Los Angeles has made tremendous strides to improve its public transit system in recent years. An unprecedented investment in transportation infrastructure, spurred by the passage of Measure R, has connected more parts of the city and sped projects such as the Expo and Crenshaw lines, extensions for the Gold, Purple and Green lines, the Regional Connector hub in downtown, and dedicated bus lanes on major throughways.
Yet the “first and last mile” challenge – getting from our homes to the transit station and then to our final destination – continues to be the weak link in our transit system. This obstacle prevents commuters, residents and tourists from truly committing to using public transit because it just isn’t convenient enough. This isn’t an abstract problem, but an urgent one that costs our city and residents billions of dollars each year. According to traffic data firm Inrix, congestion-related delays cost the average L.A. driver $5,700 and the entire city $23 billion annually, a staggering 20 percent of all congestion costs nationwide. Traffic stifles our economy, prevents free movement of goods in the region and is a deterrent for businesses thinking of moving here.
Several innovative technologies and services that take advantage of the “sharing economy” could be the answer for Los Angeles, and are rising in popularity at just the right time. Carsharing, ridesharing and bikesharing can all help fill in the gaps in our public transit network. A new report last month highlighted the importance of integrating these elements into cities’ transit networks, when it ranked U.S. cities that use technology to make it easier to get around without a car. While Los Angeles scored well, it was one of the only top-ranking cities without formal bikesharing and carsharing programs. It’s critical that city leaders do more to embrace such programs with forward-thinking rules that encourage their use.
Carsharing especially could give the city’s transportation network a significant boost, and Los Angeles is poised to launch a carsharing pilot program next month. The city should roll out a robust program that can be utilized by Angelenos across the city. In particular, we urge the city to include multiple kinds of carsharing, especially “point-to-point” carsharing (also called free-floating carsharing). Point-to-point carsharing would be a great fit for Los Angeles because it allows drivers to make one-way trips between different parts of the city – connecting to a bus or train station or bridging the gap between different neighborhoods, for example.
Los Angeles urgently needs a range of new transit options to complement our growing public transportation system. Quicker, cheaper and greener is becoming the mantra of commuting, especially for millennials flocking to denser developments. Technology-based transit tools such as carsharing allow users to plan smarter trips, save time and leave their vehicles behind. That could mean big savings: Carsharers can pocket as much as $400 a month that could be circulating in our local economy, according to one study.
Alternative transit modes are just part of the solution. Promoting mobility around transit hubs and making streets more walkable and bikable are a big part of the solution, too. But as the city prepares to launch carsharing next month, it has an immediate opportunity to make a real dent in our congestion. City stakeholders must capitalize on the demand for convenient sustainable technology-based transportation options and invest in these resources to improve mobility. Carsharing will enhance L.A.’s existing transportation infrastructure by increasing access to public transit lines, which could lead to significant economic benefits for commuters, businesses and the city as a whole.
Ruben Gonzalez is senior vice president for public policy and political affairs at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.