It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
Think back to 2006. Worsening traffic congestion in LA County was on everyone's mind, and all over the media.
In response, a local coalition convened by Move LA worked to convince LA Metro and LA Mayor Villaraigosa to give voters an opportunity to invest in a dramatic enhancement of the county's transit systems, a ballot measure that won approval with 67.9% of the vote. LA Metro under Mayor Garcetti's leadership returned to the ballot in November 2016 with Measure M, which also extended Measure R. Voters said Yes by 71.1%, providing LA Metro with $120 billion over the next 40 years.
During this same period downtown Los Angeles has undergone a remarkable revival, recreating a real urban core for the region. And the digital and high-tech industries have seen opportunity to expand to LA.
Is LA on a roll?
Maybe. Maybe not.
New industries arrive and create prosperity for some. Yet a housing affordability crisis has ensued and created displacement, uncertainty and homelessness. Many of the people who are working full-time cannot afford to make rent. More than 50,000 people are living on the streets in LA County. Traffic congestion has not ebbed, and transit ridership is way down, despite voter support for solutions.
Is this a Tale of Two Counties?
Transit ridership falls because of fare increases and service cuts: Job losses during the Great Recession combined with fare increases and service cuts lead to an 11% transit ridership decline from 2010-2015.
Transit ridership continues to fall because of rising housing costs: New industries bring new high-income residents. LA County housing costs rise. Gentrification, displacement and an increase in homelessness follow.
Regional and global transportation-related challenges reach the tipping point: Air pollution, climate change and traffic congestion threaten regional health and prosperity.
The decline in LA County transit ridership has prompted many theories about the reasons why—from Lyft and Uber to cheaper gas prices to an increase in car ownership among new immigrants. We, however, have a different take on why ridership has declined, and explain our rationale HERE, with numbers to back up our POV. But as importantly, we have some ideas about how we can rebuild ridership while also serving populations that would really benefit from more, better service.Read more
When Phil Washington, CEO of the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, asked that we “Re-Imagine Los Angeles”—as his proposal to the Metro Board last December is now called—he linked the possibility of introducing congestion pricing with making transit free and more frequent in LA County.
While the idea of drivers having to pay to drive in some places at some times may alarm more than some Angelenos, the idea that the revenue could be used to make transit free and frequent is intriguing, to say the least. It suggests maybe we can eradicate congestion without waiting for land use changes (more housing near jobs and transit, etc.) to get us there, and fix Metro’s declining ridership. This has never been tried in the U.S.
Congestion pricing was originally proposed in response to a request from Metro’s Board of Directors that CEO Washington find a way to pay for the acceleration of 8 of the 28 projects the board wants completed before the 2028 Olympics, at a cost of $26.2 billion. The other 20 projects were already scheduled for completion by 2028.
But concerns have been expressed about both congestion pricing and completing 28 projects by 2028, in part because pricing could hit low-income drivers hard. Metro and its boardmembers have all committed to prioritizing equity should congestion pricing be implemented, though how that will be done has not been decided.
Free and frequent transit—and an expanded bus system—could be an antidote, with attendant benefits including reduced GHG emissions, and relief from the public health burden on residents who live near heavily trafficked freeways as well as the public safety threat to pedestrians and bicyclists.
The interest expressed by the LA Times and by Metro’s Board of Directors, with caveats of course, indicates that free and more frequent transit might be the sugar that could make the medicine of congestion pricing go down. The Metro Board voted last week to move forward with a 12-24 month study.
Move LA spoke with CEO Washington on Feb. 12. These are some of the things he said in the interview:
“It’s mind-blowing to think about what congestion pricing could allow us to do. The sky would be the limit. It’s not a money grab. We also have to think also of the environmental and public health benefits. I simply do not see a downside to saying yes to congestion pricing.”
“A lot of people have expressed concerns about the equity impacts, and yes I wholeheartedly support making equity the front and center issue. But it’s very important that people understand there’s nothing equitable about the current transportation system. Cars are very expensive to own and operate. And it’s black and brown low-income people who breathe in the most emissions from freeways. Moreover, low-income people work 2 or sometimes 3 jobs to make ends meet, and traffic congestion makes that very difficult.”
“I am convinced the best way to get rid of traffic congestion is through congestion pricing. Only a few cities in the world have tried it. When London began congestion pricing it was opposed by 70% of the people. Now that it’s been in place for several years 80% support it.”
