Posts

Transit Forum Focuses on Impact of Mobility Innovations UCLA scholars join government, nonprofit and private sector representatives to discuss declining ridership in an era of emerging mobility services

By Claudia Bustamante

Across the country, public transit ridership has been declining.

But that isn’t the story in Seattle. Terry White, deputy general manager at King County Metro Transit, said that can be attributed to the agency’s community efforts.

Speaking at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies’ 12th annual Downtown Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment held March 1, 2019, at the Japanese American National Museum, White said an organization that doesn’t reflect its community will lose trust.

“We’ve been making a concentrated effort that the folks that make up our outreach and leadership teams reflect the communities we go out and serve,” White said. “I don’t think it’s an accident that we have better relationships since 2014.”

King County Transit, which most recently won the American Public Transportation Association award for outstanding transit system, makes more than 400,000 trips per day and has seen all-time-high ridership as more people move into the Seattle area.

Joining White at the forum were UCLA scholars, and government, nonprofit and private sector representatives who share other real-world examples of how to tackle declining transit ridership, especially in an era of emerging mobility services.

The forum focused on successful public-private partnerships that could fill gaps in transportation services. Other topics included effective uses of data to manage mobility, practical innovations that can yield great gains for transit ridership, and how new mobility technology and services can enhance equity and quality of life.

Speaking specifically to how a big-city transportation department can put equity first was Ryan Russo, director of Oakland’s Department of Transportation, which was recently formed as a new model of urban mobility centered around progressive policies that aim to recognize and address past injustices.

Russo said the Bay Area city’s legacy of redlining is still seen and felt throughout the area, which means that departmental projects must be considered through an equity lens. Dedicated monthly meetings are held to strategize ways of infusing equity into projects. For example, Paint the Town combined community art and traffic safety through street murals.

For every project approved in less disadvantaged communities, at least two were approved for low-income neighborhoods.

“Transportation and street management isn’t about getting people from A to B,” Russo said. “It’s the way we will serve our community.”

Partnerships and Pilots

In light of the proliferation of private mobility companies, the forum discussed different ways the public sector could partner with these companies to meet transportation needs.

One example came from HopSkipDrive, a ridehailing service for school-aged children, which partnered with Los Angeles County to provide free rides to foster youth. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, foster youth were provided core protections for school stability, meaning that districts need to provide transportation to keep these students in their schools of origin. Many foster youth bounce from school to school, and they graduate at far lower rates than do their peers.

“We are not meant to replace school bus companies. We are designing our systems to ride alongside school buses and existing transportation systems. That way we can provide mobility opportunities and access for all kids,” said Qiana Patterson, senior director of public partnerships.

In fact, finding innovative ways to partner with the private sector to tackle the biggest transportation issues of the day is something that Metro has been doing through its Office of Extraordinary Innovation.

Its unsolicited proposal process has yielded more than a dozen contract awards and proofs of concept for key projects, including the Sepulveda Transit Corridor, a gondola to Dodger Stadium, mobile tolling and bus electrification.

“The public sector is reluctant to admit they have a problem,” said Nolan Borgman, Metro senior transportation planner. “You need to admit that there is a problem that you don’t know how to solve.”

In Santa Monica, the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, along with the rise of electric scooters, drove city officials to authorize a pilot program to offer more mobility choices and gain a better grasp on the use of shared public space.

Declining ridership has also forced many public agencies to adopt innovations to improve transit.

In Everett, Massachusetts, a pop-up bus lane is being utilized to improve mobility and connections to major nearby destinations like Boston. Instead of conducting traditional outreach, City Planner Jay Monty said a pilot project incorporated outreach and gleaned real-time public feedback. The part-time lanes only for buses went quickly from pilot project to a statewide model, and today more than a dozen similar Tactical Transit Lane projects have sprung up across the country as a means of improving mobility.

Disruption

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville said that neither new trains or lanes free up space on roads over time. What has worked — where it has been implemented — is congestion pricing.

Speaking to the fairness and equity concerns that come up when congestion pricing is discussed, Manville said that not only was the entire transportation system financed regressively through gas taxes, sales taxes and registration fees, but pricing access to roads could produce revenue to offset the costs for low-income individuals.

“Congestion harms people who live in low-income communities with disproportionate low vehicle ownership,” Manville said. “They have to bear the higher health and pollution burdens of driving, which leads to higher rates of preterm births and other negative health outcomes — and thus inheriting poverty.”

Earlier this year, Metro decided to move forward with a two-year study of congestion pricing, evaluating different pricing methods, including per-mile charges and tolls in specific areas.

Even though all the new mobility options may make it seem otherwise, we are not living through a particularly disruptive period of transportation, said Martin Wachs, emeritus professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. People have long been using the same language to describe new mobility — from bicycles and jitneys in the 19th and 20th centuries to today’s ridehailing companies like Lyft and Uber, as well as electric scooters.

