Purpose

To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Average fuel economy of new autos at new record; progress may stall

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-epa-fuel-economy-20141009-story.html

Selling parking spaces? Los Angeles moves to outlaw auction apps

http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/government-and-politics/20141008/selling-parking-spaces-los-angeles-moves-to-outlaw-auction-apps

Replacing LOS: CA Hones Details on Its New Transportation Planning Metric

http://la.streetsblog.org/2014/10/08/replacing-los-ca-hones-details-on-its-new-transportation-planning-metric/

By Melanie Curry, October 8, 2014


 

 New rules proposed by the California Office of Planning and Research are hoped would accelerate the state’s decline in driving seen in recent years. Image via Caltrans


Agreeing on a new way to measure transportation impacts — and not just delays for drivers — is no simple task for California’s planning policymakers.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) is fine-tuning its proposal to replace  Level of Service, the metric recently ditched by the state which focused exclusively on car delays, by creating a new metric called Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), which measures how much driving is expected to be generated by a new development. Basically, when development and transportation projects are analyzed under the California Environmental Quality Act, they must no longer be judged solely on how many seconds of delay they cause drivers.

OPR has held a series of workshops and a webinar to explain the issues to city planners and other interested parties, but some public commentary shows that confusion and uncertainty reign.
Responses to the proposal so far have ranged from supportive to vehemently critical, but the harshest criticisms include inaccuracies about the intent of SB 743, the legislation mandating the LOS/VMT change.

OPR has extended its deadline for public comments about its Preliminary Discussion Draft of CEQA Guidelines [PDF] until November 21. Comments can be submitted by email.

In August, OPR released its proposal to replace LOS with VMT, following last year’s adoption of SB 743, which mandated the change. VMT looks at the entire lengths of car trips a project might generate — not just the number of vehicles making their way through an intersection. It gives a more accurate assessment of the environmental impact of travel induced by a project. Also, it is easier to model VMT than to measure LOS, and because the models involve fewer complicated assumptions they tend to be more accurate. Many jurisdictions already measure vehicle miles traveled as part of their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a recent webinar [WMV], senior OPR staff members Chris Calfee and Chris Ganson explained some of the problems that have arisen as a result of using Level of Service to measure environmental impacts.

While the change from LOS to VMT has been met with praise online and from more progressive planners, officials from local jurisdictions and agencies say they’re worried about it increasing work loads and what it means for projects already in the planning process. Questions raised by webinar participants focused on potential conflicts with existing local plans, many of which still require some LOS analysis.

SB 743 makes it clear that LOS is no longer to be considered an environmental impact under CEQA. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be used for other means, such as local congestion management or exacting development impact fees. 

“Cities have the power to require projects to follow local general plans,” said Calfee. “Mitigation can still happen as result of the planning process, but it won’t necessarily be in the CEQA context.”
In addition, said Calfee, local agencies can use their own professional judgement when choosing tools and models for measuring transportation impacts. But OPR’s assertions are not putting everyone at ease.

One review of the proposed rules, authored by a law firm whose clients include developers and which has been quoted in at least one comment letter submitted to OPR [PDF], includes misstatements about the statute and the proposed guidelines.

The letter, authored by the Regional Economic Association Leaders of California, states that the proposal for VMT guidelines “inexplicably fails to incorporate the parts of SB 743 that are designed to streamline CEQA for some infill projects in some locations (e.g., eliminating aesthetics, parking, and automobile delay as CEQA impacts for such projects).”

But the guidelines are required to address only the part of SB 743 that requires a replacement metric for Level of Service. The other components of the law the letter pointed out have already gone into effect.

Both the online post and the comment letter also objected to the proposal’s list of “radical” mitigation measures suggested for projects that don’t meet VMT thresholds.

The suggested mitigation measures, which were taken from the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association’s guide titled “Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Measures” [PDF], have been shown to reduce vehicle miles traveled. They include affordable housing in transit-oriented developments, balancing the jobs-to-housing ratio in a community, improving bicycle, pedestrian, and transit networks, providing bicycle parking, limiting parking supply, unbundling parking costs, pricing parking or roadways, and providing subsidized transit passes.

OPR staff said that the suggested mitigation measures are only intended to serve as examples, with final decisions about which ones to use left up to local jurisdictions.

