“We want your products, your ideas, your vehicles, your visions to come to this fertile ground,” Garcetti told the crowd of transit professionals during his keynote at LA CoMotion. “We’re not the kind of city that says, ‘Go test it somewhere else first and come back to us when it works,’” he added.
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are going to be a part of that process. Garcetti has long championed AVs—at the 2014 CityLab conference, he proclaimed that L.A. could be the first urban center to really do them right. Last year, his office authored an extensive report addressing future plans for AVs and on-demand sharing services, making L.A. the first major U.S. city to specifically address policies around self-driving cars. L.A. also recently implemented an electric-vehicle car-sharing system targeted at low-income communities, and Metro has committed that all its buses will run on electric battery power by 2030.
But L.A. has a long way to go, and many basic elements to hammer out, before it can transform into a showpiece for AVs, EVs, or underground tubes full of Teslas. “Focusing on the deployment of new technologies is good, but let’s not forget the basics,” as Denny Zane, the founder of the transit nonprofit Move LA, put it during a Saturday LA CoMotion panel on Los Angeles’s “Mobility Revolution.”
The importance of the basics—and the depth of the gulf between the city’s varied, glittering futures and the daily reality of being a transit-dependent Angeleno—was particularly apparent once I exited the mobility revolution and made my way to the bus stop. I narrowly dodged one of the candy-colored rolling mules as I exited the temporary festival grounds, and then walked a supremely pedestrian-unfriendly half-mile to catch an express bus that spent 20 minutes circumnavigating downtown traffic before even beginning its westward crawl.
Without dedicated lanes, buses (which account for the vast majority of Metro trips) have to sit in traffic just like the rest of the cars on the road. That same gridlock makes for a notoriously not-entirely-reliable bus system, where riders like me would rather walk a mile than have to transfer bus lines—and risk being stranded mid-trip for an indeterminate amount of time.
Land-use decisions are also pivotal to the success of a transit system: If density and affordable housing aren’t prioritized in the areas around future rail lines, that rail investment will have little real effect on mobility or equity in the city. Sexier first- and last-mile solutions, like those foldable electric scooters and stuff-carrying robots on display, are likely to be comically out of reach for most riders: As of 2014, 71 percent of transit commuters in the city of L.A. made less than $25,000 a year.
Thought leadership won’t increase the frequency of nighttime service on Metro’s existing rail lines. The promise of someday paying fares with wearables doesn’t change the fact that there isn’t yet a single, easy-to-use app that offers both accurate next-trip data and routing for Metro riders. The mobility revolution may be coming—and it looks great—but the future is far from here.
This post appears courtesy of CityLab.