SCAG and City of Los Angeles Thinking About Solutions to the Last Mile Problem

11_12_09_robinson.jpgRita Robinson and Tony Jusay's folding bikes testify at a joint meeting of the Planning and Transportation Commissions. Photo: BikePedSCAG/Twitpic

 It's not often that we cover news out of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), but a recent study funded by the City of Los Angeles and SCAG on the "last mile" problem has led to a report sponsored by the city that is all about getting people out of their cars. The report was presented by LADOT Chief Rita Robinson and Planning General Manager Gail Goldberg at a meeting this morning, then again by SCAG to regional stakeholders this afternoon.

While the report is progressive, it's rare to see a report talking about getting people out of their cars with a "City of Los Angeles" crest on it, it's just a report. While Robinson may like many of the ideas in the report, it's still up to advocates and elected officials to get these ideas off the paper and onto the streets.

Just after this morning's presentation ended, Robinson was speaking in front of the Transportation Commission about the massive cuts coming to LADOT. Even for a department that has the goal of moving as much automobile traffic as possible, now seems the perfect time to investigate low cost alternatives to get people out of their cars instead of expensive and time-consuming highway and road expansions.

The study team, led by consultants from Nelson Nygaard, was charged with focusing on the "last mile" problem. For those of you unfamiliar with the "last mile" problem, it is a term created to describe the barrier many car commuters feel to taking transit or other options to single-passenger vehicle commuting. Informally I call it the, "I would take the train but the closest stop is so far away from my house/office."

Broadly, the strategies studied should:

  1. Get people out of their car
  2. Provide incentives to help households avoid needing multiple cars
  3. Help cities meet the standards of SB 375

From there the team came up with thirteen strategies that would help cities, especially Los Angeles, meet those goals. They then narrowed down the list of thirteen to a list of six strategies that aren't already being studied by another organization. The six transportation modes that SCAG, City of L.A. and their consultants want to expand are: casual carpooling, taxi's, car sharing, short-term car rental, bike sharing, folding bikes.

For a full copy of SCAG's presentation, click here. For a synopsis of the six strategies and some editorial commentary, read on after the jump.

Casual Carpooling - I honestly had never heard of this before, but apparently it's all the rage in the Bay Area. Areas are set up where people can meet to form a carpool in lots and other areas near freeways to decrease the amount of cars coming into the city. In other words, there would be space where I get on the I-10 on my way to Church on Sunday where I could pick people up that were heading to the Whole Foods which is close to my destination. With these strangers on board, I could use the carpool lane on my entrance ramp.

Taxi's - The study identified that the main fear people have towards using taxi's is the unknown cost of taking the vehicle. The report recommends requiring taxi's to charge based on distance traveled, "zone fares," instead of time traveled so that passengers would know the cost ahead of time. There was a concern on the SCAG call that drivers, already underpaid for their work, would balk at this sort of change.

Car Sharing - I think we're all familiar with ZipCar and its history. We've talked about it at length. However, the report recommended studying city-supported car sharing that would lead to reducing the city's vehicle fleet and save the city money. While that strategy is something that Streetsblog has discussed a couple of times; this is the first time we've seen it in print in a government document.

Short-Term Car Rental - Is similar to car sharing except you rent a car as though you were going to Hertz instead of being part of a membership organization such as ZipCar.

Bike Sharing - Who wants to bring a Velib to Greater Los Angeles? Wendy Greuel did at one point, but LADOT balked at both the price and the state of bike infrastructure in the city. The study identified several ways to encourage bike sharing in the big city. First, Los Angeles should clarify city code to allow bike share lockers and locations on government property. Second, they could allow developers to build in bike, or car, share locations instead of putting aside funds for road mitigation. Third, the city could embark on its own program and off-set the cost with advertisers.

Folding Bikes on Transit - Metro is studying a program that would subsidize the cost of folding bikes for transit users to get more bikes on trains and buses. Currently it is legal to bring a folding bike into buses or trains at any time. Not so for regular bikes.

The issues that sparked the most discussion were car sharing, short term rentals and bike sharing.  Because a public partner would be needed to bring, or in the case of car-sharing, expand, the program; each of these three ideas are low-cost to the local government be it a goliath such as Los Angeles or a smaller city such as Walnut.

Of course, the big issue is whether or not any of these ideas will ever see life outside of a presentation.  Hopefully, the city's involvement in the presentation will lead to taking the lead on implementation.