Ellison Folk, a lawyer with the law firm Shute Mihaly, pointed out that “these measures are not taken out of nowhere. It’s not like OPR made them up. People can already use them as possible measures to reduce the impact of increased travel.”

Amanda Eakin of NRDC wrote a spirited defense of the proposed guidelines, pointing out that, while not perfect, the proposal to use VMT fulfills SB 743′s intended purpose of eliminating LOS under CEQA and supporting the development of infill projects.

OPR welcomes public comments on suggestions for mitigation measures, and on the definition of VMT thresholds that trigger the need for mitigation. While SB 743 does not require OPR to define thresholds, and OPR maintains that those thresholds would be left up to local agencies, they hope to include some guidance on how to determine them.

The new guidelines will undergo revision once the deadline for comments has passed, and if changes are substantial, they will be submitted for public comment once again. After that they’re expected to go through a rulemaking process before being adopted. OPR staff said the goal is to have new guidelines that can apply immediately to new projects in transit-rich areas, and that would thereafter be phased in statewide.

So Your City Is Adding HOT Lanes. Will They Work for Transit?

http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/10/07/so-your-city-is-adding-hot-lanes-will-they-work-for-transit/

By Tanya Snyder, October 7, 2014


 HOT lanes opened on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia in the time since the study period. Photo: ##http://www.aaroads.com/guide.php?page=i0495oava##AA Roads##

 HOT lanes opened on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia in the time since the CNT study period.



High-occupancy vehicle lanes can help incentivize carpooling (and let solo drivers sit in punishing congestion). But too often, transportation agencies spend millions of dollars to widen the road to make carpool lanes, instead of simply designating existing lanes. To recoup some of the expense, the agencies also let drivers pay to use the new “high-occupancy/toll lane.”

HOT lanes are often derided as “Lexus lanes.” But they can benefit transit riders, too, if cities and transit agencies know how to use them.

Most don’t, though, so the good folks at the Center for Neighborhood Technology wrote a guide, published last week in the Journal of Public Transportation.

HOT lanes, at their best, offer a form of congestion pricing — charging drivers a variable price to use a congested roadway depending on the time of day. And those tolls can help pay for more efficient transportation on that roadway.

In 2012, there were 12 HOT lanes operating in the U.S.,which CNT’s Gregory Newmark examined for his report. The great majority are in the South and West. Most of them are on interstate highways. All of them have bus service.


The 12 HOT lanes in operation in 2012 are the ones included in the CNT report. Image: CNT
The 12 HOT lanes in operation in 2012. Map: CNT

In places where adding transit is politically difficult, HOT lanes can be a way to sneak in service improvements. “Miami, which had repeatedly failed to gain voter approval for increasing local transit funding, was able to use federal monies for the HOT lane project to purchase buses to operate three new express routes,” Newmark writes. “Federal funding was similarly leveraged in Minneapolis and Atlanta. In San Diego, the HOT lane project was designed, in part, to fund new express bus service along the corridor.”

Newmark says expanding roads to make HOT lanes leads to better transit performance than turning existing HOV lanes into HOT lanes, which risks congestion in the lanes. But he doesn’t investigate the option of turning regular traffic lanes into HOT lanes. And some transit agencies have put in safeguards to prevent buses from getting slowed down: When Denver converted an HOV lane to HOT, the toll operator made an agreement with the local transit agency that any degradation in bus travel times would trigger a review to determine if a toll rate increase is necessary.

Denver also struck a smart deal to ward off the possibility that the conversion to HOT lanes would encourage people to make the “socially-undesirable mode shift” from transit to driving once they didn’t have to worry about congestion. (While the limited research that’s been done in this area doesn’t show a major shift from transit to driving with the installation of HOT lanes, the possibility is certainly there.) Denver officials agreed that peak-period tolls on I-25 would be legally bound to stay at or above the express bus fare along the corridor “so that driving never has an out-of-pocket cost advantage,” writes Newmark.

Minneapolis has the distinction of serving the most transit riders with its HOT lanes. Dozens of bus routes run on the HOT lanes on I-394 and I-35W, with each road serving about 12,000 transit trips daily. Only Denver’s I-25, which runs fewer buses but averages more riders per bus, has higher daily transit ridership — 14,840 trips.

