Some Highlights From Yesterday’s Live Ride Share Conference

Charting the number of cars per renter household in five Southern California cities. Image provided by Mott Smith [PDF]
Charting the number of cars per renter household in five Southern California cities. Image provided by Mott Smith [PDF]
Yesterday Transit Center, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), Move L.A., and the Shared Use Mobility Center, joined forces with two dozen other organizations and businesses to host Live Ride Share. The conference was billed as the “first to focus on shared mobility in Southern California [and] highlighted the profound changes occurring in transportation around the world and the economic, political and lifestyle ramifications of these developments in SoCal.”

The main focus was on shared-use transportation, ranging from car share, bike share, carpooling, taxis, to ride-hailing companies (Uber, Lyft), and how these interact with the rest of Southern California’s transportation and livability landscape. Speakers included experts from as far as Helsinki and London, to as near as Boyle Heights and Santa Monica.

Santa Monica Next and Streetsblog L.A. were there. We’re not going to try to re-cap in any comprehensive way, but here are some of the noteworthy things we heard:

Sharing Can Reduce Housing Costs, If We Right-Size Parking

Shared-use mobility, like care share and bike share, could dramatically lower rents in new housing by reducing the amount of expensive parking required in new developments. That’s the message Stuart Cohen with TransForm conveyed on Live Ride Share’s panel on integrating shared mobility into land use and housing. He showed the audience comparisons of a theoretical project first with no parking, then with three different parking configurations — podium parking, surface parking, and underground parking — and the impact each of those had on rents. The rents, based on a seven percent return for the developer, went from $800 a month for a one-bedroom to $1,350 a month (Note: an earlier version of this article misstated the rent figures. It has been updated). Dedicated car share services in new developments could mean that, instead of paying for parking to stow private vehicles that sit idle for most of the day, residents could share a pool of cars when they need it.

Unfortunately the city of Los Angeles currently operates under the opposite strategy.  In L.A., current zoning requires about 60 percent of renters pay for parking spaces they don’t use. Civic Enterprise co-founder Mott Smith, reiterating points from ULI’s FutureBuild conference last month, pointed out that 19 percent of renters in Los Angeles own no cars and about 48 percent own one car, yet zoning requirements mandate we build almost exclusively for two-car households. The cost of parking construction, of course, gets folded into the rents of even those people who own no cars. Why aren’t we building apartments for those people? Why aren’t 19 percent of new units built with zero parking to reflect the percentage of households who don’t own cars? Why are we making one-car households pay for two parking spaces? With working families forced to flee Los Angeles and California because of skyrocketing rents, it seems misguided that we are expecting them to take on the burden of paying for parking they don’t use.

Over-parking our homes and workplaces comes at more than a financial cost. Executive director of Urban Land Institute Los Angeles Gail Goldberg was on the same panel with Smith and Cohen. She put things in perspective, using San Diego as an example. She said if that city keeps building parking based on current requirements, an increase of 1 million people (and the population will grow, she said) would require 37 square miles of new parking. That’s bigger than some of San Diego County’s smaller northern cities, like Encinitas.

Changes Can Happen Relatively Quickly, But Equity Remains Elusive

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin made two great points that elicited sustained applause from the audience. Bonin, a gay man married to his husband, analogized changes in societal attitudes toward transportation to be similar to those toward gay marriage. Bonin recalled that it was difficult to envision legal gay marriage only a decade ago, but that, building on decades of activism, a younger generation has led dramatic changes in acceptance, leading to widespread legalization. Bonin sees similar rapid change coming to transportation. 

The biggest plenary applause was in response to Bonin’s remarks on equity. Bonin remarked that private companies were most successful in making shared mobility work in upscale markets, such as bike share coming soon to Santa Monica. But, the councilmember countered that when these companies operate in the city of Los Angeles, and when they receive public resources, they need to fill needs in underserved neighborhoods, too.

