L.A.'s Mayor On Solving The City's Congestion

In this interview, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa talks about how to tackle the city's congestion and housing issues.

"Los Angelinos now spend about four full days a year trapped in traffic, more time than residents of any other city. But Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is taking on gridlock, and his sometimes-reluctant constituents, in promoting an aggressive slate of transportation fixes."

U.S. News & World Report: "Is building more roads an option?"

Antonio Villaraigosa: "Given the density of the city, it's not viable to build more freeways. If building a freeway involves knocking down a neighborhood, it's not going to happen. It will be more cost effective to invest in public transportation. It's where we've got to go, it's where great cities around the world have gone, and we've just taken a little longer in realizing that."

Full Story: Q&A: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa



Electronic Public Transportation

Dear Mayor Villaraigosa,

You seem like a person aware of the possibilities for reinventing government and the power of new technology to extricate us from dilemma. Have you considered focusing your principles on transportation and the Climate Crisis?

You are most likely aware of the debate concerning traffic congestion in your city (and occasionally my city). The notes by six specialists in the LA Times How to Fix Traffic, April 15, 2007, are a good example.

While the specialists’ opinions and facts are unassailable in the very short term (a year or two) they are specialized. That is; they rarely consider merging a traffic fix with a Climate Crisis fix. More important, with the quarter-the-possibilities exception of Mr. Balaker, they don’t address merging a traffic fix with technologies emerging from outside their areas of expertise.

Below you will find a draft one of six concepts from the “electronics” portion of the Transportation Chapter of a Fossil Free by 2033 Plan. It isn’t the most or the least impact concept. It isn’t the most or the least controversial. It doesn’t include the Executive Summary. The Plan is being assembled by a non-profit. My efforts are voluntary. Synergist solutions are longer term (five to fifteen years), but well within any 2030 Plans or freeway expansions.

This one concept addresses the “finding parking” parking meter rate concern of Professor Shoup. Another concept uses electronics to address Professor Moore’s issue with MTA. As a bicycle commuting Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council member, I apologize some of the concepts won’t fit Mr. Reynolds’ MTA paradigm. The whole of the concepts is greater than the sum of their parts. Together the concepts offer a “fourth way” not envisioned by Professor Taylor.

Electronics Applied to Transportation
Fossil Free by 2033 (FFb33)
Mark E. Capron, PE (civil)
Synergy Engineer
Draft of April 18, 2007


While eating breakfast, you tell your cellphone your travel plans for the day. A few minutes later, your phone starts offering carpool matches from your pre-selected circle of carpool buddies. You decide to ride in with Jane and return home on the flex bus.

Our cellphones have most of the components and computing power for spontaneous ride sharing or flex transit use. Most cellphones have GPS and can accept “text message” entry of addresses and schedule. Most could be programmed for voice recognition of addresses and times. This concept is a broader application of the San Francisco Bay Area BART “RideNow” program.

You could choose to give or accept rides only from your friends. Similarly, you would control who your children’s phones coordinate rides with. However, by occasionally accepting the recommendations of your initial friends, you would gradually expand your ridesharing options.

Thinking beyond existing technology, cellphone manufacturers are planning cellphone features that make it safer to talk on the phone while driving. For example, Motorola is developing a Driver AdvocateTM system and "Polite Phone" prototype. Motorola’s Driver AdvocateTM system features a nomadic device gateway that prioritizes and adapts the presentation of information to the driver, relative to the driving situation and, ultimately, to the driver’s workload. As of late 2006, the Driver Advocate has been a work in progress for four years under a plan to develop a system in four technology generations. Motorola’s Polite Phone accomplishes the same thing concerning cellphone use, but with the intelligence located in the phone itself.

The combination of expanding ride sharing options with improved cellphone features allows for a future of on-the-fly ridesharing. With a sufficiently large selection of friends, one might run errands involving the use of special vehicle features. For example, catch a ride to the hardware store on the back of a tandem bicycle and return with a few sheets of plywood in a truck, each ride arranged ten minutes before departure. The drivers were already on the road and happened to be passing by.

Advanced electronics would also address the incentives for giving rides and taking rides. Transit agencies would operate a “ride bank.” Signing up for the ride bank might be voluntary, but many people would want to sign up because it removes the financial awkwardness of the rider compensating the driver. Cellphones with a “bank account” would automatically notify the bank of credits and debits, because the phones know who drove, who rode, and exactly how far. Ideally, the exchange rate would be set by the bank daily based on an algorithm that seeks to minimize the amount of fossil fuel used while providing exactly the desired level of convenience and cost for drivers and riders.

The transit agency bank would charge a few cents per mile of ride share to cover the cost of maintaining the bank, checking on drivers’ auto insurance status, coordinating cellphone promotions, broadcasting helpful infomercials to cellphones on features and etiquette.

Charities might pay the bank to ensure rides are available for the less economically fortunate. Transit agencies might subsidize a cadre of emergency drivers to backup the ‘pooling and other transit options.

‘Pooling Economics – If most trips involved 4 to 5 people per vehicle, instead of roughly 1 person, fuel per trip drops to a quarter or a fifth of 2006. This is not an impossible impact because the flexibility and “safety net” of ‘pooling feeds the use of routine carpools and traditional mass transit, in addition to combining trips for work and errands. However, there is a practical limit to the ratio for the number of people wanting a ride to similar destinations at similar times and those driving. (Though you wouldn’t guess that when stuck in traffic.) Like for traditional mass transit, the ratio should depend on population density. I suggest using 50% for the impact, which represents a doubling of the average people per vehicle.

The initial cost to the individual or community would be near zero. Most people have cellphones and would upgrade their cellphone for other features in addition to the ‘pooling. Individuals and the community would pay the “transit bank” and phone company a nominal fee as they use the service. The ongoing cost is perhaps less than half that of driving alone, especially for those who forgo owning a car. Those owning cars have the opportunity to operate closer to a third the cost of driving alone (depends on how 2+ riders pay).

When considering the relative cost of expanded transit against the costs of ‘pooling, one should be aware of the mass transit account balance within the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The Congressional Budget Office expects the mass transit account revenues to cover expenses until 2012. The Administration expects the mass transit account will be exhausted in 2011.1

Extremely convenient ‘pooling is very low on the “pain” index for individuals. It does mess with some potential campaign contributors. Vehicle sales may decrease as vehicle miles decrease, which may upset the auto industry. Reduced traffic congestion reduces the need for new roads or traditional mass transit, potentially upsetting the transportation complex and elected leaders who depend on earmarks for support. Taxi and bus operators may protest a successful ‘pooling program. Privacy advocates will be concerned.

‘Pooling is feasible, and could be deployed with full feature cellphones in a year plus cellphone turnover, say 3 years. A fully programmable phone, FIC Neo1973, see openmoko.org, is available to “developers” in April 2007. “End-user” versions will be available in September 2007. Other phones are as programmable, but the cell service providers maintain strict control of “end-user” programmability.


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