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Transit ridership on the 12 HOT lanes in operation in 2012. Table: CNT

Orange County and the Bay Area have the worst-performing HOT lanes in terms of transit ridership: They’re the only ones that carry fewer than 2,000 passengers per day, and they carry way fewer. Newmark speculates that the low ridership is primarily a product of land use: The HOT lanes serve secondary job centers with dispersed employment locations.

All HOT lanes should direct some revenue to transit on the corridor, but some don’t — even when transit agencies are the official operators of HOT lanes. That’s the case in Orange County. Most at least allow “excess” or net revenues to be transferred to transit — whatever is left over after the expense of maintaining and operating the lanes. Some places even require it. In Miami, though, the cost of operating transit is considered one of the essential expenses of the HOT lane, so some toll revenue is guaranteed. (Which is good, because although Miami’s legal structure allows for excess to be directed toward transit as well, officials have chosen not to do so.)
Of course, toll operators across the country have learned the hard way th
at their revenue expectations are often inflated. Of the 12 HOT lanes studied in 2012, four operated in the red that year. So transit agencies shouldn’t count on HOT lane excess profit as a revenue source, either.

Design problems can make HOT lanes difficult for transit, too. For instance, HOT lanes need to be designed with transit agency input in order to make entering and exiting as easy as possible for buses.
“Many bus drivers along Seattle’s SR-167 forgo using the HOT lane, as quickly crossing from the right-side highway entrance ramp to the left-side HOT lane entry is a difficult maneuver,” Newmark wrote. “Similarly, bus drivers along Minneapolis’s I-394 found entry difficult at one particular access point and complained that motorists, who were now enjoying the smoother flows of the limited-entry HOT lane, were less likely to yield to buses at the access points.”

Could pay-to-play lanes solve urban gridlock?

 For whom the road tolls

http://grist.org/cities/could-pay-to-play-lanes-solve-urban-gridlock/

By Ask Umbra, October 2, 2014



 


Q. What is greener – the HOV lanes on our California freeways (which, now, also allow electric vehicles with only one passenger), or the newer HOT lanes that are open to any vehicle willing to pay a toll?

Mike A.
Glendale, Ca.


A. Dearest Mike,

This week on The Great Green Battle Royale: HOV vs. HOT! Will the high-occupancy vehicle lane take the crown, or will high-occupancy tolling reign supreme?

For those of you who have been riding a Razor scooter to work for the past few decades, HOV lanes — those earmarked for cars carrying at least two (sometimes three) people — grant a free pass past road congestion, encouraging carpooling and theoretically reducing the total number of cars on the road. They also create a smooth lane for buses, making the all-important public transportation option more attractive. And where electric vehicles are allowed to join the left-lane party, HOV lanes provide a nice incentive for people to invest in cleaner cars.

HOT lanes are essentially HOV lanes that allow single drivers to jump in, too, for a price. That price often varies, with access during peak rush hours costing the most. While this doesn’t do much for the carpooling cause, HOT drivers free up space in the “regular” lanes, which reduces carbon-belching idling and inefficient stop-and-go traffic. Less congestion and faster commutes all around, so everybody wins.

That’s the idea, anyway. Some experts argue that speeding up our jammed highways doesn’t work for long, because of a principle my econ professor would be thrilled to see me use here: latent demand. The idea is that some number of people don’t drive when traffic is bad enough, even though they’d like to. When you start to relieve that traffic through HOT lanes (or HOV lanes, or widening highways, or building new roads), those would-be motorists flock to the streets and bam, congestion again.

The practice also raises some prickly issues about fairness: Wait, so the rich can buy their way out of traffic? It’s true that nobody is forced to pay, but it’s a regressive toll on those who do: Lower-income drivers would cough up a higher percentage of their income to enjoy the smooth-sailing HOT lane — that is, if they could afford to drive in the HOT lane at all.

Ultimately, though, as much fun as it is to imagine a sort of smackdown between HOV and HOT lanes, I’ve found the match to be rather anticlimactic, Mike. In the world of traffic reduction strategies, they are really much more similar than they are different, making the contest feel as gridlocked as the SoCal freeways at rush hour.

When we’re talking about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from private cars, we have several options: greener fuels, greater fuel efficiency, and driving less — and the greatest of these is driving less. Therein lies the problem with both HOV and HOT lanes: They’re designed to make driving easier. Yes, they have some environmental bennies, but they don’t do enough to attack our main climate goal: curbing driving, period.