Bonin’s equity concern was further explored by others, especially at Shared Mobility for All panel. Speakers including Thomas Yee of L.A. Thrives, emphasized that, like affordable housing, the market alone cannot be trusted to resolve inequalities. Environmental Justice advocates emphasized that shared mobility systems like bike share have not served low-income neighborhoods, and that communities disproportionately impacted by transportation sector pollution need to reap the benefits of greener technologies.

One App To Rule Them All

Technology of the big enabler of the sharing, er, the experience economy. A few speakers touched on shifts between a “B2C” (business to customer) model and a “P2P” (peer to peer) one.

Nonetheless, private apps are jockeying for market share, with the holy grail being a single app that gives ends users a clear view across competing transportation modes. A user enters a destination, and the app gives various options, such as: walk there in 30 minutes, bike-share there in 12 minutes, or taxi there in 7 minutes.

Helsinki’s “mobility operators” system has this in mind, but there are no real on-the-ground examples that deliver the universality they aspire to.

Joseph Kopser from RideScout previewed an in-development feature that not only compares time, but also costs of various modes. TransitCenter’s David Bragadon stressed that technology aids users, but does not replace transportation investments. He spoke on how an app might make it easier for you to find a bike to ride, but it will not get you on the bike if the city government has not made its streets a safe place to ride.

And apps aren’t just for millennials! RideAmigos CEO Jeff Chernick related his joy in seeing his grandmother quickly became an Uber customer. Jacki Bacharach, executive director of the South Bay Cities COG, put out the call for transportation networking companies like Lyft and Uber to work with cities to help with senior ride programs like Dial-A-Ride. The traditional models to help seniors  are usually expensive and require deep public subsidies to make them affordable to the people they serve. Bacharach thinks there’s room for innovation with the boom in shared-use mobility technology.

Sexy Bikeway Tunnel Ideas No Substitute For Safe Streets 

Ben Plowden, London’s director of surface transport, responded to an audience question about a proposal by Gensler to turn disused underground tunnels into bikeways. While he did not entirely rule out underground paths, Plowden emphasized that the clearer need is to make streets truly safe. He specifically pointed to protected bike lanes on a road paralleling the Thames River as an example of the type of project that should be prioritized.

Are Parts of L.A. Winning the Livability Rivalry Comparisons to S.F.?

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an article praising San Francisco’s record on mobility, with census data showing that most S.F. trips are not by private automobiles. S.F. MUNI’s Tim Papandreou, formerly a L.A. Metro staffer, made a more instructive comparison of California’s leading cities. Comparing roughly 50-square mile core areas in both cities (all of S.F. vs. a similar sized chunk of central L.A.), there are more similarities than differences. People in the core of Los Angeles live at similar population density, and show similar levels of car ownership and similar levels of bicycling. We’ll track down these maps and graphs and share them in a subsequent article.

Papandreou stressed that a few years ago S.F.’s transportation modes broke down roughly the same way L.A.’s did. Prioritization of safety and de-emphasizing the private car helped that city shift to healthier modes. It can be done in Southern California, too!

A Shared Mobility Goal: 100,000 Fewer Cars On Local Streets

A question running through the conference was how could L.A. County can take 100,000 cars off its roads by 2020? It’s an ambitious goal, perhaps, but according to the Shared Use Mobility Center, it is possible by aggressively pushing shared-use mobility options, including bike share and car share, and increasing transit ridership.

According to a scenario outlined by SUMC, adding 20,000 car sharing vehicles – including 11,000 traditional car sharing cars and 9,000 peer-to-peer car sharing cars – could take more than 70,000 cars off the road and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 145,000 metric tons. Adding 20,000 bike share bikes could result in well over 100,000 regional subscribers and help improve first- and last-mile connections to transit.

Replacing four million single occupancy vehicle car trips with shared transportation network companies (read: Lyft or Uber), taxi or carpool trips could be accomplished if just one in 25 city residents chose to use ride share one day a week, according to SUMC.

And, adding 20 million additional annual transit trips could happen as a result of currently scheduled transit improvements.

What do you think, readers? Can we do it?