“This really is an opportunity to change the way we live in Los Angeles. The revenue stream could be large enough—depending on the type of congestion pricing and how widely we employ it—that it could also fund free transit. And it would guide drivers—and employers—toward the right decisions about when to get on the road.”
“Reducing congestion is part of our mission as a transit agency. This strategy can make it possible for us to achieve our mission. But the other half of the congestion equation is providing the transit alternative. Which we are able to do because of Measure M.”
“It’s clear that this plan to move forward has to be phased in, beginning with a study and then a pilot project. Because I fully believe that—as in London—the pilot will be so successful that people will want more.”
“Once congestion pricing is implemented the next step will be to increase transit options and make transit free. Together with congestion pricing this will help make biking and walking safer and reduce air pollutions and GHG emissions—which might be considered unintended but critically important benefits as well as an inheritance to leave for our children. We have built the greatest transportation infrastructure in the world, which helped make our nation great, but we have not continued to update and take care of it.”
“Free transit would also start with a pilot. Maybe it could begin with seniors and people with disabilities. Maybe we could provide free transit for community college students. We did make transit free on election day last November and during the teachers’ strike, and in the past we have made it free on Earth Day. Each time we netted a ridership increase of about 6-7%. Transportation is the 2nd highest household expenditure after the rent or mortgage. So making transit free would have a real impact.”
“At Metro we have been thinking about congestion pricing for a long time—we recommended an exploration in our Strategic Vision Plan, approved by the board last year. It’s one reason I created the Office of Extraordinary Innovation, and they will write the scope for a feasibility study. If the board says ‘Go’ on February 28—and the board has been, for the most part, supportive—we’ll start exploring the options, which could yield between $12 billion and as much as $104 billion over a decade, depending on what kind of congestion pricing, how much it costs, and how widely it is deployed.”
“We are the most populous county in America, we own the most vehicles, and we are innovative—no other agency has partnered with the private sector on microtransit and partnerships such as the one we’ve just begun with Getaround, a car-sharing program to help people get to and from 37 stations. We’re making scooters part of our first-last-mile strategy. And we are committed to setting standards including a guaranteed 20-minute ride from downtown LA to LAX. We are committed to stepping into a big leadership void in transportation when it comes to congestion. It is our mission.”
Please join us at the Conference Center of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on March 1 in downtown Los Angeles! This is the event where we built the coalition and momentum to pass both Measures R (2008) and M (2016), and this year we have another proposition—a 4-county ballot measure to dump diesel and conquer climate change! (Note LA Mayor Eric Garcetti once said we stage the biggest panels in the known universe!) Register HERE.
7:30 a.m. NETWORKING w/delicious hot breakfast + coffee = reason to come on over early! (See menu below!)
8:30 a.m. WELCOME Move LA Director Denny Zane and Board Chair Marlene Grossman
9:00 a.m. KEYNOTE LA Metro CEO Phil Washington on congestion pricing, free transit and more!
9:20 a.m. PANEL#1 REBUILDING TRANSIT RIDERSHIP IN LA COUNTY CA Sen. Ben Allen (Chair, Environmental Quality) • CA Sen. Holly Mitchell (Chair, Senate Budget) • Asm. Chris Holden, (Chair, Asm. Utilities and Energy) • Mike Fong (President, LA Community College District Board of Trustees) • Margaret Quinones-Perez (Chair, Santa Monica College Board of Trustees) • UCLA Professor Emeritus Donald Shoup • UCLA graduate student Romel Lopez • Devon Deming (Director, LA Metro Commute Services) • Stephanie Ramirez (AARP Associate State Director) • Lillibeth Navarro (Executive Director, CALIF) • Brandi Orton (Government Relations Director, St. Barnabus Senior Services)
10:45 a.m. BREAK
10:45 a.m. PANEL#2 PROTECTING AND BUILDING AFFORDABLE HOUSING NEAR TRANSIT W/O DISPLACEMENT Cynthia Strathmann (Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, SAJE) • Mariana Huerta Jones (Alliance for Community Transit Los Angeles, ACT-LA) • Natalie Hernandez (Climate Resolve) • Larry Kosmont (Kosmont Companies) • Cecilia Estolano (Estolano LeSar Advisors) • Sue Himmelrich (Western Center on Law and Poverty)
12 Noon LUNCH KEYNOTES: CA Sen. Kevin de Leon (former CA Senate President Pro Tem) • Mary Nichols (Chair, California Air Resources Board)
