USC Public Health Professor Asks for Better Transportation Options to USC

Transportation issues at the University of Southern California have been in the news recently. Yesterday’s “Today’s Headlines” featured a story about how USC’s students rely on bicycles, but the administration is making it more and more difficult to bring bicycles onto campus.

Ed Avol. Photo:## Keck School of Medicine##

Earlier in the week, the focus was on the faculty outrage that the school was canceling a program designed to make rideshare easier and more affordable in favor of a parking subsidy program. Neither story was news to Streetsblog readers. We’ve covered the strange transportation policies at USC for years, including a recent takedown of the end of the rideshare subsidies by Sahra Sulaiman.

Streetsblog has long argued that there is a direct link between transportation planning and the health of a community. While USC’s administration seems to have missed this lesson, their public health professors have not.

Professor Ed Avol, with USC’s Keck School of Medicine, has not been shy about his feelings towards the school’s transportation planning decisions.

“The notion that it is no longer feasible, or appropriate, to encourage people to use mass transit rather than drive their individual cars to park in University-owned lots, and to suggest that a reasonable partial offset to elimination of the subsidy would be to provide several parking passes to those formerly using mass transit, is convoluted logic of the highest order,” Avol writes in a letter to the Provost and Transportation Office at USC.

The full text of Avol’s letter can be found after the jump.


Dear Provost Quick… and the Transportation Office:

The University’s decision to eliminate the public transportation subsidy is an embarrassment and a step back from being the leader in environmental sustainability, environmental responsibility, and community leadership that we all want USC to represent.

The notion that it is no longer feasible, or appropriate, to encourage people to use mass transit rather than drive their individual cars to park in University-owned lots, and to suggest that a reasonable partial offset to elimination of the subsidy would be to provide several parking passes to those formerly using mass transit, is convoluted logic of the highest order.

As a leader in the community, USC should be setting an example and serving as a role model, as Los Angeles continues to struggle with issues of transportation and urban policy. Negating the partial encouragement of using mass transit (an act that negates a subsidy previously being provided at a lower rate than the other prestigious universities [Berkeley, Yale, Harvard]  that USC seeks to position itself as being a peer of), seems short-sided and clearly sends the message to employees that mass transit, public transportation options, and a larger vision of an environmentally responsible institution is something that USC is distancing itself from.

I am proud to work with my students to educate them about issues in Environmental Health, to get them to think about the trade-offs to be made in finding that challenging path that improves air and water  quality, that focuses on improving infrastructure and community, that builds social capital. With this move, the University goes on record as dismissing all of this as naïve, unimportant, and not worth the University’s involvement or commitment.

I deeply regret that this decision was made, and I fervently hope that the Administration can and will review and reverse the subsidy decision – NOT because it is cost effective, NOT because it is politically expedient, but BECAUSE IT IS THE SOCIALLY AND ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE THING TO DO.

We pride ourselves at USC as both serving the community and educating the next generation of leaders – isn’t this an opportunity for USC to be more visionary, more compassionate, more eco-friendly … and lead?


Ed Avol

Professor, Environmental Health Division

USC Dept of Preventive Medicine


  • davistrain

    There is a faction at USC, including one of the professors in (as I recall) the Transportation Studies dept., that has no use for public transit. They barely notice the Expo line, and write letters to the LA Times condemning rail transit projects as wastes of money. I’ve seen comments by people who suspect that the Transportation Studies group is funded in part by oil interests.

  • Chris Wienberg

    The graduate student metro pass program has been pretty disappointing. Its vision was great: they were going to offer the passes for some ridiculously discounted amount ($8.63, an oddly specific figure reported in the Daily Trojan).

    Unfortunately, from some combination of changing figures from Metro, the structuring of the program itself, and levels of student interest, the program debuted at about $50 a semester (IIRC) a few years ago and is now over $100 a semester. It’s gone up $5-10 just about every semester since its inception. The higher prices drive students away, and the price has to go up next semester to cover the loss of subscriptions.

    It seems like such foolish budgeting on the part of the university. Space on campus is so limited, so you would expect that the university would prioritize reducing car usage so they could remove parking structures and use that space for new buildings or something else that adds academic value.

