OEI wins $1.3 Million to expand the definition of transit access

By Nolan Borgman/Transportation Planner

With a major federal transit grant, Metro will seek to redefine what it means to be “near” transit.

Professor Brian D. Taylor, Director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, summed up Los Angeles’s transportation dilemma nicely when he said that the region is “…too dense to disperse trips on expanded roadway facilities and too sprawling to concentrate them on rapid transit…”

In other words, L.A. has no space to expand roads, but is too sprawling for most people to live near transit options. That all could change, however, by simply redefining what it means to live “near” transit. This is exactly what OEI is planning to attempt since winning a $1.35 million grant from the federal government for innovative new on-demand transit services, the largest within the program.

The potential of on-demand transportation to improve mobility for the region has intrigued us from the beginning here at OEI. One of our first projects was a partnership with UberPOOL to bring passengers to and from Metro’s new Expo Line stations without needing to drive. Though that pilot only lasted a few weeks, the results convinced us that these shared and on-demand options, which together have been called “new mobility,” might just offer solutions to allow transit to move beyond the bus and the train to help us better serve a place like Los Angeles County by helping people access transit quickly, conveniently, and efficiently.

We know that these technologies have become a serious transportation option for many people in many places. But absent proven models or clear precedents, up to this point the question of how a transportation agency like Metro might take advantage of these options has been just that: “How?”

To help answer this question the Federal Transit Administration created the Mobility-on-Demand (MOD) Sandbox Demonstration Program – $8 million in grant funding for innovative “sandbox” projects to test new on-demand mobility solutions for delivering transit services. L.A. Metro is proud to have received one of eleven grants from FTA to test how mobility-on-demand can work together with traditional transit to expand mobility. The goal of the program is not only to test individual solutions in various regions, but also to learn lessons that can inform FTA’s national policies towards on-demand mobility.

The timing couldn’t be better for L.A. County. As we expand our regional transit footprint in Los Angeles through Measure M, mobility-on-demand provides an opportunity to complement our service, amplify its reach, and increase its usefulness. By utilizing Lyft, a transportation network company (TNC) to deliver customers to rapid transit stations at a discounted rate, we hope to alleviate the “first and last mile” problem so many of our customers encounter. As we roll out this service, we aim to pay close attention to equity and accessibility, with specific project elements targeted at major challenges such as payment integration with the TAP system, access for individuals with disabilities, and service to minority and low-income communities.

This “learn by doing” approach seems to be what the FTA had in mind when they designed the program. To ensure that our lessons are deep and far reaching, we’ve not only teamed up with local partners, but with our coastal partners in King County. King County Transit will run a similar pilot in parallel in Seattle. Here in L.A. County, we’ve teamed up with Access Services, LADOT and Foothill Transit to create synergies between TNCs and transit operators. In addition to partnerships, collecting lots of data and customer feedback will show where and how these models can increase mobility. To ensure that our lessons are well documented and can deliver insights useful to the entire nation, we’ve teamed up with the Eno Center for Transportation, UCLA and the University of Washington.

Our vision is to create a win-win that aligns the strengths of traditional transit (high capacity, accessible, affordable, equitable) with the strengths of on-demand options (dynamic routing, flexible, and convenient) to increase mobility, accessibility, and sustainability. If we can effectively combine building out our transit system with making people feel closer to it, the future is very bright for Los Angeles County.

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