12:30 p.m. PANEL#3 VISION 2020: DUMP DIESEL, CONQUER CLIMATE CHANGE, ENHANCE METROLINK & CLEAN TRANSIT ACROSS REGION CA Sen. Fran Pavley (Ret.) • Stephanie Wiggins (CEO, Metrolink) • Ron Miller (Executive Secretary, LA-OC Building & Construction Trades Council) • Danny Curtin (Director, California Council of Carpenters) • Cesar Diaz (Legislative & Political Director, CA State Building Trades) • John Hakel (Director, SoCal Partnership for Jobs) • John Boesel (President & CEO, Calstart) • David Grannis (Founder & CEO, pointC, LLC) • Joe Lyou (President & CEO, Coalition for Clean Air and Governor's Appointee to the South Coast Air Quality Management District's Governing Board) • Marc Carrel (President & CEO of BREATHE California of LA and also of Emphysema Foundation of America) • Adrian Martinez (Staff Attorney, Earth Justice) • mark! Lopez (Executive Director, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice) • Quentin Foster (Director of California Climate, Environmental Defense Fund) • Dawn Wilson (Manager of Air, Climate & Transportation Electrification Policy, SoCal Edison) • Tanya Peacock (Public Policy & Planning Manager, SoCal Gas) • Todd Campbell (VP of Public Policy & Regulatory Affairs, Clean Energy Fuels) • Rory Stewart (Policy & Program Associate, LA Business Council) • Tracy Hernandez (CEO of BizFed).
2:30-3 p.m. CLOSING REMARKS
*Breakfast menu: Seasonal fresh fruit, fluffy scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, crispy bacon, scones & assorted pastries, butter and preserves, orange juice, freshly brewed coffee and assortment of teas.
Here we go dreaming big again. It's what we do. This is version 17 of our Vision 2020 Straw Man. We had 33 versions of our Measure M Straw Man. Call or email us and weigh in on what you think should be different.
Move LA's 2019 workplan makes environmental and social justice a priority on 3 major fronts, and we are looking to expand our coalition to help create campaigns that can win. Our endeavors in all these areas in the past have met with success, but we need an expanded and even more robust coalition—and the input that new partners can provide—to achieve the following goals:
- Expand access to public transit services for underserved populations: It is our goal to win funding in the Legislature and support from LA Metro for a truly universal student transit pass program, with funding likely to come from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund as we believe discounted student passes could greatly help reduce VMT. Toward this end we will be working to expand transit, micro-transit, and Access services for seniors and people with disabilities in LA County. We will also be working to keep fares low and oppose fare increases in LA County to ensure transit remains affordable to low- and very-low-income households.
Expand the supply of affordable housing, especially near transit:
- Move LA championed the creation of the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program by the Legislature in 2014, making it 1 of the 4 programs benefiting from 60% of the proceeds from the state's Cap & Trade program and are deposited in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. AHSC provides funding for affordable housing near transit in developments that also win funding for urban greening and for improvements that make them walkable and bikeable. We have been engaged in protecting funding for the program and would like to see it expanded.
- Gov. Brown signed Sen. Ben Allen's SB 961 this year, a bill we sponsored to allow the creation of "NIFTI-2" tax increment financing districts that will allocate 40% of the tax increment for affordable housing, 10% for urban greening and active transportation, and 50% for transit capital projects and other neighborhood improvements. In 2019 we will work to make it easier for cities and counties to implement these districts.
- We are concerned that in the rush to build more housing near transit in California we are concerned—as are many housing advocates—that residents who already live in these neighborhoods will be displaced as buildings are town down and replaced with more expensive ones. We intend to work with all those concerned to ensure that low-income residents are not displaced.
Build a coalition and a program for what we call Vision 2020—a ballot measure that will provide funding:
- To expand, modernize and electrify Metrolink, SoCal's regional commuter rail system;
- To provide a "local return" that enables each county to expand its transit system and services;
- To reduce air pollution—especially diesel emissions and GHGs—dramatically by providing incentive funding to accelerate the deployment of zero- and near-zero emission light- and medium-duty cars, SUVs and trucks, and heavy-duty trucks.
Join us in 2019 because together we can win all of these things and dump diesel and conquer climate change in the process! Read this if you want to know more about our work on these issues in the past and our new 2019 workplan.
Diesel exhaust is our No. 1 environmental justice challenge in Southern California, and the low-income communities of color living along Southern California's heavily trafficked goods movement corridors are the most heavily exposed. These “diesel death zones”—along the I-710 and 60 freeway corridors, for example—are unhealthy places in which to live, work and play, and we must address this inequity.
