L.A. Tied for 4th in CALPIRG U.S. City Wired Transportation Report Rankings

CALPIRG's Diane Forte (left) showcases The Innovative Transportation Index report at this morning's press event. Behind her are Hilary Norton, Seleta Reynolds, and Lindy Lee. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
CALPIRG’s Diane Forte (left) showcases The Innovative Transportation Index report at this morning’s press event. Behind her are Hilary Norton, Seleta Reynolds, and Lindy Lee. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Los Angeles is in the top six major U.S. cities when it comes to using technology to get around, according to a report released today. California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) and the Frontier Group released The Innovative Transportation Index: The Cities Where New Technologies and Tools Can Reduce Your Need to Own a Car which analyzes cities’ adoption of technologies that help people live car-free or car-light.

The report analyzes 70 United States cities’ access to transportation technology including online timetables, virtual ticketing, carshare, bikeshare, taxi hailing, and more. Of 70 cities ranked, the city of Los Angeles tied for 4th place nationwide. First place went to Austin, TX.

Other California cities included were San Francisco (ranked 2nd), San Diego (tied for 8th), Sacramento (24th), San Jose (36th), and Riverside (64th.)

The cities selected for inclusion in the study were only the “primary cities” in the top 50 most populous metropolitan areas, plus the largest cities in states that did fit not that criteria. Because of this, the city of Los Angeles is the only L.A. County municipality studied and ranked.

The report was released via a press conference held at the Wilshire/Western Metro Purple Line station. Four transportation leaders – Diane Forte (CALPIRG), Lindy Lee (Metro), Seleta Reynolds (LADOT) and Hilary Norton (FAST) – praised Los Angeles leadership in achieving a 4th place, and vowed to improve Los Angeles’ ranking.

The report has already been covered elsewhere. See Streetsblog USA for a national perspective.  The Source’s coverage has a more L.A.-centric take, photos, and full press release text.

It is great to see the report generating some healthy competition, with cities potentially working a bit harder to up their scores.

Unfortunately, with any 50-state comparison, some of CALPIRG’s analysis is somewhat broad-brush. 

A top ranking only signifies that a given city is doing well technologically, but not that a city is actually a great place to get around without a car. The report ranks Boston, Los Angeles, and New York City as all tied for fourth place. But a different picture emerges comparing other metrics, for example public transit modal share: NYC 55 percent, Boston 35 percent, L.A. 11 percent. 

Even in ranking transportation technology, the report criteria are not all that finely grained.

Sixty-nine out of 70 cities get credit for just having some form of carsharing. Only Charleston, West Virginia, completely lacks any kind of carshare system.

Angelenos who have used carshare here and in other cities know that there are big discrepancies in fleet size. Compare the image below for Zipcar vehicle locations in central Los Angeles vs. San Francisco.

Zipcar locations in Central Los Angeles (top) compared to San Francisco (below) shown at same scale. Screen print from
Zipcar locations in Central Los Angeles (above) compared to San Francisco (below) shown at same scale. Screen captures from Zipcar

Both Los Angeles and San Francisco have Zipcar, but S.F. coverage is extensive, while L.A. coverage is comparatively sparse. At today’s press event, Reynolds mentioned that LADOT is working to improve the city’s car share systems.

Similarly the city of San Francisco’s Bay Area Bike Share system, with 350 bikes in the city, scores the same as New York City’s Citibike system, with 5,000 bikes. In early 2016, Los Angeles is set to debut Metro regional bike share with 1,000 bikes downtown.

The report also does not differentiate how useful transit apps actually are for car-free transportation. New York City transit apps, for example Exit Strategy NYC, drill down to include details on which subway station exit to use. L.A. transit apps, for example Metro’s Go511, dedicate their bandwidth to alerting users to freeway closures, car parking, and dialing for freeway assistance.

Lastly, CALPIRG’s report focuses solely on the United States. It would be interesting to see how U.S. cities stack up against global cities. Though Los Angeles is showing leadership, there is still a lot to learn from innovative transportation practices from Latin America, Canada, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

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