  • Lois Arkin

    With 6 to 7 million cars registered in LA County, it’s really laughable to hear the supposedly most progressive thinkers around on the topic go for reducing the number of autos by a mere 100,000 by 2020! Why not 3.5 million? Cut the damn things in half. It can be done with the political will and increasing public support, In addition to the play-around ideas noted above, get crackin’ with limiting the number of car registrations in the county with stiff penalties for violations, return the auto license tax to a hefty amount, outlaw free parking, sink money into a meaningful promotion campaign that ties auto use and dependency to death and sickness of people and planet, get the facts out to the public, reduce parking each year by 5%, prohibit businesses from providing free parking, systematically remove parking lanes, take over parking lanes for curbed and protected bicycle lanes, stiffen penalties for bicycle thefts, mandate electric shuttles 24/7 in hillside communities to the nearest public transit/shopping areas, radically reduce/replace big trucks in the cities with bicycle trucks and smaller trucks, require neighborhoods to implement collaborative parking to clear streets for safe play, biking and walking, prohibit street widenings, begin re-purposing freeways, return street corners to right angles, reduce comparable auto amenities each time a new transit or pedestrian amenity comes on line. This list has hardly begun… And yeah, it can all be phased and made to happen in the coming decade!

  • davistrain

    And how many motorists, when confronted with all these anti-automotive measures will say, “I will give up my car when they pry my cold, dead hands from the steering wheel.” The automotive industry will make the NRA and fighing against gun restriction look like nickel and dime stuff. Regarding limiting registrations–sounds like rationing. How will the registrations be apportioned? Will they be auctioned to the highest bidder, reserving car ownership to the wealthy and well connected? Will there be a new bureaucracy, ripe for incompetence and corruption? How do you think the “common people” will react to waiting for a bus while the affluent go rolling by in their motor vehicles. “Gee, I remember when I had a car–I could go anywhere, on my own timetable.” Regarding the 24/7 electric shuttles–who will be driving them? In San Francisco, the Muni has had a hard time hiring enough bus drivers and train operators, even though these jobs are well paid. We’ve had a hundred years to get into our present state (counting from 1915, when Henry Ford more or less perfected the Model T), and short of a massive upheaval (not necessarily the end of civilization as we know it, but darn close) it will be more than a decade before more logical and sustainable behavior becomes the norm.

  • Why is the graph at the top labeled “Southern California cities”? While technically correct, it’s rather misleading to use that since they aren’t even representative of the entire LA County, nevermind other parts of SoCal. A more appropriate name would be “LA Basin cities” or something similar.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I’d be interested to see the 2011-2015 update of that graph to see whether there’s been any shift in those numbers over time.

  • Joe Linton

    Something that kept going through my mind at yesterday’s conference was walkability… for bike-share and car-share (plus bus and rail) to work well in L.A., we need to improve first-blocks/last-blocks walkability. I touched on it some here: http://la.streetsblog.org/2014/02/04/lessons-from-nyc-key-to-bike-share-is-walkability/

  • Los Angeles Bikes

    Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth working towards

  • Meh

    Rip the band-aid off rather than slowly peel it away.

    We’re not setting our goals high enough. We need a mayor and city council that says “I want the city’s transit mode-share to be _____%, bike mode-share to be ___%, and walk mode-share to be ____% by the time I leave office.” Car-sharing may displace automobile ownership but it is not likely to vastly increase travel by other modes (*maybe* increase transit a little). Other cities have achieved relatively low automobile use without technology. It is silly to think that car-sharing (and some extent bike-sharing), uber/lyft, etc will fundamentally change things. A stroad is a stroad is a stroad.

  • davistrain

    Point taken–eventually people of my generation, who remember 25-cents-a-gallon gasoline and buying a serviceable car for $100 or so, will go to the great drive-in restaurant in the sky, and leave the world to younger folks who don’t think that taking away someone’s driver’s license is like putting that person under house arrest.

    Photo was taken in San Francisco in Sept. 1971. Not sure if the numbers are legible in this format, but regular gas at a name-brand station was going for 28.9 cents/gallon.

  • ubrayj02

    Something I couldn’t stop thinking about at this conference: none of these so-called sustainable transportation “solutions” would require LESS green house gases, pollution, or electricity. All of them require more brittle technologies stacked on top of our tottering energy grid.