  • There is no transportation studies department at USC. There is an grumpy engineering prof. But a whole bunch of us in the Price School for Public policy have been supportive of transit, have written about it for years, and I even teach a class in it. :) And if the oil interests are helping anybody out, it sure as heck ain’t me!!! (see you on the bus.)

  • Sirinya Matute

    My intern is in that class. He loves it!

  • madelinebrozen

    It’s odd they can’t mirror the student program like the UCLA student metro tap program. The UCLA program has it’s moments but by and large, it’s consistent and the price maybe goes up a couple dollars a year.

  • Yay! I am so glad. I like the class a lot, too. Our students are wonderful, and they care about sustainability and transit. (We are throwing kinniptions about USC’s policy here, both in and out of class.)

  • Sirinya Matute

    So I have heard. I am still very disheartened by the decision, even though I do not have a personal stake in it. I worked on TDM programs for UCLA, and so I have my thoughts on what I literally would have done differently, informed by my professional experience. But I don’t work for the USC team and I didn’t have to confront the tradeoffs that the team faced in making this particular decision. It still doesn’t discount how unfair this was, and how bad this decision makes them look. I don’t even know if they’ve *apologized* to the people who benefited from this program, and who are harmed by its elimination.

  • ed

    Culturally speaking, USC has always been a regressive and conservative leaning institution compared with its crosstown rival. There are smart people there but overwhelmingly the school is administered and funded by less high-minded people who see the school’s role as that of retaining and creating wealth rather than creating knowledge. USC is not a school for big thinkers. This decision comes as no surprise to me.

  • ubrayj02

    Since USC has an administration that has lost its mind WRT transportation, I will now re-write their employee transportation policy:

    Any employee parking in a USC lot will pay the full cost of that parking spot. Any employee taking transit will have a deeply subsidized transit pass. Bike riding is encouraged on campus. Vacant parking lot space will be converted into pay bike parking with security guards, cameras, and a repair technician on hand – for a small fee. Free bike parking will be located all over the place with inverted-U racks in the most appropriate locations. Walking and bike riding on campus will be facilitated with a new on-campus bike network of protected bike lanes a la UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, etc. USC will use its muscle in city hall to have a protected bike lane network installed within a 1 mile radius of campus to match the $50,000 employee interest free loan given to employees buying within that same radius.

  • davistrain

    Thanks for setting the record straight. I thought there were several anti-transit types at USC, but I guess that one negativist makes enough noise to make it sound like a group. And you probably won’t see me on the bus, but when I head for Trojan Country, I take the Expo Line.

  • First and foremost, we must remember that these “Transportation” Departments were until recently the “Parking” Department and are mostly still staffed by people who’s training and world-view is one where maximizing revenue from built facilities is primary, and secondary to that is the financing and building of more parking facilities, so as to continue the justification of their employment. USC has built many parking structures in the recent past and these are still being paid off. Not obtaining the budgeted revenue to pay for those structures threatens the financial arrangements made to build them. Therefore USC must discourage any use of anything other than the private automobile for transportation to their campus. If this results in additional pollution or congestion in the area, USC is certainly not interested as there is no cost to them.

  • Asher Of LA

    Seems like the best solution is repurposing parking spaces, say, the first floor. Depending on the structure, that may be difficult.

    I have little knowledge of USC, but it seems like the best tack would be presenting feasible, even profitable, alternate uses, preferably something that has an affinity with the university setting. A business incubator, a think tank, startup office space, a grocery store, etc.

  • AndreL

    I know you are just ranting, but the idea that places that offer pike parking are under some sort of moral obligation to subsidize bike repairs is preposterous and outrageous. I am in favor of good bike parking, but the responsibility to take care of one’s vehicle (car or bike) rests with the owner.

  • ubrayj02

    Subsidized bike repairs? Moral obligation? Read what I wrote. Vacant parking space can be converted into paid protected bike parking and paid bike service space. Free parking outside, with no guards, and no potential for a tune-up while you are in class should still exist. A paid option inside a former car parking garage space is probably viable with no outside subsidy, or no more subsidy than the car parking on campus already receives.


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