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.
By Les Dunseith
Residents felt slightly better than last year about life in Los Angeles County, according to UCLA’s fifth annual Quality of Life Index, which was conducted just as the coronavirus crisis descended on the region last month. Ratings increased in all categories, with the exception of the two most directly affected by the pandemic — health, and jobs and the economy.
The overall quality-of-life rating rose from 56 to 58 (on a scale of 10 to 100) in the survey, released April 23 by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Responses varied dramatically by age and household income, however. The survey took place between March 18 and 26, which coincided with the implementation of strict social distancing measures in the county and state.
“The slight increase in county residents’ satisfaction may be more of a reflection of the past year’s quality of life than of the new reality with which we have all been living for the last six weeks,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “Since then, we have been in uncharted territory, which we will be able to better measure in the months ahead.”
The onset of the COVID-19 crisis may have contributed to a sharp increase in how important health was to respondents when compared with the other survey categories. Sixty-five percent said health was of high importance in rating their quality of life, an 8% increase over the 2019 survey. This was second in importance only to the cost-of-living category, which has been the most salient category of the Quality of Life Index, or QLI, since its inception in 2016.
A telling takeaway from this year’s survey is a growing generational and economic divide among county residents. Respondents were asked whether Los Angeles is a place where people who work hard can get ahead. While 41% answered yes, a majority of 55% said no. That pessimistic outlook was held by 64% of those between the ages of 18 and 39 and 62% of those living in households with annual incomes of less than $60,000.
Housing and the fear of homelessness also remain priority issues for county residents. When asked whether they are worried about losing their home and becoming homeless as a result, 31% of respondents answered yes, an increase of 9% over last year. Thirty-nine percent of those between the ages of 18 and 39 and 48% of those with household incomes of less than $60,000 said they were worried.
“The notion that nearly 2 out of 3 younger and lower-income earners increasingly believe they are at an economic dead-end is a most distressing finding in our survey,” Yaroslavsky said. “When nearly 4 out of 10 young and economically stressed Angelenos go to bed each night worrying about becoming homeless, we are all diminished. This is a troubling trend that continues to plague our society.”
The QLI is a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative and The California Endowment. Researchers ask a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents to rate their quality of life in nine categories and 40 subcategories. Full results are being released April 23 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit, which is being held virtually this year because of the ongoing health crisis. The host of that session is Adrienne Alpert of ABC7 in Los Angeles, where she is a reporter and host of a public affairs program, “Eyewitness Newsmakers.”
As in previous years, the 2020 QLI’s categories fell into three distinct tiers in terms of respondents’ level of satisfaction: a bottom tier including cost of living (45), education (50) and transportation and traffic (53); a middle tier including the environment (58), jobs and the economy (59), and public safety (64); and a top tier including health care (69), race relations (71) and neighborhood quality (71).
Overall satisfaction with quality of life rose across all age groups in the 2020 survey. Those aged 40 to 49 matched the index’s average score of 58, but those aged 39 and younger gave a rating of 54. Those older than 50 gave a 61 rating, a significant increase over last year. Older respondents are generally more satisfied with their financial security in retirement, while younger residents are less secure and more concerned.
Other key findings
- The results of questions directly related to the coronavirus were released publicly on April 8. County residents expressed high concern over the virus’s impact on their health (79%) and economic situation (82%). In addition, 61% gave local public health officials high marks for their response to the pandemic, compared with 39% for federal officials.
- Almost two-thirds of people surveyed (63%) favor building housing in their neighborhoods to help transition people out of homelessness, as long as the housing includes access to medical and social services and has on-site security.
- Sixty-two percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. A majority of respondents (53%) had a favorable opinion of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but less than one-third (31%) had a favorable view of Sheriff Alex Villanueva, while 34% said they had no opinion and 13% had never heard of Villanueva.
- Roughly 4 in 5 respondents (79%) expressed satisfaction with race relations in the county, and this strongly positive opinion was reflected across all demographic groups in the survey: Latinos (80%), whites (81%), Asians (77%) and African Americans (77%).
“One year from now, we will be living in a different world,” Yaroslavsky said. “In the past, Los Angeles has faced and overcome great challenges, but we are now in the midst of a crisis we could have never imagined. Next year, we will certainly know more about the extent of our region’s resilience.”
The 2020 UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index is based on interviews with a random sample of 1,503 county residents conducted in both English and Spanish, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5%. The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.
JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to LAist about the complicated effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on vehicle emissions and air pollution in Los Angeles. Emptier roads have decreased vehicle emissions and nitrogen dioxide levels, yet experts have noted that smog levels are staying high later in the evening. While air pollution due to transportation-related emissions is decreasing, researchers can’t yet say with scientific certainty by how much — or what the lasting effects of that drop in emissions will be. Furthermore, DeShazo warns against compartmentalizing only the benefits of improved air quality while ignoring the huge human costs of the unprecedented global health crisis. “We’re seeing how important travel is to producing employment opportunities and educational opportunities and access to health care,” he explained. “I think we have to be very cautious in how we interpret this impact.”
By Claudia Bustamante
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies will fast-track funding for research projects related to COVID-19 and its effects on public health, the economy and transportation, with those submissions due by April 19 and funding to be dispersed by June.
As part of its research goals for the next fiscal year, UCLA ITS and sister institutes at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Irvine pivoted priorities to investigate the effect of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 on transportation in the United States. This quick adjustment will allow researchers across the University of California system to collaborate and harness their collective expertise in transportation engineering, planning and policy.
Transportation and transit use have rapidly shifted in the country due to social distancing recommendations, shelter-in-place restrictions, quarantines and other mitigation efforts meant to slow the spread of the virus.
The collective UC Institute of Transportation Studies will prioritize research projects:
- looking into the response to the public health emergency, including the mobility needs of essential workers and vital goods;
- the capacity of both the private and public sectors to meet transportation needs during the crisis;
- the substitution of technology-enabled access for mobility in response to movement limitations.
It will also fund projects focused on the recovery of transportation services and systems when this public health emergency ebbs, including coping with the backlog of goods and people movement.
Brian Taylor, chair of UC ITS, said the California Legislature and executive branches, as well as regional and local governments and agencies, have come to rely on the statewide institute’s expertise and assistance in times of need.
“We aim to produce research that meaningfully informs public officials in making critical, and sometimes difficult, decisions about California’s transportation systems,” he said. “Now more than ever, UC ITS is committed to supporting the state with data and research to help it respond to and recover from the effects of this terrible pandemic in the weeks, months and years ahead.”
Taylor also serves as director of the UCLA branch and a professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Established by the California Legislature in 1947, UC ITS funds about 50 research projects a year that cover a wide variety of topics, including congestion management, performance evaluation for state transportation programs and policies, climate change mitigation strategies, micromobility like scooters and bike share, among others. Over the past 25 years, the four ITS branches collectively have formed one of the world’s preeminent university transportation research centers.
The institute’s annual research program will divvy up about $800,000 among projects tied to state-established priorities, including the COVID-19 response and other topics related to transportation and housing, transportation equity, innovative mobility, travel behavior, aviation, safety, and active transportation.
More information about the COVID-19 response and recovery solicitation is available here.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Guardian about Angelenos’ road habits during the time of coronavirus. Even when just a few businesses asked workers to stay home, congestion was down quite a bit, demonstrating how relatively small reductions in cars can generate big increases in road performance, Manville said. “That has lessons for us, because it does remind us that when things get back to normal, policies that nudge just a few people away from a trip at a busy time can have a huge impact,” he said. However, Manville doubted the current health emergency would reshape Angelenos’ long-term relationship to the road. “It would be one thing if we were under an order to still go to places, but not in cars — some of us would find we like walking or biking,” he said. “But there’s no reason to think we will develop a different travel habit while we’re sitting on our couches.”
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.”
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.
Q&A: Getting to know our new editor-in-chief
By Transfers Staff | February 5, 2020
We rang in the New Year at Transfers with a brand new editor-in-chief — Michael Manville. Manville is an associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and he’s no stranger to Transfers. We recently sat down with him to ask about his views on transportation today as well as his hopes for Transfers in the future.
Q: Tell us a little more about your research interests.
MM: In essence, I study the fact that driving is too cheap and housing is too expensive. So one part of my research focuses on the mispricing of vehicle travel: this includes the study of our decisions to underprice roads and curb parking. In the other part, I examine how land use regulations that are inspired and impacted by travel behavior actually distort the housing market. For example, cities everywhere require parking spaces with new developments. At least on paper, these rules are supposed to make the transportation system work better, by providing more parking. In reality, they probably exacerbate congestion and make it harder to build more housing, which of course drives up housing prices.
