scooters

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Spectrum News about the changing landscape of e-scooter technology. During the COVID-19 pandemic, fears of sharing space with strangers on mass transit appears to have resulted in increased reliance on e-scooters. For example, the company Bird reported that the average e-scooter ride length is 58% longer compared to pre-pandemic levels. “Maybe what would have been a three-mile Uber ride pre-pandemic is now a three-mile scooter ride,” Matute said. At the beginning of the pandemic, many scooter companies suspended operations, but technology and safety improvements are contributing to a resurgence in e-scooter popularity. “Customer expectations are changing,” Matute said. “Getting on one of these more advanced scooters is a safer experience than some of these early-generation scooters that are still out in the wild.” He noted that the newer vehicles are sturdier, have a longer range and feel more comfortable over a longer ride.


Matute on Democratizing Parking Data and Access

Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, was featured in a Dot.LA article about taking advantage of Los Angeles’ hidden parking spaces. According to Matute, the most straightforward way to cut down on congestion is by ensuring fewer cars are on the road in the first place. Still, new apps such as Metropolis can play an important role in “eliminating some of the most obvious and wasteful impracticalities associated with parking.” Even in dense areas like downtown Los Angeles, where a parking spot seems impossible to locate, there is abundant parking concealed in parking garages. The Metropolis app allows drivers to access parking facilities that are registered in the database without obtaining a ticket or paying at a booth; instead, the owner’s credit card is charged automatically. “These apps are addressing the issue where you only know about parking you can see,” Matute said.


Matute Proposes Consolidated Public Transit Platform

UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies Deputy Director Juan Matute was featured on a “Connect the Dots” podcast episode about the future of public transit following the pandemic. “Those using transit in Los Angeles tend to be lower-income than cities like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and even New York, where there is more white-collar commuting,” Matute explained. As a result, Los Angeles saw relatively high pandemic ridership compared to pre-pandemic levels. “Diversity of mobility options helps serve those who want or need to get around without a personal vehicle,” Matute said. “The introduction of micro-mobility, such as e-scooters and bike share, provide additional options for people to get around.” Matute said he would like to see a platform where people could access many forms of transportation in one place, which would make it easier for transit riders to get around.


Matute on Prioritizing Safety of E-Scooter Services

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Dot.LA about Superpedestrian, an e-scooter startup that aims to prioritize rider and pedestrian safety. Some e-scooter companies have faced lawsuits from riders over bodily injury and death. Superpedestrian says it has spent years improving its technology to protect vulnerable pedestrians and alert the user when they are breaking the rules. According to Matute, focusing on safety makes it easier for cities to adopt micro-mobility like e-scooter services. “Having self-regulating technology like Superpedestrian has is really attractive to cities because they can approve scooters to go in without worrying so much about users behaving badly,” he explained. “People have died because of vehicle system failures, brakes not being up to snuff.” Superpedestrian recently made its debut in Los Angeles with 5,000 LINK e-scooters.


Wachs, ITS Honored with APA Planning Awards

The American Planning Association’s Los Angeles section bestowed multiple awards on the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin and also honored the late Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning. Wachs, who passed away unexpectedly in April 2021, received the Planning Pioneer Award for his lifelong work as a renowned transportation scholar. The Institute of Transportation Studies won the following honors:

The American Planning Association is a national organization that aims to unite leaders and professionals across the field of planning. Every year, the organization’s Los Angeles section recognizes the outstanding work, best practices and thought leaders that impact the built and natural environment in Los Angeles County.— Zoe Day


Matute on Low-Speed Travel Network Plans

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Spectrum News about the creation of a low-speed travel network in South Bay cities in Los Angeles County. The South Bay Cities Council of Governments recently approved a resolution to implement a Local Travel Network, which would aim to reduce traffic, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve street safety. The network would designate low-speed streets for neighborhood electric vehicles such as GEM cars, e-bikes, e-scooters, electric skateboards and other forms of zero-emissions personal mobility devices. “The concept is a great idea … but I’m not quite sure about the implementation,” Matute said. He added that it “would really be quite neat to be able to get around some larger swaths of area in L.A. with those types of vehicles that aren’t highway legal but are still practical ways to get around in a place with Southern California’s weather.”


Matute on L.A. Public Transit Boom

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the expansion of mass public transit in Los Angeles. After several years of declining ridership, Metro ridership dropped by 70% at the beginning of the pandemic. However, the city took advantage of the opportunity to accelerate construction of public transit projects like the Purple Line, which will extend from downtown Los Angeles to Westwood. Matute called the Purple Line extension “the most important transit project in America, outside of Manhattan” because it links L.A.’s high-density corridors. It also may offer a quicker route than a personal vehicle, unlike bus options that double or triple commute times if they don’t have a dedicated traffic lane. Although transit in L.A. has predominantly been used by those trying to minimize costs, the new Purple Line expansion will be significant in that it also offers a time advantage, he said.


Matute Reflects on Garcetti’s Legacy as Mayor

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, was featured in a Guardian article about the strengths and shortcomings of Eric Garcetti’s administration during his time as mayor of Los Angeles. There is a possibility that Garcetti will cut his second term as mayor short to take a position as a U.S. ambassador and eventually return to pursue a higher office in the federal government. In Los Angeles, reviews are mixed about his efforts to address climate change, pollution, the affordable housing crisis and economic inequality. On transportation issues, Matute pointed out that the mayor succeeded in pushing a key funding measure in 2016 and set commendable goals for improving mobility and safer streets. However, the “execution of his plans has been slow and haphazard,” Matute said. “There was a lot of promise for changing mobility in Southern California that came through in plans … but they’ve fallen short of implementation.”


Matute on Improving Public Transit Apps

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the growing role of technology in public transit service. New York, London and Los Angeles are releasing new apps and digital versions of their subway maps, which give riders access to information about how close a train is to their station as well as any closures or delays. Matute explained that the new platforms are designed with more focus on the user experience than some predecessors, which first appeared on app stores around 2010 and were often neglected by transit agencies afterward. “These apps just fell out of favor and ended up being removed from the marketplace,” he said. The growth of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber and competition with other navigation apps such as Google Maps and Apple Maps has prompted public transit agencies to invest resources in improving the digital experience for riders.