Taylor, Wachs on Fairness in Transit Planning

Professors Brian Taylor and Martin Wachs of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin co-authored a Streetsblog article calling for transportation equity as public officials decide how to move forward on transit projects in a pandemic-battered economy. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, L.A. Metro has reeled from revenue losses, raising questions about whether some planned rail and road construction projects should be postponed or even canceled. Taylor and Wachs argue that priority should be given to improving bus service in lower-income communities where most carless families live. “People of color and those from low-income households are more likely than others to depend on transit to get to health care, schools and jobs. Equity demands improving transit service where they live,” they wrote. They added that expanding transit operations creates stable, unionized jobs with health and retirement benefits, which are much needed in the current economy.


 

COVID-19 Pandemic Could Cost California Transportation Billions in Revenue New research highlights need for policymakers to prepare for a future shortfall

California could lose up to $20 billion in transportation revenue over the next 10 years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research released May 12 by the Mineta Transportation Institute, or MTI.

Researchers Asha Weinstein Agrawal of MTI at San Jose State University and Hannah King and Martin Wachs of UCLA Luskin projected how much revenue will be generated over the next decade by state taxes on fuel purchases and fees on vehicle ownership. COVID-19 has reduced those revenues substantially because people are driving less and therefore buying less fuel.

Projected total revenue varied according to different economic recovery scenarios examined by the researchers.

“Under a worst-case scenario, a slow economic recovery could cause California to receive 17% less revenue through 2030 than the state would have received without COVID-19,” said Agrawal, the director of MTI’s National Transportation Finance Center. The projected revenue for the slow-recovery scenario is $98 billion, compared to a projected $118 billion without the pandemic.

State policy choices could impact projected revenues, according to the study. The researchers identified a recovery scenario that could generate $121 billion, a 3% gain, thanks to a swift and complete economic recovery coupled with policies to encourage Californians to purchase electric vehicles.

“California policymakers are hastily planning for a future with less-than-anticipated revenue,” said Wachs, a professor emeritus of urban planning at UCLA and a researcher at its Institute of Transportation Studies. “The scenarios in this study are not predictions of what will happen, but with so much uncertainty about the future, they help policymakers ask important ‘what if’ kinds of questions.”

The study focused on transportation revenue collected by the state thanks to a package of taxes and fees established in 2017 by Senate Bill 1. This revenue comes from gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, an annual fee on vehicles with the rate based on vehicle value, and an annual fee for zero-emission vehicles.

The report did not include transportation funds in California that are raised locally through transit fares, tolls, sales taxes and property taxes. Nor did it include any federal funding that would aid in transportation recovery.

A shortfall in state transportation revenue would trickle down to drivers.

“Revenue shortfalls will likely result in both reduced maintenance and delayed capital investments,” Agrawal said. “Drivers will have to wait longer for planned improvements like replacing outdated bridges and rehabilitating freeways.”

The researchers modeled scenarios based on transportation-specific variables that are most likely to be affected by COVID-19, including fuel consumption, the number of registered petroleum-powered and electric vehicles, and the price of cars. They also projected potential revenue from possible government policies to stimulate the market, such as tax credits to encourage vehicle purchases.

Comparing them to a baseline of what was expected before the COVID-19 emergency, the researchers examined five recovery scenarios: 1) slow, 2) moderate, 3) moderate with a stagnated vehicle market, 4) moderate with an electric-vehicle stimulus, and 5) fast with an electric-vehicle stimulus.

The study was funded by the Mineta Transportation Institute at the request of the California Transportation Commission. The researchers were scheduled to present their findings during a virtual webinar on May 14.

The lead author of the study was Agrawal. King is a doctoral student in urban planning at UCLA.

Wachs on Return to Normal Traffic Levels When Economy Reopens

Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, was featured in a Los Angeles Times column discussing the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on traffic levels in Los Angeles. During the pandemic, vehicle volume has been reduced by 40% and more in parts of the city, air quality has improved, and traffic is moving 12% to 30% faster. Nevertheless, urban planning experts doubt the roads will stay empty when the economy reopens. Wachs pointed to congestion pricing as the only proven way to get people to drive less. ”The only strategy that works 100% of the time is charging people more money,” he said. “Charge more to park, charge to drive, quadruple the cost of gasoline, impose congestion pricing.” Traffic jams in the Sepulveda Pass could be eliminated by charging people $10 to make the trip, he said. However, many politicians are hesitant to embrace congestion pricing because they don’t believe their constituents want it.


Loukaitou-Sideris, Wachs Offer New Data on Aging Adults’ Mobility Needs

Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs are featured in an American Planning Association article along with co-author Miriam Pinski discussing their research article, “Toward a Richer Picture of the Mobility Needs of Older Americans.” The authors point out that “commonly used data sources on mobility provide high-level insights but fail to provide much detail about the travel experiences of older adults.” After conducting interviews, focus groups and walking audits with a group of 81 older adults in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the authors found that many have concerns including fear of crime, heavy traffic and speeding vehicles, and discomfort on crowded or littered streets. The authors recommended government action, including sidewalk repairs and increasing walk time at crosswalks, to better meet the mobility needs of aging adults, particularly those from low-income and minority communities. Their research also has implications for transit accessibility broadly, particularly for people with disabilities. 

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.”

Wachs Hopes for Long-Run Transition to Telecommuting

Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, was featured in a Los Angeles Times article discussing the potential long-term impact of COVID-19 on Los Angeles residents. Commonly crowded public spaces and freeways have been unusually empty due to the spread of COVID-19 in accordance with public health experts’ recommendations to stay home and practice social distancing. Wachs expressed hope that this temporary situation will have positive long-term effects, including lowering the volume of cars on the road even after the crisis passes if workers are able to permanently switch to telecommuting. Instead of spending billions of dollars on transportation projects that take years to complete, Wachs recommends “using [that money] to incentivize companies and people to allow more telecommuting.” While some employers don’t trust the efficiency of telecommuting and some workers, such as restaurant employees, are unable to telecommute, Wachs explained that even “small changes in traffic volumes can make large changes in travel times.”


