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Providing the Mobility Options That Riders Want

Chief Innovation Officer
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

It should be obvious to everyone in the public transit industry that we can no longer assume that riders will just show up. The ridership losses at LA Metro and other agencies in recent years are too big to be labeled a “dip.”

The upheaval in our industry has an upside: it has forced LA Metro to think hard about the best way to improve regional mobility. We are focused on incorporating mobility products into our lineup that our customers want.

Our microtransit project will allow Metro customers to use cellphones to order, monitor and pay for rides in vehicles smaller than our buses. The service won’t be tied to a fixed route or schedule and will initially be deployed in smaller zones. We see microtransit as a great way to get around in areas where traditional bus service isn’t working for most people.

Beginning later this year, Metro is also partnering with Via to offer on-demand service to and from three of our busy public transit stations. Via will match passengers with other riders traveling to the same station. Anyone can use the service, including people without smartphones.

Fares to ride these services will be less than those provided by the big transportation network companies. These pilot projects will make ridesharing more equitable and improve access to existing fixed-route bus and rail systems.
To encourage these kinds of new approaches, Metro Chief Executive Officer Phil Washington created the Office of Extraordinary Innovation (OEI) in 2015—shortly after arriving at the agency.

LA Metro’s new strategic plan shifts focus beyond operating public transit to managing mobility, ensuring Los Angeles County residents have access to high-quality mobility options within a 10-minute walk or roll from home.

Photo courtesy LA Metro

The new department was charged with bringing forth the best ideas to test and possibly incorporate into our service. This reverses how we’ve done things in the past, when Metro (like most agencies) would issue design parameters for a project and ask firms to submit plans. Now the private sector can submit its best ideas. If we think they have merit, we can pursue a request for proposal.

We have received more than 110 proposals, many of which have gone on to become actual projects that Metro would likely not have pursued otherwise. For example, the microtransit initiative came through this process, as did an idea to use drones to inspect our facilities. Based on unsolicited proposals, we’re also accelerating much-needed rail projects through P3s and looking at the idea of connecting Los Angeles Union Station to Dodger Stadium via a privately built aerial tram.

OEI also spent the past 17 months researching and writing Metro’s new strategic plan to put forward a vision to the public of what the agency seeks to accomplish in the next decade.

The plan shifts Metro’s focus beyond operating public transit to managing mobility and improving quality of life for customers across Los Angeles County. Adopted by the agency’s board of directors in June, the plan calls for a congestion pricing pilot project, more bus-only lanes, improving bus speeds by 30 percent and ensuring that all LA County residents have access to high-quality mobility options within a 10-minute walk or roll from home.

Those are just the highlights. None of these will be easy or cheap. All will require collaboration with other agencies and municipalities, and all will face political challenges. But these are the mobility tools our customers want—and we need to do our best to provide them.

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