Instead of reacting to technology, Wachs said, agencies should create policy that builds upon the capacity of innovation.

View additional photos

Getting a Handle on the Future Transportation experts join with policymakers and entrepreneurs to tackle the impact of disruptive technology on urban mobility

By Will Livesley-O’Neill

Getting around Southern California has never been easy. But the infamously congested region has grown even more complicated with the arrival of new private services — including ridehail companies such as Lyft and Uber and electric scooter operators such as Bird and Lime — looking to disrupt how people travel.

Motorized scooters are often seen at UCLA.

As in any field impacted by technology-fueled disruption, transportation policymakers want to find ways to adapt. And that requires taking stock of what the transportation system is meant to do and, more importantly, whom it is meant to serve.

This was the focus of the 28th annual UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium, hosted by the Institute of Transportation Studies (UCLA ITS) and Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, in October. At the university’s retreat center in the San Bernardino Mountains, dozens of the nation’s leading experts on transportation and land use policy pondered the symposium’s theme, “From Public Transit to Public Mobility.”

The changing nature of travel means different things for elected officials, planners, academics, advocates and tech leaders. But everyone fundamentally agrees that, as LA Metro chief planning officer and symposium panelist Therese McMillan put it, “there’s a public interest in how private activity happens in a public space.” The modes may change, but the mission of a safe, effective, accessible transportation system remains the same.

John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft, set the tone for a discussion of balance between tradition and innovation. Lyft has been actively expanding beyond ridehailing into other forms of mobility, including e-scooters and automated vehicles. The company’s stated goal of providing more options for consumers and reducing the number of people driving

alone benefits the environment — as well as those profiting from the service.

But the way that some tech companies roll out new products — a “move fast and break things” model — often leads to public backlash.

Southern California has been ground zero for arguments about the traffic tie-ups and sidewalk clutter allegedly caused by ridehailing and scooters. Public officials are being forced to make policy on the fly — although some such as Francie Stefan, chief mobility officer in Santa Monica, describe that as an opportunity. Santa Monica recently partnered with Lyft, Uber, Bird and Lime to introduce new regulations on the number of e-vehicles in the city while funding infrastructure improvements.

“[We] made a conscious choice to embrace new technology and work through some of the kinks that are inherent in change,” Stefan says.

Technology also gives cities the chance to innovate and to fulfill some hard-to-implement planning goals. Willa Ng, an associate director at Google’s Sidewalk Labs, presented an example at her panel on “coding  the curb.”

“If we need to do more stuff at the curb, and we need to have those spaces constantly turning over, we can’t have it managed by a static aluminum sign,” Ng explains, outlining how creating a flexible digital management system could allow the same section of curb to be used for parking, ridehail drop-offs, delivery unloading, or as a bike and scooter lane depending on the time of day. New transportation technology can crowd and complicate the use of public space, but it can also help make sure the space is better used to benefit the most people.

For example, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, recently spoke to the University of California for a story and accompanying video about e-scooters titled, “What the battle over scooters gets wrong.”

Urban planners recently adopted a model known as “complete streets” that involves rethinking how shared space is divided between a street and a sidewalk, Loukaitou-Sideris says. This model abandons the assumption that streets are for cars and sidewalks are for pedestrians.

“The complete street perceives the street as a space where different transportation modes can coexist: not only cars, but also buses, and lanes for trams, bicycles and scooters,” according to Loukaitou-Sideris. “Nobody wants to compromise the safety of anyone by mixing these modes. So that’s where planning and design needs to come in.”

People-centered design — of services, systems and infrastructure — is at center stage in these policy discussions. Technology needs to be a tool to help improve transportation for people, not an end goal in itself.

“A lot of people are really annoyed with private capital coming into the mobility space without understanding people’s travel needs,” says Clarrissa Cabansagan of the Bay Area climate change nonprofit TransForm. But tech disruption will be worthwhile if it provides people with more options to get around besides driving their own car, she says.

Professor Brian Taylor of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning

Urban Planning Professor Brian D. Taylor, director of UCLA ITS, co-authored a groundbreaking 2018 study that found that Southern Californians are buying more cars than ever and turning away from public transit. That’s the exact opposite outcome of what policymakers had sought and shows the need to set new priorities for shared public spaces.

“We have to manage the automobile more intelligently. We can’t just allow people to drive anywhere they want, anytime they want,” Taylor says. “We need to create environments that are more conducive to travel by foot, by bike, by scooter or by public transit.”

New and old mobility services could work hand-in-hand to reduce private car travel. Ideally, technology should improve, not replace or eliminate, traditional transit, according to transportation experts.

