Column: LA's Vision for Micromobility Is Failing. Here's How to Fix It

Jason Thomas
Jason Thomas is a former strategic finance operator at Bird scooters who is passionate about growing businesses and driving operational efficiency. He's built a career across a variety of companies including Google and GoodRx.
Column: LA's Vision for Micromobility Is Failing. Here's How to Fix It

In 2019, the city of Los Angeles held a one-year micromobility pilot program that prescribed how the city's micromobility companies could operate. The goal was to learn about the dockless transportation model and its impact on urban mobility.

L.A. said it wanted to focus on how safety, equity, access and quality of life were impacted by collecting vast amounts of data from operators and their vehicles.

Nearly four years later, we haven't seen an update to the micromobility program or meaningful infrastructure to support its expansion.

L.A. could improve this program and create an infrastructure for scooters and bikes that would help ensure safe, affordable and sustainable mobility options for all of its communities by being more open with its data around ridership trends, reporting where revenue is being spent, and investing more into infrastructure to support its micromobility ambitions.

Collecting Data for the Wrong Reasons

Los Angeles collects data from scooters, bikes and other sources, including vehicle and trip data such as where a trip begins, where it ends, the route it takes, how long it takes, etc.

All that data comes from the city's digital infrastructure, mobility providers' apps and consumers. When you ride a Bird, the company logs the data on their servers and L.A. collects the data through a set of APIs.

But much of that information is used to generate revenue, rather than assist travelers. Early on, Los Angeles — like other cities — saw an opportunity to tap well-financed operators for operating cash, originally offering a revenue share of $1 per ride per day to cities.

The data the city collects ensures that it gets its share of revenue and enforces its regulations, but it doesn't do much to build a better-connected city.

According to their One Year Micromobility Report, L.A. invested only $2 million into its micromobility infrastructure. Atlanta, Tel Aviv, and Santa Monica are investing more dollars per capita across more square miles than Los Angeles.

Enforcing regulations and managing L.A.'s program is costly, and it's crucial that the city recoups their costs, however, there is no visibility into how much the city has raised in incremental costs to manage micromobility programs nor transparency in how the revenue earned from operators is being spent.

Micromobility data and revenue earned by the city is meant to be leveraged to build transportation infrastructure, access, safety, and equity but we haven't seen tangible progress in these areas from Los Angeles.

Moving Forward

First and foremost, L.A. should be transparent about their micromobility management operations and costs, how the revenue earned from operators is spent, and report out micromobility ridership trends. Citizens and operators are primary stakeholders in this program and have a right to more and better insights.

Better infrastructure is key to the success of micromobility. At least 36 cyclists were killed in L.A. County in 2019 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many of these deaths were a result of poor bike lanes and resulted in multimillion-dollar payouts by the city.

The L.A. Green New Deal has very ambitious goals to build more than 20 bike lane miles per year by 2028 and reduce vehicle miles travelled by 45% by 2050. According to their latest report, they are on track to achieve their 2021 mobility goals. One of them is improving micromobility infrastructure at transit stations.

We are still in the early days of L.A.'s Green New Deal and time will tell whether these infrastructure projects come to fruition, but the timeline is ambitious.

Nonetheless, L.A. should leverage micromobility data such as trip start and end locations to understand general ridership behavior and trends. They can use this information, paired with vehicle driving and Metro data, to prioritize bike lane infrastructure projects as well as address underserved communities where micromobility would be valuable to citizens.

L.A. should also use app open data to understand where users are looking for options and work with operators to bring vehicles to those locations to better serve citizens.

Operators like Bird and Lime are experts in micromobility. They could leverage city data to find efficiencies for their business.

Los Angeles should reframe its relationship with operators as partners to build a future with micromobility as a core pillar of its transportation options.

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