SoCal Storylines: Navigating the transportation of tomorrow
Southern California is a global leader in many fields, but its transportation infrastructure has struggled to keep up. On Tuesday, August 23, KPCC commuting and mobility reporter Meghan McCarty moderated a discussion with Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Phil Washington and Los Angeles World Airports CEO Deborah Flint at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. The conversation focused on present-day challenges and the future of transportation in Los Angeles and kicked off SoCal Storylines, a series of events produced in collaboration with the Milken Institute.
If there’s one thing Angelenos are passionate about, it’s their commutes. At SoCal Storylines: Navigating the transportation of tomorrow, McCarty asked Washington and Flint – two leaders in L.A.’s transportation sector – to share their visions for the future of L.A. Both said they see the potential for a multimodal, customer-friendly transportation experience across Los Angeles’s sprawling geography and through its most heavily utilized transit points. Washington described the county as a “blank slate” with the potential to become the “infrastructural capital of the world” with the proper investments – namely, Metro’s November ballot measure M to raise sales tax by ½ cent, an initiative that, according to Washington, would generate $120 billion over the next 30 to 40 years. He emphasized the importance of a transportation balance: increasing ridership on public transport, building up bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and improving freeways. “The automobile is not the enemy,” he said.
Flint described LAX as a global icon of the jet age and spoke of $14 billion being invested in improving accessibility to LAX. These improvements will culminate, she said, in a “free-flowing experience” tailored to each individual traveler mediated by the traveler’s mobile device.
Flint and Washington both dismissed predictions that the rail extension to LAX would divert only 1–2 percent of travelers from roadways. Flint previously oversaw an expansion of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, and on Tuesday, she said that experience caused her to believe rail extension would result in increased ridership overall. She also said LAX had to improve its accessibility if it hopes to remain attractive to international travelers, who have come to expect easy transport to and from airports. Washington said that these kinds of predictions are typically low and that millennials’ disinclination to drive would help ensure a longer-term increase in ridership on public transit.
As for buses, Washington said 70 percent of public transportation ridership is via buses. He described ways Metro is working to improve riders’ experiences, including keeping buses on time, making wifi available, providing safety and security and better maintaining bus stops. He said that Metro “looks at the system two times a year to assess travel and employment patterns” in order to better serve its ridership. Flint said that buses are part of the “freedom and frequency of choice” that would improve the customer experience at LAX.
Flint and Washington said their agencies take issues of social equity seriously. Flint said, “We try to reduce and minimize impacts” on local neighborhoods, adding that LAX employs 40,000 workers and that part of their workplace satisfaction comes from having an easy commute. She added that as the multibillion-dollar modernization project at LAX gets under way, her agency aims to employ local small businesses to carry out the work when possible.
In regards to Metro projects, Washington said, he doesn’t want to displace communities because it “impacts my bottom line.” Within a two-mile radius around a station, Washington said the L.A. Metro Board requires any development on Metro-owned land to include 35 percent affordable housing. He also said the upcoming ballot measure M includes funding to keep fares low for “seniors, military veterans and the disabled” as well as a “local return” of funds to help communities maintain municipal travel infrastructure.
When McCarty asked what will happen if the ballot measure doesn’t pass, Washington called it a “doomsday question” he couldn’t answer. “There will be 2.3 million additional people in this county in the next 15 to 20 years.” If serious improvements aren’t made now, “we will get eaten alive by congestion,” Washington said. “We’ve been on an infrastructure vacation for the last three decades.” Washington said he is working to cultivate a culture of innovation at Metro, rooting out naysayers and partnering with the private sector. He said Metro’s large-scale project would create 465,000 jobs and result in “the creation of a new middle class” in Los Angeles.
Phil Washington, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Deborah Flint, chief executive officer of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA)
This event was part of our series "SoCal Storylines: Conversations with movers and shakers." Through these forward-looking public forums, the Milken Institute’s California Center and KPCC, Southern California Public Radio, will dive deep into Southern California’s regional issues, including transportation, workforce, housing and innovation. We’ll talk to people on the front lines of those issues – and welcome you to join the conversation about how to solve some of our most vexing problems.