“We should really focus on making the core strength of transit something we do incredibly well,” says Houston-based planner and author Christof Spieler, who spoke at the conference. With transit ridership falling across most of the country, new policies need to make riding the bus as easy as hailing a Lyft, he says, noting that public transit can move many more people much more effectively than any ridehail vehicle or scooter.

Bay Area transportation advocate Ratna Amin argues that focusing on riders as people, not cogs in a machine, is key.

“When we think about public transit as a utility, we focus on the bare minimum: We got the service out, it’s clean enough, the doors opened, the bus stop is there and it’s labeled,” Amin says. “We need to actually talk to people and find out what their experience is, and try different possibilities out to see if they improve the experience.”

Seattle is one of just a few American cities to see an increase in transit ridership in recent years. Terry White, the deputy general manager of Seattle’s transit operator, believes one factor has been key to success: an emphasis on making sure service is equitable.

“Transportation is a human right for everyone,” White says. “We’re trying to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to

be mobile.”

That’s ultimately what a better transportation system will mean — mobility for all, regardless of whether they take a bus or ride a scooter. Efficient use of public space lessens the need for gridlocked, polluting private vehicles.

The disruption of old transit methods is still in its early stages, with plenty of blind spots to be navigated. But as Juan Matute, deputy director of UCLA ITS, recently told LA Weekly, it’s important to remember that the disruption from new technology is likely to lessen over time.

“The safety hazards are comparable to those for automobile use,” Matute said of the new innovations, particularly e-scooters. “We’ve had over 100 years to figure out a lot of things.”

Transportation and Isolation: Serious Challenges for Diverse, Older Angelenos Research conducted by UCLA Luskin and USC Leonard Davis — and supported by AARP — examines travel, technology and mobility issues

In an effort to identify solutions to improve the lives of older adults and people of all ages and abilities, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, with the support of AARP, recently conducted surveys of diverse, older Angelenos, exploring their travel patterns, use of technology, and the mobility problems they face.

“We united on one common goal, the importance for understanding community needs, opportunities, and barriers that can support, create and sustain livable and age-friendly communities in Los Angeles,” said Nancy McPherson, State Director of AARP. “We know that the more connected and engaged people are with their community, the more likely they are to age successfully and remain living in their homes for as long as possible, as the vast majority wish to do.”

The UCLA research team focused on identifying mobility and travel patterns by conducting focus groups and interviews with 81 older adults in the neighborhoods of Koreatown, Westlake and East Hollywood, including adults visiting St. Barnabas Senior Services (SBSS), a local organization that provides health and social services. The UCLA report, “Bolstering Mobility and Transportation Options for Low-Income Older Adults,” found that:

  • Participants expressed difficulty in getting around, often endure long transit trips and uncomfortable or scary walking environments and social hazards that could cause them to trip and fall, significantly reducing their independence and quality of life.
  • For many, walking around their neighborhoods is the primary mode of transportation; however, there are significant physical and social impediments that constrain mobility.
  • A small number own cars and many rely on family and friends to drive them. Use of point-to-point travel services (e.g., taxis, ride-hailing services) is rare and constrained by finances.
  • Many lack competency with technology to order ride-hailing services.
  • Mobility constraints affect the number and frequency of trips.
  • Differences exist among study participants in regard to the numbers of social and recreational trips. Older adults visiting SBSS take a larger number of daily trips and have a higher likelihood of making social and recreational trips than those who are not visiting SBSS.

“Mobility affects the quality of life. Decreased mobility means also decreased access to city amenities or jobs, and socialization opportunities, as well as a higher risk for social isolation. Our findings suggest that certain improvements both in the physical environment and in the transit and paratransit services can help increase the mobility of low-income, older adults, and we articulate these improvements in our report,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Associate Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “We are welcoming the opportunity to join forces with the AARP and our USC colleagues and advocate for more age-friendly California cities.”

For more information on the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies report, “Bolstering Mobility and Transportation Options for Low-Income Older Adults,” click here.

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on the consequences of loneliness and isolation, especially among older adults. While adoption of technology and social media has the potential to reduce isolation, issues such as cost, disinterest and lack of the skills needed to use various devices may hinder older adults’ adoption. Los Angeles’ ethnically, linguistically and geographically diverse population of older adults made it an ideal location for the USC Leonard School of Gerontology to explore how this population uses technology and the extent to which they believe it can improve connectivity and reduce isolation.

