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Can Metro's innovation guru transport LA into the future?

KPCC's Alex Cohen asks Metro's Chief of Innovation Joshua Schank what he envisions for LA's mass transit system ahead of the 2028 Olympic Games
KPCC's Alex Cohen asks Metro's Chief of Innovation Joshua Schank what he envisions for LA's mass transit system ahead of the 2028 Olympic Games
Lita Martinez

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Traffic is bad enough in Los Angeles on an ordinary day. With the city tapped to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, officials have to figure out how they'll move all those extra people around this massive city.

They're looking to Joshua Schank, Metro's first Chief Innovation Officer, to come up with some... well, innovative solutions.

While riding the rails with KPCC Morning Edition Host Alex Cohen, Schank discussed his unique title and how he's planning for an event that's more than a decade away. 

The Expo Park/USC Station on Metro's Expo Line is the closest stop to the LA Memorial Coliseum, where many Olympic events are expected to be held when the games come to Los Angeles in 2028.
The Expo Park/USC Station on Metro's Expo Line is the closest stop to the LA Memorial Coliseum, where many Olympic events are expected to be held when the games come to Los Angeles in 2028.
Alex Cohen

Schank says the Olympic planning process starts by looking at the system's user-friendliness: 

There’s been a big change in transportation in the last five years, primarily driven by the invention of the smart phone. People expect transportation to be provided with almost perfect information. They expect to know when and where things are going and exactly what time they’re going at arrive. People expect to be able to pay for transportation very seamlessly.

But even he has a hard time navigating the Metro system. He blames the philosophy behind L.A.'s public transportation infrastructure:

I think that there has been a tendency in Los Angeles to think of mass transit as a last resort for people who don’t have cars, which is a terrible way to think about mass transit. You wind up designing a mass transit system that is barely functional and is not trying to compete for customers.

Expo Park/USC Metro Station
Expo Park/USC Metro Station
Alex Cohen

Retooling the city's system isn't just about moving visitors from one place to another. Schank sees it as a reflection of how L.A. stacks up to the rest of the world. 

He says major improvements will take time — but they are coming. The passage of Measure M in November was a big step in the right direction. The Olympics should accelerate that process further.

Our goal is to become a world-class transportation system where we are on par with all the great cities of the world — because Los Angeles is one of the greatest cities. It’s lacking one key element, which is a mass transit alternative that’s viable for most people.