HOV and HOT lanes are what some urban planners would call“carrots,” like bike lanes and expansive public transportation: They provide incentives for people to ditch their cars. Trouble is, these carrots don’t always work — unless they’re paired with “sticks” that actually punish driving. Think fewer parking spaces, sky-high parking fees, more red lights, even a charge to drive into a city center … anything that makes hopping in your own car more annoying and expensive than a greener alternative.

Americans tend to object to these tough-love tactics more than our friends across the pond do, but they work. And when they do, we all get cleaner air, fewer carbon emissions, safer roads for walking and biking, and the kind of vibrant, bustling streetscapes you see in Renoir paintings.

It’s difficult to parse whether any of these strategies are better than any other, Mike. Jacking up parking fees and other anti-driving moves won’t do much good if we don’t have plenty of car alternatives available, such as those bike lanes, light rail systems, and HOV lanes for buses. So it’s best to think of these policies as parts of a larger mission — and we need them all to pull it off. This attitude might not be quite as exciting as a battle royale, but I daresay it’s more effective.
Rush-houredly,
Umbra

Cajon Pass commuter: Will commuters ever have a rail option?

http://www.vvdailypress.com/article/20140926/News/140929837

By Steve Hunt, September 26, 2014


 Steve Hunt (File photo, Daily Press)
 Steve Hunt
Steve Hunt
I’ve had several readers ask me if the Victor Valley commuters would ever have access to rail service up and down the hill, so I decided to pose that very question to the folks at Metrolink.
Metrolink, as you may or may not know, was created in 1992 by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, a joint powers authority that was formed the year before that and which governs the agency. SCRRA is made up of the agencies from San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties that were given the job of easing highway congestion and improving mobility throughout Southern California. In our county, San Bernardino Associated Governments is part of the SCRRA.
According to Metrolink’s online fact sheet, the rail line has seven routes, 55 stations and operates 169 trains every weekday. Those trains travel 512 route miles, from San Bernardino, Riverside, Oxnard, Lancaster and Oceanside into downtown Los Angeles.
The closest stations to the Victor Valley are in San Bernardino and Rancho Cucamonga, but at the moment there is no Metrolink route from the Victor Valley to either of those stations.
And it may be quite a while before there is.
“There isn’t anything in our immediate plans or short-term plans” to develop a route from the Victor Valley into San Bernardino or Rancho Cucamonga, according to Metrolink’s director of public affairs, Jeff Lustgarten.
“I don’t think it’s a demand issue as much as a funding issue,” he said. “It would take a reasonable amount of funding (to make that a reality).”
Beyond funding, there is also the issue of rail line availability. With container freight traffic booming at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, it seems like there are an endless number of trains rumbling up and down the Cajon Pass.
“Freight would certainly be an issue we’d have to work through,” Lustgarten said. “Obviously there’s huge freight volume in that area.”
But it isn’t a case of the Victor Valley being out of sight, out of mind to the Metrolink folks.
“We do recognize that’s an area that’s growing and there’s demand there,” Lustgarten said.
Lustgarten said Metrolink recently expanded its 91 line going to Perris and Norco. And SanBAG is working to expand Metrolink into Redlands.
“We’re open to longer term being able to expand the system further,” Lustgarten said.
Until then, is there a chance Metrolink might partner with say, Victor Valley Transit, to provide commuters with bus service to Metrolink stations in either San Bernardino or Rancho Cucamonga?
“Potentially,” Lustgarten said. “We’re always looking for ways to increase our partnerships. We have 58 different bus operators we partner with in the five counties.”
I know there are many Victor Valley commuters who use Metrolink for part of their commute. I’m sure they would love to be able to hop on a bus for their ride to the station rather than have to drive.
I’ve had several readers ask me if the Victor Valley commuters would ever have access to rail service up and down the hill, so I decided to pose that very question to the folks at Metrolink.
Metrolink, as you may or may not know, was created in 1992 by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, a joint powers authority that was formed the year before that and which governs the agency. SCRRA is made up of the agencies from San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties that were given the job of easing highway congestion and improving mobility throughout Southern California. In our county, San Bernardino Associated Governments is part of the SCRRA.
