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.

  • Scott L.

    1. We don’t have cell phone service in subway tunnels, let alone WiFi at stations. Going underground means going into a black hole.

    2. We don’t have car2go, except in Redondo Beach. The carshare RFP was a HUGE debacle for LADOT.

    3. We don’t have Zipcar, except at UCLA/USC, DTLA, and Hollywood.

    4. We don’t have bikeshare of any kind.

    5. The Santa Monica BBB doesn’t take TAP or have tracking. That’s a lot of County jobsites.

    6. Counting RelayRides cities is nice, but RelayRides is essentially daily/weekly car rentals in your neighborhood. It’s like counting Enterprise/Hertz locations.

    7. We don’t have UberPool rideshare. (We do, however, have Lyft Line, so that’s one thing we can boast.)

    8. LADOT and Metro use two different ride tracking systems, making the choice between a Dash and a Metro bus pretty difficult on an average iPhone. The Metro free transfer policy does not apply to DASH buses or other County services.

    9. LAX isn’t particularly Uber/Lyft-friendly.

    10. Our Lyft/Uber prices are some of the cheapest in the nation, so that’s a plus. But LA is so spread out…

    11. We don’t have dynamic or real-time parking prices as much as San Francisco does. (I guess they were ranked ahead of us, so that’s all right.)

    12. Our parking meters don’t have pay-by-phone or pay-by-plate technology. They don’t reset after each car leaves.

    13. Don’t even get me started on Metrolink!

    14. TAP — I guess we got points for TAP, but TAP is miserable. Their interface for adding money online is convoluted, and it takes 5 days to add fare. Our TAP machines don’t let you add odd increments of money, so you get orphan funds. TAP cards cost money — in Boston, contactless payment is free! TAP cards expire! We shouldn’t get any points for TAP given how awful it is. It’d be great to pay with Apple Pay, but what about getting TAP right first?

  • Salts

    Tech will not save us…

    Dedicated bus lanes, road diets, traffic calming…these will get us somewhere.

  • These are great points also made in the report but without the LA-specific detail, Page 27 in the report points out that this tech side of things doesn’t fully capture the broader question of how easy it is to travel by biking, walking or transit — and there is some comparison of walkscores, bikescores and transit scores for top cities in the report.

    The qualitative differences that aren’t highlighted by scoring just based on the absence or presence of a service or tool is another limitation of a report that seeks to synthesize so many factors in a straightforward way. Page 26 addresses this with a section written by Sharon Feigon from the Shared Use Mobility Center *SUMC). She notes,

    “For instance, while Austin is home to 11 types of shared transportation
    services – more than any other city analyzed in this report – some of those
    services are relatively limited in size. An analysis of publicly available data
    shows that Austin has 300 bikeshare bikes and 522 carshare vehicles, or about 3.8 bikes and 6.5 cars per 10,000 residents.
    “Meanwhile other cities with fewer services have them on a much greater
    scale. Chicago has eight shared mobility services, for example, but those services include 3,000 bikeshare bikes, or about 11.1 bikes per 10,000 residents. Boston also ranks below Austin with nine total services, but is home to 1,189 carshare vehicles, or approximately 19.2 per 10,000 residents.”

    That data is a sneak preview of a more qualitatively rich study that SUMC will be releasing in a few months. It will focus only on shared-use services, as opposed to the broader range of options covered in the Frontier/PIRG report, but it will be more fine-tuned and will go a long way toward addressing the limitations identified in this blog.

  • Jonathan Weiss

    That’s quite a litany (even without your starting on Metrolink). Fortunately, much of it is changing for the better. #1 Cell phone and WiFi coming later this year. #4 Bike share RFPs have been submitted. Rollout next year. #5 BBB taking Tap next month. #14 TAP machines are already getting new menus (I don’t know if that will help with your odd increments).

  • Joe Linton

    Also #12 – It has some minor issues, but L.A.’s Express Park is quietly successful on a scale that I think is similar to SF Park… and Express Park is also targeted for expansion

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