Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke with the Naples Daily News about declining ridership on public buses, a nationwide trend that has caused alarm among transit managers. In Florida’s Collier County, ridership on public transit increased for 10 years until 2013. Since then, it has steadily declined. In vehicle-friendly areas like Collier County, public transit offers a social service for people who can’t afford a car or access other transportation options, Taylor said. “Very few people make up the most transit trips,” he said, noting that the success of a program often depends on a small group of frequent riders.
An article on Streetsblog USA featured a report authored by Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville on the transit funding initiative Measure M. Voters approved the measure overwhelmingly in 2016, largely due to a political campaign that focused on boosting the economy and easing traffic, but not on transforming the region’s car culture, the report noted. “Voters were expressly not offered a vision of a more multimodal or environmentally sustainable Los Angeles; they were mostly offered instead a vision of more jobs, better roads and easier driving,” Manville wrote. The transportation investments ushered in by Measure M have not led to higher use of public transit. “Los Angeles has a hard road in front of it in making the vision of Measure M a reality,” the report said. “An electoral victory is the end of a political process, but only the beginning of a policy process.”
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed about the severe consequences of declining bus ridership. As the average speed of buses on the region’s congested roads has declined to a sluggish 12 mph, average occupancy has sunk to 12 passengers. “There are few means of transportation more energy-efficient than a packed bus — and few more wasteful than an empty one,” Matute wrote. In addition to clogging traffic and squandering taxpayer dollars, near-empty buses are inefficient greenhouse gas emitters that could prevent Los Angeles from doing its part to fight climate change, he wrote. Citing ITS research, Matute argued for “tactical” bus-only lanes that can be installed and reversed daily to reduce peak congestion. “Lower, slower ridership is costing us hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to improve the system instead of sustaining its inefficiencies,” Matute said.
An Agence France-Presse story featured comments by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning, and Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, on the status of California’s high-speed rail project. The original plan to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco was revised by Gov. Gavin Newsom in February to link Merced and Bakersfield instead, a distance only a third of the originally planned route. Construction delays and unexpected budget increases have prompted criticism of the “train to nowhere.” Loukaitou-Sideris weighed in on the curtailed route. “It absolutely does not make sense,” she said. “Any transit project needs big [urban] centers as origins and destinations, and so to have something like that … all but kills the project.” Wachs agreed, arguing that “California should have capitalized on its existing rail network, including that currently dedicated to freight.” The AFP story was picked up by several news outlets, including Yahoo! News and Daily Mail.
Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg spoke to the Columbus Dispatch about a proposed ride-share program in Grove City, Ohio. The Central Ohio Transit Authority and Grove City plan to implement a ride-share program to bridge the distance between public transit stops and people’s destinations. The pilot program would be offered in an area with many jobs. Blumenberg, director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin, noted that most jobs are not located in the central city. “That, no matter what, is going to pose a challenge for fixed-route public transit,” she said.
Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the county’s newest plan for improving traffic. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) proposed a controversial plan to invest in a high-speed commuter rail and implement congestion pricing on existing freeways. The proposal shelves planned freeway expansions, which experts have found does little to solve traffic congestion. According to Wachs, “the only proven way to reduce traffic is congestion pricing.” While the policy has been politically unpopular in the U.S., it has “increased highway capacity in the 30 or 40 places it’s been done around the world.” While the rail would not necessarily reduce traffic congestion, it would accommodate population growth in the region while reducing greenhouse gases from cars and trucks. “Transit enables higher density development and reduces vehicle miles traveled in relation to the population, whereas highways are associated with more dispersed growth,” Wachs explained.
In a National Geographic article exploring transit-oriented development in cities across the globe, Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville commented on the challenges facing Los Angeles. The article focused on architect Peter Calthorpe, who highlights the negative effects of car-oriented urban environments on climate, air quality and congestion, in addition to time and money wasted by drivers. Urban planners look to transit-oriented development to remake healthy urban spaces and reverse the damage caused by dependence on automobiles. Calthorpe imagines an urban utopia where cities would stop expanding, pave less and heat the air and the planet around them less. He recommends dense clusters of walkable communities around a web of rapid transit to support a growing population. Manville weighed in on the urban environment of Los Angeles, where residents continue to rely on cars despite efforts to improve public transit. The conundrum, Manville said, is that “driving’s too cheap [and] housing’s too expensive.”
In a Los Angeles Times article about the prospect of congestion pricing in West Los Angeles, Urban Planning Professor Brian Taylor commented on public opposition to the proposed fees. The article explained the findings of the Southern California Association of Governments’ recently published study, which modeled the effects of a $4 fee to enter a 4.3-square-mile area of West Los Angeles and Santa Monica during weekday rush hour. According to the model, such a fee would immediately reduce traffic delays and miles driven within the area by 20%, leading to increases in transit ridership, biking, walking and carpooling. Despite the predicted successes of congestion pricing, many residents of the area expressed their opposition to the proposal. Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, said that “people typically oppose the system before they’ve seen it work, [but] they tend to go majority opposition to majority support when they see it in practice.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to KPCC’s AirTalk about parking requirements for new housing developments in California. Manville was surprised to see that San Diego succeeded in eliminating minimum parking requirements for new housing developments. While this would be tough to implement in Los Angeles, he said, he believes it would be a good idea because parking requirements have been harmful to the city. Parking requirements for new housing do not promote the city’s stated goals of encouraging transit use, sustainability and more housing development, Manville said. More parking demands additional land or capital to build expensive underground parking, which results in smaller developments, he said. Manville also discussed proposed legislative solutions that would reduce local jurisdiction of land zoning in order to build more densely near public transit.
In a Curbed Los Angeles article, associate professor of urban planning Michael Manville explained the obstacles to improving public transit in Los Angeles, as found in a new UCLA study. Recognizing “the extent to which we’ve organized the landscape around the car” is key to implementing a successful transit program, he argued. “Seeing that 70 percent of people support a sales tax for more transit might create a false impression that there’s a lot of consensus about building a transit-oriented city,” he said. Many voters supported the Measure M sales tax in hopes of reducing their own drive time but haven’t displayed interest in actually riding public transportation. The UCLA study concluded that transit systems thrive in places where it’s difficult or expensive to drive. In a city built for cars, Los Angeles may have to make it harder to drive in order to make public transit work.