On the Move

Last week at Silicon Beach Fest, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel with a few good friends from the transportation world: Matt Kerbel, LA Marketing Lead for Lyft; Marla Westervelt, Senior Transportation Planner and Head of Research at LA Metro’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation (OEI); and Mitch Malone, Market Manager for Google Express West Los Angeles Same-Day and SoCal’s Next-Day delivery service. The panel discussion involved all things IoT and transportation: from 1980s 3-wheeled rollerblades to a Jetsons-like era of commuting.

Here are some of the most provocative thoughts and critical takeaways from the panel:

Jillian Switzer, AirMap; Matt Kerbel, Lyft; Marla Westervelt, Metro; Mitch Malone, Google Express

Jillian Switzer, AirMap; Matt Kerbel, Lyft; Marla Westervelt, Metro; Mitch Malone, Google

There’s no better place than Los Angeles to bring together a group of leaders in transportation and logistics from the private and public sectors to discuss the future of transportation. Los Angeles is second-largest city in the country after New York City, and the County of Los Angeles includes over 4,000 square miles and hosts over 10 million residents among its sprawling suburbs, urban density, beach, and mountains.

Of course, Los Angeles also claims the worst traffic, 2 years running, and worst air pollution in the country, according to the LA Times. In a city hostile to pedestrians, car ownership reigns supreme.

Something like 60 percent of Los Angeles is paved in roads or parking lots. This, combined with the knowledge that cars are parked 95 percent of the time, points to a tremendous underutilization of scarce land and tapped resources.

These conditions reflect macro trends of urbanization. According to a 2015 McKinsey study, by 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, up from about 50 percent today. Of the 1.2 billion cars driving global transportation, more than 253 million are in the United States alone (the highest per capita rate of any large country). Some automotive analysts predict that the total number of cars will soon double to 2.4 billion cars by 2030.

So how do we reverse this trend, and what does a future without mass car ownership look like? Can a city as big and complex as Los Angeles transition gracefully out of the car ownership era?

According to Marla, the future of transportation is S.E.C.A. — Shared, Electric, Connected, and Autonomous. “From the public sector, this means transitioning from being a bus operator to a mobility coordinator,” she said.

Bolstering core services is a start: like punctuality, efficiency, and free WiFi on all buses, etc. But a multi-modal mobility strategy relies more heavily on building an infrastructure that supports the entire spectrum of transit options: from buses to trains to bike lanes to ridesharing, inspired by Lyft.

“The public sector is inhibited by a distinct inability to procure technology quickly,” said Marla. “That creates a barrier to development. A stronger alliance between the public and private sector is necessary for momentum. The public sector relies on private sector to develop models for scalable innovation.”

Matt agrees. “Private sector, public sector, and city planners can all work together to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, safe and timely transit, and that solutions cater to a more seamless experience for those seeking an alternative to car ownership. Lyft works with the public sector on First Mile/Last Mile solutions that can act a viable alternative, as well as with city planning on infrastructure to better accommodate ridesharing, similar to how bike lanes accommodate cyclists.”

Ridesharing doesn’t just extend to people. “One of the necessary collective efforts that we’ve already seen at Google Express is that the transportation of people and products are going to converge,” said Mitch. “Like Lyft Line for people and products. Vehicles are continuously in motion.”

Of course, carpooling at scale isn’t the only way to decrease congestion and increase efficiency across short distances. Consider moving cars to the sky. AirMap views low-altitude airspace as an untapped resource for transportation by drone.

“If you separate people-moving systems from product-moving systems, there are a couple of ways of solving the congestion and traffic problem in Los Angeles,” said Mitch. “You could, for instance, limit the transportation of goods to non-rush hours so that morning and evening commuting hours are for people only. Or, you could move product-moving systems to low-altitude airspace with drone delivery.”

Indeed, 86 percent of the products Amazon delivers weigh 5 pounds or less, and most of Amazon’s same-day customers live within 30 minutes of one of Amazon’s 90 fulfillment centers around the world, making logistics an ideal industry for drone disruption. And the FAA’s most recent rule for small UAS paints a picture for drone delivery in the not-so-distant future.

Changing the general perception of Los Angeles transit as an inconvenient, inefficient service will be a long, hard road, but doing so would mean a lot for Los Angeles: less traffic and pollution, better land use and air quality, more time with family and friends.

“It’s tricky,” said Marla. “But we’re trying to position ourselves for a future to use resources more efficiently, to offer safer and more affordable transit options, and to create a better standard of living for all, not just some.”

From democratized public transportation to on-demand ridesharing to same-day logistics to drone delivery, we have reason to be optimistic.

If you’d like to learn more about these topics, visit Lyft at www.lyft.com, Google Express at www.google.com/express, AirMap at www.airmap.com, and Metro at www.metro.net/projects/oei/. Metro recently brought forward Measure M, an expenditure plan calling for a half-cent tax to fund its transit and highway projects over the next forty years. Read more here.