The USC research team conducted six focus groups in English, Spanish and Korean at SBSS with 48 older adults living in a low-income area of Los Angeles, home to a diverse, largely immigrant population. Key findings from this report, “Aging in Place in Los Angeles: Recognizing Challenges to Social Connectedness,” include:

  • A relatively high use of some technology among this engaged group, as well as a wide range in social connectivity with family, friends, and members of the community;
  • Although some older adults did not have the resources or the desire to use technology, others used mobile phones, smart phones, tablets, and computers – either in combination or alone – for purposes of contacting their family and friends, accessing health care information, getting the news, shopping, and watching television;
  • Cost, disinterest, and lack of the skills needed to use various devices hindered older adults’ adoption of technology and social media;
  • Many older adults indicated a reluctance to adopt newer technology because they preferred to communicate in-person and they expressed concerns that technology is too complicated or too expensive; others used it for entertainment, to plan local and long-distance travels, and to communicate with their loved ones.

“Our findings suggest that although technology isn’t a cure all for loneliness, it can be a tool in the tool box for addressing social isolation. Policy makers and tech developers need to consider how older adults currently use technology, how it can better suit their needs, and barriers that prevent them from using it effectively,” said Kate Wilber, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology professor. “We are thankful that AARP and our UCLA collaborators recognize the importance of addressing social isolation and look forward to working toward solutions that benefit older adults in Los Angeles and beyond.”

For more information on USC’s “Disrupting Isolation in Housing for an Aging Population,” click here.

Matute on the Rise of Electric Scooters in L.A.

Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to PBS News Hour about electric scooters in the Los Angeles region. While Santa Monica has been more lenient toward electric scooters, cities such as Milwaukee have prohibited them completely, Matute said. Bird bypassed licensing in Santa Monica, he said, explaining, “They wouldn’t have been able to get a license because there wasn’t a category for what they were doing. They wanted to demonstrate something, show that it worked and then attract additional rounds of financing.” When Lime, another electric scooter company, entered the market, Matute said it saturated the market to make it more convenient for people to try them. Electric scooters are intended to solve mobility issues in the city, Matute said. “It kind of remains to be seen what types of trips the scooters are displacing,” he concluded.


 

Using Public Spaces to Benefit the Public Urbanist Gil Penalosa tells crowd at UCLA Institute of Transportation event that public policy and design should improve the quality of life for all residents

By Will Livesley-O’Neill

The UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies kicked off its spring speaker series with one of the world’s most influential urbanists, Gil Penalosa, an advocate for public spaces and sustainable mobility. Cities must meet the challenges of the 21st century through public policy and design that improves the quality of life for all residents, Penalosa argued.

“We need to decide how we want to live,” he told a large crowd of Luskin School students, staff, faculty and community partners.

Penalosa, a graduate of the MBA program at the UCLA Anderson School, is the founder and chair of 8 80 Cities, a nonprofit organization based in Toronto and dedicated to the idea that urban spaces should benefit an 8-year-old or an 80-year-old equally. He also chairs the board of World Urban Parks, an international association in favor of open space and recreation, after getting his start by transforming parks programs as a commissioner in Bogotá.

The groundbreaking programs overseen by Penalosa in Colombia included a weekly event to turn city streets into activity centers for walking, biking and other activities, which has served as a model for CicLAvia in Los Angeles and similar programs worldwide. Penalosa said that after streets turn into “the world’s largest pop-up park,” people begin to think about how much of their city is usually off-limits.

“All of a sudden we realize that the streets are public,” he said, adding that in a given city, around 35 percent of the total land is occupied by roadways. “We need to be much better at using everything that is public.”

Penalosa, who has consulted for more than 300 cities around the world, urges local leaders to use public space such as libraries and schoolyards for communal activities. He said that “playability” is a feature in urban design — making spaces more welcoming for children opens them up for everyone else as well. Every city should set a goal to have some kind of park within a 10-minute walk of any home, Penalosa said.

“Parks and public spaces are fantastic equalizers,” he said, describing the social integration that takes place during large sporting events, political protests and smaller exchanges such as children interacting with a sculpture. Penalosa added that public space helps people make friends and live healthier, but it can also promote transit and climate policy goals.

“Safe and enjoyable walking and biking should be a human right,” he said, noting that non-driving transit modes are not just recreational activities but the primary means of transportation for most of the world’s population. As the global urban population has surged — with the number of people living in cities expected to grow from 3.5 billion to 7 billion people over the next four decades — Penalosa believes that policymakers must shift their focus away from accommodating car travel and toward improving quality of life. This means prioritizing human interaction in public spaces by expanding parks, building sidewalks, reducing speed limits to make walking safer, connecting bicycle routes into cohesive grids, and much more.

Penalosa’s talk was presented in partnership with the California Association for Coordinated Transportation (CALACT), a statewide nonprofit association advocating for small transit agencies, rural transportation funding and coordinated mobility programs. The full schedule for the spring transportation speaker series will soon be available on the ITS website.

View additional photos from the presentation in a Flickr album:

Gil Penalosa