During his election campaign Governor-elect Gavin Newsom declared that he would seek an end to diesel emissions in California by 2030 through the deployment of cleaner technologies and cleaner cars and trucks. This is a public health and environmental justice IMPERATIVE, and it is the core objective of our Vision 2020 plan, because:
- California has declared diesel exhaust a toxic air contaminant and a primary cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking.
- Long-term exposure to diesel exhaust increases the risk of lung cancer. More.
- Diesel particle levels in California's air could cause 540 "excess" cancers (beyond the number that would occur if there were no diesel particles in the air) in a population of 1 million people over a 70-year lifespan.
- Numerous studies have linked elevated particle levels in the air to increased hospital admissions, emergency room visits, asthma attacks and premature deaths among those suffering from respiratory problems.
- Exposure to diesel exhaust can have immediate health effects: It can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and can cause coughs, headaches, light-headedness and nausea.
- Diesel pollutants are known to reduce lung capacity, increase risk for asthma, reduce IQs, and even cause aggressive behaviors in youth.
Read more about our Vision 2020 plan HERE.
We believe that in order to meet California's climate goals we must build transit ridership, and that a discounted student transit pass program for all public college and university students statewide is key to growing ridership: These are student riders are especially important because they may start making decisions about where to live and work based on whether there's transit nearby—they may even develop a life-long transit habit—and this is a program that would also reduce the cost of getting an education for both student riders and for schools.
Renown UCLA Professor Donald Shoup and other UCLA researchers published a landmark study of 35 universal student transit pass programs around the US in 2001 finding, among other things, that these programs increased transit ridership from 71% to 200%, and reduced the cost of going to school by $2,000/year since students didn’t have to own a car (these costs are probably much higher now).
Professor Shoup has supported our efforts to get the California Legislature to create a statewide transit pass program, pointing out in one letter that "UCLA established a university transit pass program, BruinGO, in Fall 2000. Bus ridership for commuting to campus in increased by 56% during BruinGO’s first year, and solo driving fell by 20%.
"Three years of commuting data showed the surprisingly high cost-effectiveness of BruinGO. During its first year, BruinGO cost only $810,000, and the drive-alone share for commuting to campus declined by 4.1%. Three years after BruinGO began, UCLA opened a new $47 million parking structure, and the drive-alone share increased by 4 percentage points. Offering fare-free public transit to reduce parking demand was far cheaper than spending $47 million to add 1,500 new parking spaces. (Italics are Move LA's.)
We believe that our new governor will support a statewide student transit pass program unlike his predecessor, who had other priorities. We will keep you updated on our progress! Read more about our student transit pass strategy HERE.
Welcome 2019! Bring it on! We've begun the New Year by moving from our previous home in the MALDEF building on Spring Street and 7th into a shared office space at the LA Clean Tech Incubator in the Arts District, where we're planning for a year of transformational opportunity—beginning with our Vision 2020 plan to help Southern California dump diesel, conquer climate change, and become a model for the world!
It's been a good decade for Move LA and our ever-expanding coalition of civic and community leaders. We made a real impact teeing up Measures R (2008) and M (2016) to provide $160 billion for transportation (70% for transit) in LA County. Then we played a significant role in winning votes for Measure H (2017) to help end homelessness in LA County) and in protecting $5 billion/year in statewide transportation funding (2018)—voters in LA County rejected Prop 6 by the largest margin, 60.05% to 39.95%, compared to 55% to 45% statewide!
Can we top that? That's our goal! On our 2019 to-do list:
- Convince our new governor to sign a bill creating a statewide universal discounted student transit pass program to increase transit ridership and help reduce the cost of an education.
- Make it easier to approve tax increment financing districts so Sen. Allen’s SB 961, which we sponsored and which was signed by Gov. Brown last year, can make it possible for more transit riders to live near transit in mixed-income, mixed-use, green and leafy neighborhoods. (SB 961 would create a TIF dedicating 40% for affordable housing, 10% for urban greening, and 50% for transit capital projects and other neighborhood improvements.)
- Launch our campaign to dump diesel and conquer climate change! Bold, right?! We’re building a 4-county coalition to work with the South Coast Air Quality Management District on a regional ballot measure to 1) reduce GHGs by accelerating the deployment of clean technologies and vehicles 2) expand and electrify Metrolink 3) finally meet Clean Air Act standards (for the first time. The result will be an expanding market for clean cars and trucks that will bring the price and GHG emissions down.
As you know, we believe that fortune favors the bold. Join us in 2019!