In recent years, the City of Los Angeles has made vast improvements to our transportation infrastructure. Still, when I’m inching along in heavy traffic, I think to myself that we cannot continue to spend our best days like this. Traffic wastes time, hurts our environment, and is taking a huge toll on our local economy: Congestion cost our region $23 billion in 2013, according to a report by the traffic information provider Inrix. Angelenos deserve to spend more of their time enjoying this vibrant, multi-faceted city, and desperately need easier access to booming parts of the city like Downtown L.A. We are ready and anxious for fresh transportation alternatives. The L.A. City Council has recognized this need, and it voted in November 2014 to launch a modest pilot program to establish one transportation alternative that’s growing in popularity: carsharing.
Now it’s critical that the city devote the resources needed to expand the pilot and create a robust carsharing environment in L.A. that can truly become a resource for commuters and visitors alike. Above all, any carsharing program should offer a range of options to Angelenos, including one type of service that would be a perfect fit for Los Angeles: “point-to-point” carsharing.
Point-to-point carsharing services let you pick up a shared vehicle anywhere and drop it off anywhere, instead of having to return it to a designated parking space. Like other forms of carsharing, point-to-point may be just what we need to fill in the gaps in L.A.’s sprawling public transportation system and jumpstart more widespread use of our trains, buses and other transit modes to get to and from Downtown L.A.
Having that flexibility could help solve the “first and last mile” challenge that plagues our public transportation network. Our public transit systems are strong, and neighborhoods like Downtown L.A. are seeing a flurry of new transit infrastructure and development that has poised it to become a destination for train and bus riders. But for many of us these options are just slightly too inconvenient because they don’t go to our exact destination or give us options to get to that mid-day meeting. Point-to-point carsharing would make it easier to get from our home to the bus or train station that would lead to Downtown or elsewhere in LA, or to run a quick errand during the day.
Los Angeles has transit needs and challenges that are different from other big cities like San Francisco. With so many destinations throughout the city, sometimes we simply need a car to get Downtown or to the Westside, Hollywood, Mid-City, or wherever else we’re heading. Carsharing can provide that freedom, and can even free up parking and reduce gridlock, with one UC Berkeley study finding that each carsharing vehicle can take 9 to 13 other cars off the road.
One point-to-point carsharing service, Car2Go, has already launched in the South Bay, along with San Diego, Washington, D.C., Denver, Austin, Brooklyn, and Seattle. Car2Go’s service lets you pick up a car anywhere and pay for it by the minute, and the company is hoping to be included in L.A.’s pilot program.
The pilot initially excludes point-to-point operators, but the City Council has asked the Department of Transportation to report back next month on how point-to-point could be added. This should be a top priority for the department. Every type of carsharing has benefits for L.A., and we need to make a range of carsharing options available, even if it takes a bit more planning and coordination from City Hall.
L.A. is already years behind many other major U.S. cities in adopting carsharing at all – now it’s time that we become the leader in transportation innovation and sharing that we’ve said for so long we want to be. A robust carsharing program in L.A. could potentially change commuting habits, take thousands of cars off our streets, boost public transit ridership and reduce carbon emissions – and make neighborhoods like Downtown far more accessible. But we’ll only see those benefits from this product of the sharing economy if we include all of the carsharing options, not just a narrow subset.
L.A. should treat this pilot program as a chance to attract a range of Angelenos, from young professionals who can’t afford a car to cross-county commuters who won’t take the train because of that last mile they need to walk home in the dark each night.
As strong as our current public transportation system might be, there are simply too many unwanted and time-consuming steps to take along the way. Point-to-point carsharing overcomes that hurdle. So let’s step on the gas and move the only way we Angelenos know how: forward. — Bart Reed
Bart Reed is the Executive Director of The Transit Coalition, a Los Angeles-based non-profit dealing with issues of transportation, mobility and land use planning.