According to Metrolink’s online fact sheet, the rail line has seven routes, 55 stations and operates 169 trains every weekday. Those trains travel 512 route miles, from San Bernardino, Riverside, Oxnard, Lancaster and Oceanside into downtown Los Angeles.
The closest stations to the Victor Valley are in San Bernardino and Rancho Cucamonga, but at the moment there is no Metrolink route from the Victor Valley to either of those stations.
And it may be quite a while before there is.
“There isn’t anything in our immediate plans or short-term plans” to develop a route from the Victor Valley into San Bernardino or Rancho Cucamonga, according to Metrolink’s director of public affairs, Jeff Lustgarten.
“I don’t think it’s a demand issue as much as a funding issue,” he said. “It would take a reasonable amount of funding (to make that a reality).”
Beyond funding, there is also the issue of rail line availability. With container freight traffic booming at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, it seems like there are an endless number of trains rumbling up and down the Cajon Pass.
“Freight would certainly be an issue we’d have to work through,” Lustgarten said. “Obviously there’s huge freight volume in that area.”
But it isn’t a case of the Victor Valley being out of sight, out of mind to the Metrolink folks.
“We do recognize that’s an area that’s growing and there’s demand there,” Lustgarten said.
Lustgarten said Metrolink recently expanded its 91 line going to Perris and Norco. And SanBAG is working to expand Metrolink into Redlands.
“We’re open to longer term being able to expand the system further,” Lustgarten said.
Until then, is there a chance Metrolink might partner with say, Victor Valley Transit, to provide commuters with bus service to Metrolink stations in either San Bernardino or Rancho Cucamonga?
“Potentially,” Lustgarten said. “We’re always looking for ways to increase our partnerships. We have 58 different bus operators we partner with in the five counties.”
I know there are many Victor Valley commuters who use Metrolink for part of their commute. I’m sure they would love to be able to hop on a bus for their ride to the station rather than have to drive.
- See more at: http://www.vvdailypress.com/article/20140926/News/140929837#sthash.qXSbH3oj.dpuf
I’ve had several readers ask me if the Victor Valley commuters would ever have access to rail service up and down the hill, so I decided to pose that very question to the folks at Metrolink.
Metrolink, as you may or may not know, was created in 1992 by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, a joint powers authority that was formed the year before that and which governs the agency. SCRRA is made up of the agencies from San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties that were given the job of easing highway congestion and improving mobility throughout Southern California. In our county, San Bernardino Associated Governments is part of the SCRRA.
According to Metrolink’s online fact sheet, the rail line has seven routes, 55 stations and operates 169 trains every weekday. Those trains travel 512 route miles, from San Bernardino, Riverside, Oxnard, Lancaster and Oceanside into downtown Los Angeles.
The closest stations to the Victor Valley are in San Bernardino and Rancho Cucamonga, but at the moment there is no Metrolink route from the Victor Valley to either of those stations.
And it may be quite a while before there is.
“There isn’t anything in our immediate plans or short-term plans” to develop a route from the Victor Valley into San Bernardino or Rancho Cucamonga, according to Metrolink’s director of public affairs, Jeff Lustgarten.
“I don’t think it’s a demand issue as much as a funding issue,” he said. “It would take a reasonable amount of funding (to make that a reality).”
Beyond funding, there is also the issue of rail line availability. With container freight traffic booming at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, it seems like there are an endless number of trains rumbling up and down the Cajon Pass.
“Freight would certainly be an issue we’d have to work through,” Lustgarten said. “Obviously there’s huge freight volume in that area.”
But it isn’t a case of the Victor Valley being out of sight, out of mind to the Metrolink folks.
“We do recognize that’s an area that’s growing and there’s demand there,” Lustgarten said.
Lustgarten said Metrolink recently expanded its 91 line going to Perris and Norco. And SanBAG is working to expand Metrolink into Redlands.
“We’re open to longer term being able to expand the system further,” Lustgarten said.
Until then, is there a chance Metrolink might partner with say, Victor Valley Transit, to provide commuters with bus service to Metrolink stations in either San Bernardino or Rancho Cucamonga?
“Potentially,” Lustgarten said. “We’re always looking for ways to increase our partnerships. We have 58 different bus operators we partner with in the five counties.”
I know there are many Victor Valley commuters who use Metrolink for part of their commute. I’m sure they would love to be able to hop on a bus for their ride to the station rather than have to drive.
- See more at: http://www.vvdailypress.com/article/20140926/News/140929837#sthash.qXSbH3oj.dpuf