Wachs, Wasserman on Car-Free Streets

Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, spoke to Mashable about the effectiveness of car bans on selected urban thoroughfares. Cities such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle, as well as Oslo, Norway, and Barcelona, Spain, have banned cars from certain roads at certain times, with positive results. Wachs spoke about the growing support for people-friendly streets and unpolluted surroundings. “We are in a period of awakening over safety, quality of life and the nature of our physical environment,” he said. The article also quoted Jacob Wasserman, senior research manager at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin. A century ago, Los Angeles boasted the nation’s largest electric railway, but city planners abandoned the transit system to launch a system of concrete freeways, the article noted. “I’m a scholar of public transit, but I would never blame someone for taking a car to work because designers designed our city this way,” Wasserman said.


Gas Tax Is ‘Absolutely Necessary,’ Wachs Says

Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, spoke to the San Diego news site inewsource about Senate Bill 1, a gas tax  passed in 2017 to improve the condition of California roads. Some communities are unsatisfied with the pace of road repairs, the article noted. But Wachs called the law “a short-term fix that was absolutely necessary.” In the future, he added, different solutions will be needed as fuel mileage rates increase and more people drive electric cars that don’t use gas — two trends that will cut into gas-tax revenue. “We’ll be selling less gasoline in relation to the driving that we do as years go by,” Wachs said.


 

In Memorium: Mickey Wapner

Mickey Wapner, former development officer for the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning, died Jan. 22. She was 95. During her tenure at UCLA in the 1970s and ’80s, the Texas native — who moved to Los Angeles in 1946 — helped founding Dean Harvey S. Perloff “build a financial support community for the new school,” said Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning. Urban Planning became its own department in 1969 and merged with what is now the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs in the 1990s. Its half-century will be celebrated this year. “She was a major figure in our history,” Wachs said, noting that Wapner left UCLA after her husband, the late Joseph Wapner, became an international celebrity because of his popular and long-running television program, “The People’s Court.”  “She wanted to travel the world with him for interviews and guest appearances,” said Wachs, who kept in touch with Wapner over the years. “Mickey Wapner was very special to our department, and she was going to be an important guest for our 50th anniversary,” commented Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. “We were looking forward to having her there. She will be missed.”

UCLA Luskin Faculty Win Prestigious Transportation Award for 3rd Time Co-winner Martin Wachs receives the honor from the Transportation Research Board for a second time — four decades apart

By Lena Rogow

Professor Evelyn Blumenberg of Urban Planning and colleagues who include Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs have won the 2019 Pyke Johnson Award from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) for a recent paper about the mobility needs of aging adults, marking the third time someone from UCLA Luskin has won the prize since its inception.

Wachs has been studying transportation and aging for decades and won the same award more than 40 years ago, in 1976.

The award-winning paper, “Physical Accessibility and Employment Among Older Adults in California,” explores the relationship between car ownership, transit accessibility and older adults’ employment status. The paper found that adults age 60 and older are able to stay in the workforce longer when they have access to a car or to public transit — if they live in a dense urban area.

Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95 said that she and Wachs decided to collaborate on the winning paper after realizing they had not previously worked together on a research paper.

“This topic seemed to perfectly align our respective areas of research,” said Blumenberg whose work examines the effects of urban structure — the spatial location of residents, employment and services — on economic outcomes of low-income workers.

“I also knew that it was essential for us to shed light on this topic together,” she said. “I think we’ve been able to showcase an important transportation need to serve an aging population. I’m thrilled that TRB shares our opinion about the importance of this work and I’m honored to be included with a long list of former distinguished scholars who have also received this award.”

 

In addition to Blumenberg and Wachs, the paper’s other authors are Andrew Schouten Ph.D. ’19, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, and Miriam Pinksi, a doctoral student in urban planning.

Pinski said the paper’s focus on low-income adults and their particular access to jobs was notable. Many older adults continue to rely on employment as their main source of income, in part because pensions are becoming rarer in the United States.

“Without transportation, many of these adults would have no way to sustain their lives. I hope our paper has provided more insight into yet another reason why maintaining a functioning transportation infrastructure is critical for many populations,” Pinski said.

“For TRB to recognize our work with this prestigious award is an honor,” Schouten said. “I hope this will bring more attention to important issues that lie at the intersection of transportation, employment and aging.”

ABOUT THE AWARD

TRB established the Pyke Johnson Award in 1971 to give annual recognition to an outstanding paper published in the field of transportation systems planning and administration. It honors the 23rd chairman of the Highway Research Board, who was influential in TRB from its inception.

UCLA has won three times since the first award was given in 1971. Brian Taylor Ph.D. ’92, professor of urban planning and public policy, won in 2000. Wachs is one of three two-time winners and the only person to repeat as winner more than five years apart. The gap in his case was 43 years. In each instance, the research involved faculty and doctoral students.

When Wachs first heard the news, he burst out laughing, recalling how much his life has changed since he first won. His 1976 paper also dealt with mobility and older adults.

“At that time, I was simply writing about the topic from an academic perspective,” Wachs said.  “And now my work is coming true in my own personal life.”

“What’s different about this paper is I’m honored to now collaborate with young people,” he said. “This paper benefited from the combination of their sharp methodological skills with my longstanding focus on this topic. It has been an enormous pleasure collaborating with them, and I’m proud to share this honor with them.”

The presentation took place Jan. 13 at TRB’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.