Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the city’s transit plans. San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata, who spent two years working on a transit expansion plan when the pandemic started, said he is determined to push forward with the $177 billion proposal. Ikhrata will present the plan, which includes 350 miles of new rail track, to the SANDAG board of directors. The plan has faced pushback from some who have said that the pandemic will radically change commuter patterns, threatening to render the plan obsolete by the time it’s under way. However, Manville argued that much of the pandemic’s impact will be temporary. “Right now, most of the economy’s still closed and you’ve got jammed roads,” he explained. “It seems hard to believe that in 20 years there will be no point to having mass transit to San Diego’s job centers.”
A New York Times article offering tips for safely riding public transit cited Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy. Many essential employees who cannot work remotely or don’t drive have continued to ride buses, trains and ferries, the article said. “It is mostly riders without other options who are coming back to public transit so far,” said Taylor, director of UCLA Luskin’s Institute of Transportation Studies, which is studying the effects of the pandemic on public transit ridership, operations and finance. The article advised riders to avoid rush hour, seek open air when possible, stay away from communal surfaces, minimize conversation, keep possessions off the floor and pack hand sanitizer, among other recommendations.
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.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Boston Globe about an uptick in traffic as the Boston metropolitan area reopens. Transit officials view the increased congestion as a real-time experiment to determine how much traffic the region’s highways can take before hitting their tipping points. Manville explained that, once a road nears capacity, each additional vehicle gums things up exponentially. “In ‘The Three Stooges,’ the classic trope is they all try and go through a door at once and they get stuck. If they had just walked through individually, not only could all of them have gone through the door but an almost infinite number of people could have gone in behind them,” he said. “You can have an incredibly high flow going through a door, or on a road, as long as a critical mass isn’t trying to do so at once.”
“Transit Crime and Sexual Violence in Cities: International Evidence and Prevention,” a new book co-edited by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, has just been published. The book presents case studies from 18 cities on six continents to demonstrate the widespread incidence of crime in transit environments, primarily targeting women and young people. “Sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces are everyday occurrences for women and girls around the world and a threat to the overall sustainability of the city,” wrote Loukaitou-Sideris and co-editor Vania Ceccato of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Concerns about physical safety aboard public transit systems can deter individuals from fully participating in school, work and public life, they noted. The book identifies urban planning improvements to safeguard passengers and ensure that cities become more accessible and therefore more sustainable. Contributors to the book, published by Routledge, represent several disciplines, including environmental criminology, architecture and design, urban planning, geography, psychology, gender and LGBTQ studies, transportation and law enforcement. In the book’s foreword, Juma Assiago of UN-Habitat’s Safer Cities program wrote that the publication “contributes to our quest for safer, inclusive, resilient, equitable and sustainable cities and human settlements.”
Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Fast Company about what public transit might look like after the coronavirus pandemic ends. Public transit ridership has dropped dramatically as a result of stay-at-home orders and the closure of non-essential businesses, but Taylor noted that some will need to return to using public transit eventually. “Public transit is really good at moving a lot of people in the same direction at the same time. That’s when the music happens,” said Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy. Public transit riders may see changes such as sanitation tools on board, masks and gloves, more frequent service, different routes, or even fare-free service. This summer, Taylor will be working on a project looking at alternative ways to measure transit performance in a system where social distance will have to be maintained.
By Lauren Hiller
Housing choice vouchers in the United States allow low-income families to move into neighborhoods with greater opportunities and resources. But these vouchers may provide opportunities beyond housing — access to employment, transportation and welfare programs that can improve general economic conditions.
As a visiting scholar this year at the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, UCLA Luskin alumna Kimiko Shiki MA UP ’01, Ph.D. ’08 will investigate the relationship between housing choice vouchers, residential mobility and opportunities in Los Angeles. The associate professor of policy science at Ritsumeikan University in Osaka, Japan, specializes in the housing-location decisions of low-income households and their spatial access to employment opportunities, transportation and welfare services.
Shiki’s doctoral research at UCLA focused on why low-income households are concentrated in dense communities in U.S. cities. At the Lewis Center, Shiki said she plans to use Department of Housing and Urban Development administrative data to analyze low-income residential mobility in Los Angeles from housing choice voucher recipients.
Unlike in the United States, public housing in Japan is often located in the suburbs because of the scale and cost of construction, but transportation access and employment opportunities are more limited outside an urban core.
“Suburban locations can be good for housing quality,” Shiki said. “But if you want to try out other jobs or use other childcare services, it may not work in the suburbs.”
According to her study in Kyoto, Japan, low-income families tend to apply for public housing near their residences in order to maintain their current jobs and local social support systems, Shiki said. Because public housing supply is highly limited geographically, as well as numerically, this means that many low-income families cannot choose to live in public housing.
Without a rental subsidy program, like housing choice vouchers, these households instead turn to a private market that has little economic support, Shiki said. Her research seeks to show policymakers that affordability is not the only consideration that low-income households must weigh when searching for housing.
“Urban poor often experience a lot of migration and mobility, and their needs for residential location change. They often have to move to other areas to find better opportunities,” Shiki said. Public housing doesn’t provide resources for various needs, she said, “but the private market might give them more options for residential location.”
Shiki said she understands the benefits of public housing and hopes her research will show how Japan can augment its services.
JR DeShazo, director of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in an ABC News article discussing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on electric vehicle sales. Electric vehicles, or EVs, are already more expensive than their gasoline-powered equivalents, and widespread economic insecurity as a result of the pandemic has made Americans less likely to buy one during this time, even if they can afford it. DeShazo, a professor of public policy and urban planning, predicted that the pandemic may usher in new environmental policies around the country. “A lot of states are talking about sustainable stimulus package incentives for vehicles that would include used and hybrid vehicles, charging equipment at home and at work, and subsidies for clean transportation,” he said. “In some ways the pandemic has made people appreciate life without all this car-created pollution. It has changed how people think about EVs.”
Juan Matute, urban planning lecturer and deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the New York Times about the Solo, a new electric vehicle built for one. The tiny, three-wheeled car is technically a motorcycle, though it’s fully enclosed and drives like a car with a steering wheel and foot pedals. The single-passenger vehicle provides a clean-energy solution for the 90% of Americans who commute alone by car, truck, van or motorcycle. However, Matute said that American drivers tend to buy “the most capable or largest vehicle that they need,” even if they need that capacity for only 5% of their trips. While other small three-wheeled vehicles have failed, the Solo is entering the market at a time of social distancing, and travelers are hesitant to touch what others have touched. Matute agreed that the Solo makes sense conceptually but argued that “what’s socially desirable and environmentally beneficial isn’t necessarily personally optimal.”
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.