Auto phone systems, Apple Siri distract drivers, studies say

http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-auto-voice-tech-20141007-story.html

Access Across America: University of Minnesota ranks accessibility to jobs by transit in top U.S. cities

http://mntransportationresearch.org/2014/10/07/access-across-america-university-of-minnesota-ranks-accessibility-to-jobs-by-transit-in-top-u-s-cities/

By Michael McCarthy, October 7, 2014

New research from the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota ranks 46 of the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas in the United States for accessibility to jobs by transit.
The new rankings, part of the Access Across America study begun last year, focus on accessibility, a measure that examines both land use and transportation systems. Accessibility measures how many destinations, such as jobs, can be reached in a given time.

“This project provides the most detailed evaluation to date of access to jobs by transit,” says Andrew Owen, director of the Observatory. “We directly compare the transit accessibility performance of America’s largest metropolitan areas.”

The findings have a range of uses and implications. State departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit agencies can apply the evaluations to performance goals related to congestion, reliability, and sustainability. In addition, detailed accessibility evaluation can help in selecting between project alternatives and prioritizing investments.

“It can help reveal how the costs and benefits of transportation investments are distributed,” Owen says.

Top 10 metro areas: job accessibility by transit (January 2014)
  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Washington
  5. Chicago
  6. Boston
  7. Philadelphia
  8. Seattle
  9. Denver
  10. San Jose
The report—Access Across America: Transit 2014—presents detailed accessibility values for each of the 46 metropolitan areas, as well as detailed block-level color maps that illustrate the spatial patterns of accessibility within each area. In addition, time-lapse map videos for each area are forthcoming and new analysis of the data from the accessibility to jobs by transit rankings will be published periodically. Upcoming reports in the Access Across America series will explore more detailed aspects of transit accessibility to jobs, including accessibility to jobs of different wage levels and a comparison with accessibility by car.

In the study, rankings were determined by a weighted average of accessibility, giving a higher weight to closer jobs. Jobs reachable within 10 minutes were weighted most heavily; jobs were given decreasing weight as travel time increases up to 60 minutes. Travel times were calculated using full transit schedules for the 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. period. The calculations include all components of a transit journey, including “last mile” access and egress walking segments and transfers.

“Accessibility is the single most important measure in explaining the effectiveness of the urban transportation system,” says David Levinson, University of Minnesota civil engineering professor and principal investigator on the project.

According to Owen, accessibility can be measured for various transportation modes, to different types of destinations, and at different times of day. “There are a variety of ways to define accessibility,” Owen explains, “but the number of destinations reachable within a given travel time is the most directly comparable across cities.”

The research is sponsored by the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota. Accessibility Observatory reports, including the analysis of job accessibility by auto published last year and interactive maps, are available on the Access Across America: Transit 2014 web page.

Pretty Soon, 'Ride-Sharing' Services Could Actually Help You Share a Ride

Cab-sharing has arrived in a serious way with UberPool and Lyft Line.

http://www.citylab.com/tech/2014/10/pretty-soon-ride-sharing-services-could-actually-help-you-share-a-ride/381141/

By Eric Goldwyn, October 8, 2014

 

Image

After a decade of false starts, smartphone-enabled cab-sharing has finally arrived. In an ongoing quest to drive down the cost of a ride, attract more customers, increase efficiency, and take over the personal travel market, Lyft and Uber have both rolled out beta services in San Francisco that match users going in the same direction: UberPool and Lyft Line. Building on their popular and easy to use e-hailing platforms and sizable networks of passengers and drivers, both services are betting they have the right formula to move more people at a lower price.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I took three Lyft Line rides. Here's how it works: You sign into the app, select a line ride, and input your destination. As Lyft builds your route, it simultaneously searches its database for other riders going in the same direction. If the system finds a match, Lyft will send you a note about your vehicle, driver, and fellow passenger. If no match is found, you ride alone, and Lyft picks up half the tab. One of my San Francisco rides matched (Hi, Clara!), one didn't, and one did match but the passenger never showed. In all these cases, my rides cost 50 percent less than a solo ride would have, and got me where I needed to go without adding much delay. Drivers are instructed to wait no more than a minute for the matching rider.

