UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies Director Brian Taylor was featured in a Los Angeles Times commentary about plans to revive transit ridership in Los Angeles by dropping fares. LA Metro approved a pilot program eliminating fares for students and low-income riders. Metro relies on riders for only 5% of its revenue, with the majority of revenue coming from sales taxes in Los Angeles. However, some riders are still concerned about the speed, reliability and accessibility of public transit services. According to Taylor, Metro’s data-based improvements to its bus routes are a promising way to revive ridership by reallocating service. Increased service frequency, decreased wait times, and investments in lighting, added shelter and other safety measures at bus stops could attract more ridership than free fares, he said. Taylor pointed out that riders, even those with low incomes, are more sensitive to changes in service than changes in price.
A CNN report about incidents of sexual assault and abuse committed by ridehail drivers from Uber and Lyft quoted Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning. Lyft has failed to publicly release reports disclosing complaints of sexual violence and now faces several potential lawsuits. Ridehail companies “should be very concerned if people start saying that there’s an increasing number of people that complain about harassment because this whole idea of safe travel through Lyft or Uber falls apart,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, who has conducted extensive research on sexual harassment on public transit. Information around safety incidents can help people make informed decisions about how and when to travel, but transparency also runs the risk of damaging a company’s reputation, she said. Loukaitou-Sideris added that one reason people do not report alleged incidents of sexual violence is that they believe that nothing much will happen as a result.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Adam Millard-Ball spoke to Bloomberg CityLab about his research on the land value of streets in the United States. Millard-Ball calculated the widths, land areas and land value of streets in 20 different counties in the U.S., and he found that streets averaged 55 feet wide, even in residential areas with low traffic. Streets are much wider in the United States than in other parts of the world. In the counties he surveyed, Millard-Ball found that streets took up 18% of the total land area. He said cities could use some of the land currently allocated to streets for bike lanes, transit, green spaces or housing. He also noted that decreasing standard street sizes could help reduce housing development costs. “People are already using streets for housing, just not in a sanctioned way,” he said. “Why do we rule out 20% of a city’s land and declare it off limits for that?”
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.”
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.
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.”
An article in Econ Focus about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on life in cities mentioned a 2020 paper co-authored by Urban Planning Professor Michael Storper about the predicted short- and long-term effects of the pandemic. In their paper “Cities in a Post-COVID World,” Storper and co-authors Richard Florida and Andrés Rodríguez-Pose examined the pandemic and resulting lockdown as a forced experiment and made predictions about the social scarring and need to secure the urban built environment against future risks. They argued that despite opportunities for remote work, online shopping and other alternatives to face-to-face interactions, the demand for urban amenities will remain strong after the virus-induced lockdowns are lifted. “It is highly unlikely that COVID-19, despite its high levels of devastation in certain cities, will derail the long-standing process of urbanization and the economic role of cities,” they wrote. “Nonetheless, even if cities will not shrink or die from the COVID pandemic, they will certainly change.”
Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Stateline about the future of public transit in the United States. Transit ridership, which plummeted 76% at the beginning of the pandemic, has increased in recent months, but no one is sure whether it will return to pre-pandemic levels. Taylor explained that public transit typically serves two groups: affluent people who find transit more convenient than driving and those who do not have access to cars. The first group virtually disappeared from public transit at the beginning of the pandemic. Taylor recommended implementing transit-friendly parking and land-use policies, such as reducing or eliminating parking requirements for office and residential buildings, to encourage transit use instead of driving. “Just spending more money and not doing those other things is not going to be a good investment if we continue to make it as easy as possible to drive,” Taylor said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to American Automobile Association (AAA) Magazine about the prospect of congestion pricing in Southern California. Congestion pricing is a traffic-reduction strategy that aims to reduce the number of cars on clogged roads by making driving more expensive and, therefore, less appealing. Supporters point out that congestion pricing has successfully reduced gridlock in major cities, including London, Singapore and Stockholm, and that many people warm up to the strategy once they experience the benefits. When stay-at-home orders took effect early last year, Southern Californians experienced a region without gridlock firsthand, Manville said. “To the extent that you convince people that pricing is the policy path that gets you to a situation like that, then people having had this experience might help the cause,” he said. Congestion pricing is also a powerful revenue-generating tool, and the funds can be directed to other transportation projects and services.
Evelyn Blumenberg, urban planning professor and director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, was cited in a Bloomberg Government article about President Biden’s efforts to promote equity in his administration. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has pledged to consider the needs of minority communities when evaluating old projects or considering new ones, but he has also acknowledged the hurdles that exist — including in the Transportation Department itself. The department’s employees are 74% male and 70% white, and these demographic trends have been consistent for at least 20 years, if not longer. Many transportation projects have negatively impacted lower-income people and communities of color, an issue that has been exacerbated by the lack of diversity in transportation policy officials. Blumenberg commented that the transportation needs of low-income communities have only been “sporadically addressed” on the national level.