Q: You are constantly sought after as an expert on congestion pricing. Why do you think now is the time to discuss and continue forward on this issue?
MM: I think a lot of city governments in very congested places have concluded that they both need a lot of money, and they have already tapped most of the obvious sources for that money. For example, New York City needs an incredible amount to repair its subway system, and — in the minds of its leaders, at least — it cannot go back to more conventional tax instruments to raise that money. So it has turned to congestion pricing, which not long ago would’ve been off the table. Adding to that is the fact that congestion is now, by most metrics, as bad as it’s ever been, and may be at its worst. Cities do feel pressure to deal with that, and more officials are realizing that what they’ve tried in the past — whether that’s widening roads, building more transit or hoping people telecommute — isn’t very effective. So there’s more openness to pricing as a result.
The fact that people are even talking about pricing is undeniable progress. If you’re someone like me, I think there’s a lot of cause for optimism because 10 years ago barely anyone outside of academia would discuss it. However, it remains to be seen how much of this emerging conversation will lead to implementation.
Q: If there’s one misconception about traffic that you wish you could set straight, what would it be?
MM: Do I have to pick one? Congestion as a concept comes pretty loaded with misunderstanding. But here is one. Any car can cause traffic, including yours. So if you are suffering from congestion, you are also probably causing it. Now, that’s not always true. There are some people who suffer from congestion because they breathe pollution from it because they live near a busy road, and some people get slowed down by traffic even as they are doing something socially positive like riding a bus. But for the most part, if you’re in congestion, you are congestion. That’s pretty obvious when I say it, but it’s not something that people or policy readily internalizes. As a result, we often want solutions to congestion that don’t require anyone who is currently on the road to drive less or change behavior in any way.
A great example of this is the tendency to blame increased congestion on Uber. Anytime you read about the share of traffic caused by Uber, you should ask yourself what share is caused by Toyota or Ford. Is that Uber slowing you down? Guess what? You are slowing the Uber down, too. You were here first? How do you know that, and why on earth should that matter? If every Uber on a congested road switched off its app, the road would still be congested, because the vehicle, not the app, takes up space. Even if every vehicle with an Uber driver vanished, do we really think, in growing places like LA or New York, that no other cars would fill in that space? Congestion isn’t about where the car is going or who the driver is or works for. It’s a product of our failure to manage our valuable roads.
Q: What do you think will be the most important transportation issue of this next decade?
MM: It’s hard to give any answer other than the carbon footprint of how we move around. I think that transportation remains a bit of a third rail in climate policy. In California, we’ve shown that we’re willing to do a lot of things to reduce our carbon footprint, but still pretty unwilling to confront our relationship with the car, and our impulse driving alone everywhere.
Another way to answer that question, which is in some ways the same answer from a different perspective, is to say that the biggest issue in transportation today is the same big issue that has always distorted our surface transportation system, which is that getting in your car and going wherever you want is often too inexpensive relative to its social costs. This was causing problems in the 1950s, in the 1980s and is still causing problems today. We now know, because we know so much more about climate change and pollution, that this problem is much greater, and graver, than we first thought. But that is the essential problem, and always has been.
Q: What topics do you hope to cover in future issues of Transfers?
MM: My hope is to cover a wide variety of transportation-related topics. The pitfall of any editor is that they just publish a whole bunch of articles that reflect their personal interests. I don’t want to do that. I think that the PSR [Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center] funds a range of institutions with many people who do good work on a wide variety of transportation issues, all of which we want to showcase. I would be disappointed if we produced an entire issue on congestion pricing. Even though that would delight a part of me, it wouldn’t delight the part of me that’s an editor. What we want to deliver is a highly accessible digest of a wide swath of transportation research.
Q: What has been your favorite Transfers article? You can say your own.
MM: I enjoyed writing mine, but it’s not my favorite.
Q: How about the skateboarding one?
MM: Actually, I really liked the fact that we published something about skateboarding. I say that not only because it’s a nice topic, but it’s also emblematic of what Transfers can do, which is to take a nice, novel piece of research on a topic that’s maybe overlooked and give it a boost that’s meaningful not only for the author but also for a lot of people who read it.
Q: But second favorite is yours?
MM: And then mine, of course.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Transfers Magazine is the biannual research publication of the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center (PSR), a federally-funded network of eight partner campuses in Arizona, California, and Hawaii.