Coordinating moving parts is complicated, and since Lyft Line is a new service, it wasn't entirely seamless. Finding a match took longer than just clicking to request a normal Lyft—about a minute or two for my first ride. In addition to this minor hiccup, there was some geo-location confusion that delayed us by another 10 minutes. Fortunately, the driver called me directly and we sorted out the problem. Despite this delay, the ride was social and fun. Between the three of us, we turned a routine ride from the airport into a conversation about Nairobi's climate, California's drought, chocolate, and alternative corporate structures. The experience was so pleasant that I ended up having breakfast with my co-passenger the morning I left for New York.

For my other rides, Lyft picked up the unmatched (or no-show) difference and only charged me the 50 percent fare. Thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars raised by Lyft, they're able to subsidize rides and pay drivers the full fares. This last bit is critical to sustaining the cab-share idea. "We're in a fortunate position to launch Lyft Line on top of a strong platform and guarantee the fare so that there are no surprises for our passengers or drivers," says Logan Green, Lyft's co-founder and CEO.

Entrepreneurs have been circling around the cab-share idea for years. The opportunity was obvious: cheaper cab rides for customers. The allure of cab-share spawned new start-ups by the week in the late 2000s. Companies like Weeels, CabCorner, Split-A-Ride, Ride Amigos, CabEasy, and Hitchster all launched expecting consumers to gravitate to their apps and inherently understand and adopt this new service.

This group of forward thinking developers failed by skipping directly to sharing before establishing a reliable network of drivers and passengers—they had a service, but no marketplace to connect supply and demand. Lyft and Uber, meanwhile, have spent the last few years building just such a network with their regular e-hailing platforms. "E-hailing was the easier problem to solve in 2009," says David Mahfouda, co-founder and CEO of Bandwagon (formerly Weeels), an early cab-share app. "We were trying to solve a harder problem, and it's taken us a couple of years to figure it out and prove our concept." (Full disclosure: I once did a consulting project for Bandwagon.)

Instead of repeating the same mistakes of the early cab-share pioneers, Lyft and Uber are charting a very different course, relying on their deep pockets, reams of data, and a careful rebranding of cab-share (note that UberPool and Lyft Line avoid using the words "cab" or "share") to make it a reality. Instead of asking riders to adopt an unknown service, Uber and Lyft are nudging their existing passengers to share their rides by offering them a lower price when they split a fare. Even when these rides don't match, Lyft and Uber will pick up the difference so that the rider isn't stuck paying the second passenger's fare.

The lesson is that new transportation services require outreach, education, and branding to attract users and explain how they work. Even e-hailing required hundreds of millions of dollars in free credits for riders, waived commissions for drivers, and clever marketing and design to convince people to try it and stick with it. Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and HailO didn't just develop an app and wait for people to figure out how to use it. They incentivized them to use the app and then held their hand along the way to make sure they got the most out of the service so that they'd keep coming back for more. "Almost $2 billion has been invested in making this feasible," says Mahfouda. This sea change in behavior didn't just happen over night; it was engineered.

While Lyft was designed with cab-share in mind—Lyft's emphasis on fostering a relaxed social atmosphere really speaks to this—years of data-collection from their e-haling platform has confirmed the intuition that gave rise to Zimride, the initial company started by Lyft's founders, Green and John Zimmer. Green told me "90 percent of Lyft rides in San Francisco could be shared if people are willing to wait an extra 5 minutes." (Other new research suggests that nearly 95 percent of rides in New York City could be shared with just a minute's wait.) But matching rides is only half the battle. As Lyft works through the inevitable kinks that come with introducing a new service, they're also building a robust real-time traffic data center that collects information from its cars on the road. The better they can anticipate traffic patterns, the better their software can route trips, find matches, and provide certainty to drivers and passengers.

In the hands of the current crop of technology companies, the cab-share idea is much more ambitious than people even realize. Ultimately, Lyft and Uber want to corner the personal transportation market rather than the much smaller taxi or carpooling markets. Uber's most recent advertisements—at least the ones targeted to me via Twitter—are about avoiding the hassles of owning a car rather than improving my taxi-riding experience. Green told me that the idea for Zimride (which launched six months before the iPhone did, back in 2007) grew out of his experience on the board of Santa Barbara's Metropolitan Transit District. "Public transit wasn't improving, agencies were bleeding money, subsidy was limited, cost recovery was around 30 percent, and there was no platform to scale up," he said. "I wanted to create an infinitely scalable public transit service." With Lyft Line, it's possible he has.