Matute Takes Waymo for Driverless Taxi Rides and Likes the Result

You can count UCLA Luskin’s Juan Matute among those excited about the potential of driverless vehicles, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times that rounded up reaction to a 24/7 robotaxi service recently launched in Santa Monica by Waymo.  The Silicon Valley-based driverless car company began offering Waymo One to the public in mid-October, and the reaction has not been universally positive. Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, decided to experience it for himself, taking three rides with Waymo already. He’s a safe streets advocate who thinks self-driving vehicles are probably safer than human drivers. Vehicle automation can “help with some of the issues we have with distracted driving because an autonomous vehicle is never distracted,” Matute told the Times.


Matute on Debate Over Transportation and Climate Goals in California

Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, is quoted in a San Diego Union-Tribune article about the future of transportation in California in light of a state plan to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and trucks by 2035. State leaders, researchers and proponents of various modes of transportation continue to debate solutions to meet California’s climate goals. Energy demand is expected to grow with increased heatwaves and electrification of everything from cars to households, and experts contend that converting to electric cars alone will not be enough. Phasing out fossil fuels; the use of clean autonomous vehicles, trains and buses; wind and solar power; as well as promoting dense, walkable neighborhoods are all part of the debate. “If you don’t change development patterns, you end up having more power generation, including delaying retiring existing natural gas plants to accommodate the switch to electric vehicles,” Matute said.

Matute Shares Insight on the Feasibility of a Hyperloop

A New York Times article about the feasibility of a hyperloop transit system cited Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies. For decades, hyperloop technology has captivated many with the possibility of transporting people at speeds close to air travel. In recent years, many companies have attempted to create a hyperloop, but the technical obstacles of creating such an infrastructure have prevented it from coming to fruition. “Time and again you see technological innovations attracting a lot of investment, and you can make a lot of money during the hype cycle,” Matute said. Companies like TransPod and Virgin Hyperloop have faced obstacles in funding as well as safety issues that come with transporting people at such high speeds. Matute said that, even if the hyperloop charges passengers rates that are less than air travel, the airline industry will likely lower their fees to stay competitive.


At the Intersection of Extreme Heat, Urban Planning and Public Policy

News outlets covering the effects of extreme heat on California communities have put a spotlight on UCLA Luskin’s wide-ranging research on climate change. CapRadio and the Sacramento Bee spoke with V. Kelly Turner, who studies the intersection of extreme heat and urban planning and has witnessed the inequitable impact of dangerously high temperatures on low-income communities. The Los Angeles Times spoke to Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, about the lack of shade provided at thousands of bus stops across Los Angeles County. He urged officials to follow the lead of desert cities that use trees, street furniture and shade canopies to protect transit riders from the harsh climate. And the Southern California Association of Governments shared a live demonstration of the California Healthy Places Index: Extreme Heat Edition, developed through a partnership including the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation to teach communities about heat vulnerability and resources available to them.


Matute on Measuring E-Scooters’ Carbon Footprint

A Wired article assessing the green credentials of electric scooters cited Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin. Measuring the full environmental impact of e-scooters is a complicated task that must factor in how and where they’re operating, Matute said. Over an e-scooter’s lifecycle, carbon emissions come from the production of its materials and components; the manufacturing process; the shipping of the scooters to wherever they’re going to be used; the collecting, charging and redistributing of the scooters; and their disposal. To bring down their carbon footprint, some manufacturers are pursuing improvements to their equipment and operations, including developing scooters with a longer lifespan and introducing swappable batteries, which reduces the number of trips required to keep the fleets powered.


Lewis Center/ITS Operations Manager Is UCLA’s 2022 Rising Star UCLA honors Whitney Willis with an award that recognizes someone who is already making a positive impact and shows leadership potential

By Stan Paul

UCLA Luskin has a new rising star for 2022.

Whitney Willis, operations manager for the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) and the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin, has been named this year’s Rising Star awardee by UCLA’s Administrative Management Group in partnership with Campus Human Resources.

The 2008 UCLA alumna, who has worked at the Luskin School for nearly six years, was selected from among 14 nominees in the Rising Star category, one of three Excellence Awards bestowed annually to UCLA staff members. Criteria for the award include the potential to make a positive impact, establishing a leadership role, and pursuing both training and development opportunities.

Willis exemplifies these criteria and more, according to UCLA Luskin supervisors and colleagues who consider her not only a rising star, but already a star.

Willis’ supervisor Juan Matute, deputy director of ITS, describes her as an out-of-the-box thinker who has streamlined and automated a number of the center’s business systems and services. During her time at the School, Willis has established best practices for administration, events and student oversight, while lending support and training to staff from other UCLA Luskin research centers, he said.

In addition to training herself in process improvement and learning to use new tools, Willis has sought formal training from within and outside UCLA, Matute added. She completed UCLA’s Professional Development Program in the 2019-20 academic year and is now pursuing a master’s in public administration at Cal State Northridge. Matute said she is already applying what she is learning to budgeting and financial analysis tasks at UCLA.

Willis also serves as an advisor for the UCLA Staff Assembly’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

In a letter of support, Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, who is Willis’ supervisor in her role as director of the Lewis Center, noted the challenges of Willis’ position, which involves managing a diverse portfolio of responsibilities. These include grant administration and reporting, budgeting and resource management, administrative support for events, management of facilities projects and the distribution of financial aid.

“Ms. Willis’ leadership, exceptional organizational skills and commitment have been integral to the success of the Lewis Center,” Blumenberg said.

Despite time constraints, keeping up with her graduate school classes, and the day-to-day working challenges of the academic year, Willis says she has always viewed her role as operations manager as striving to be a “champion of productivity within ITS and Lewis Center.”

“This award is special to me because it means that I might be even a small part of a community of so many other great people who are committed to doing their best in serving students, diverse communities, and supporting the growth and well-being of the staff community,” Willis said.

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.