    Something else lacking: nobody from non-government subsidized bike co-ops and collectives. Also, no real mention of pedicabs as far as I can tell.

    Our future is going to be decidedly less fancy and electrified in the coming decades but we’re still planning like everything will be the same in 2025 or 2030 WRT our access to fresh electronics gear and the power to juice them up and go. We’re still planning for a future where people can pretend they are little anonymous automatons bouncing through a fantasy called “the economy” – when the reality is that we need to re-scale our aspirations and build up social institutions and relationships, the way a good bike co-op can, to sustain us in the hard times we are all inevitably going to face in the coming decades. The whole idea that we’re going to be able to even execute regional plans for our region in the coming decades seems really foolish to me.

  • Don W

    “100,000 cars” off the streets? Ha. That’s probably a lower projected number than the previous 5 year trend line would put it at. Aim higher. Wish I would have known about this conference. Seems seriously informative… my head has been buried in Hyperion Bridge action and race event planning. :/ Completely missed it.

  • Don W

    cheap gas ruined our transportation grid and our freedom to travel safely without driving a car. we became so addicted to cheap gas we spent all our money building the transportation system to be private automobiles. We tried to build utopia just like the Disney ride… Cartopia. It failed to materialize the way the cartoons had visualized.

  • sebra leaves

    When you give up owning a car, you give up a lot of freedom and independence. You have no privacy when you rent or “share” a vehicle. All your movements can be tracked. One reason a lot of people will never give up their cars, even if they don’t use them very often, is they are there when you need them. Imagine how the folks fleeing fires would have fared without the ability to take some of their belongings with them. Try carrying a 5 gallon water container on a bike. When the time comes, you will be begging for a ride in a private vehicle because their will not be enough rentals or “shares” to go around.

  • boboblacksheepohyea

    No one is forcing you to give up your car! Drive around as much as you like!

  • Bikes!

    When the collapse of civilization comes you will be begging for fuel and car repair and too fat and soft to deal with walking or biking.

  • ubrayj02

    “Try carrying a 5 gallon water container on a bike”.

    Are you mentally ill or something? I’ve carried kegs of beer on my cargo bike. I’ve helped people move their entire household using a team of bicycles. Your “freedom” to drive on the open road is an illusion paid for by a lack of funding for many other things that would actually make our country a more just, democratic, and free place.

  • June H

    I agree with stiffer penalties for bike thefts being needed. I prefer to bike, but I’ve had my bike stolen, seat stolen, lights stolen, reflectors stolen all on separate occasions while locked up or normally secured in a high traffic public area. It is hard for regular folks to sustain spending money to constantly replace parts. I’ve never had anyone remove parts from my vehicle which I can only assume is due to stiffer penalties or thieves thinking someone might stop them in the act.

  • davistrain

    I’m reminded of “Jeff” the self-righteous bicyclist in the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip. The word “schadenfreude” also come to mind.

  • AndreL

    The way apocalypse prophets on the bike community seem to almost long for a crash of society is frightening. Not much different than other radicals that want chaos or else just because it furthers their agenda (I’m not saying all cyclists are like that, just those that argue on your line).

  • davistrain

    I don’t think “mentally ill” is the term–some might say “stuck in the conventional American mindset” where driving one’s own automobile (or other motor vehicle) is the norm, and other means of transport are rarely considered. I remember when then CA governor Deukmejian referred to passenger trains as “Exotic transportation”. And I also remember the story of a family in Bicycle Paradise (i.e. Davis CA) who, with the help of fellow cycle enthusiasts, moved all their household goods to a new abode on the other side of town with an assortment of people-powered vehicles. But I doubt that they would have tried this system for a move to San Francisco.

  • ubrayj02

    I didn’t say anything about a crash and I am not a believer in some apocalyptic world view.

    It is not prudent to plan using such brittle and expensive systems. Resource scarcity is now upon us and it will slowly grind down “the economy” over the coming decades. Better we build systems that can handle that situation rather than dumping what wealth we have into flimsy gizmos and electronic intermediation.

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