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What if we simply…stopped building new gas stations? That’s the gist of a new idea from Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz.
A ban? So serious! Even radical. Depending on whom you ask, it’s either brilliantly forward-thinking or outrageously irresponsible.
In reality, it’s probably neither. Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope math and I’ll explain why.
- The population of Los Angeles County has been hovering around 10 million people for the past decade. Projections show that trend will continue, or the population will increase very modestly.
- The population of the United States is only expected to grow about 20% over the next 40 years.
- There are 7,634,497 total vehicles registered in L.A. County. That number has been basically flat for the last five years. The seven million mark was broken back in 2004.
There’s really no demand for new gas stations. It seems the free market has known this for a long time:The number of gas stations in California increased by only 5% between 2010 and 2020, and the numbers have actually fallen slightly from their peak in 2016.
In other words, we’re already not building new gas stations. Koretz is offering a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. The City Council is aware of this, of course, but argues that the phase out makes a statement about Los Angeles’ commitment to climate, whichisundeniablyworld-leading.
But if the ban does accomplish one thing it’s opening the door to a discussion about what to do with these properties. So off we go.
So what would a bold political statement actually look like?
Let’s first examine how the demand for gas stations is expected to decrease over the next few decades as EVs become widespread—and then mandatory.
Since 2011, the percentage of new car sales that are battery EVs has risen from 0.5% to 12.8% in California, bringing the state to a total of 563,070 light-duty EVs on the road. Whether this equates to a 12% decline in demand for gasoline is a trickier question. But that should start to change rapidly as EV adoption continues to accelerate. With the state mandating that all new vehicle sales be electric by 2035, we can assume that by roughly 2050 nearly every car on the road will be electric, since the average lifespan of a new car is 8-12 years.
“We've been hearing for years that EVs are going to reach price parity with internal combustion engine vehicles in the next two or three years,” says Andy Shrader, director of environmental affairs, water policy and sustainability for Paul Koretz. “Once that happens, particularly with the high cost of gas, where is demand for gas cars gonna go? Probably in the toilet.”
Still, details from the Council for what’s going to happen to these properties remain scant.
For one thing, cleanup is going to be a major issue. Gas stations arenotorious ecological problems known as brownfields. According to the EPA, a brownfield is a site that may be difficult to expand, redevelop or reuse due to pollution or contamination.
“Of the estimated 450,000 brownfield sites in the U.S., approximately one-half are thought to be impacted by petroleum," the agency says, "much of it from leaking underground storage tanks (USTs) at old gas stations. These sites blight the surrounding neighborhoods and threaten human health and the environment.”
The city is weighing these exact issues and working on policy initiatives to ease the transition, Shrader says. Part of the problem, he adds, is that forecasting the rate of EV adoption is tricky: Supply chain constraints, changing economic incentives at the federal level and the larger macroeconomic climate are all throwing wrenches on both the supply and demand side, making it difficult to predict exactly how gasoline demand will be impacted.
“What is the curve of [EV adoption]?” asks Shrader. “We want to make sure that the arc of that transition meets demand, right? That's kind of the delicate balance we're trying to achieve.”
A seemingly obvious solution is to convert old gas stations into level 2 or level 3 fast charging stations, and many will surely go that route. But charging an EV takes significantly longer than filling up a gas tank (for now), and chargers may be more effective if they’re placed at offices, restaurants or retail areas.
People will also be able to charge at home, meaning the eventual demand for public recharging stations may be significantly lower than our current gas station needs. But, as Shrader notes, this creates its own issues.
“If people charge at their residences, then we've got the problem of increasing demand at a time when we've got less energy available from the sun,” he says. “We need to upgrade the whole electric power grid.”
No one ever said tackling climate change would be easy. While banning new gas stations probably doesn’t get us much closer to that goal, at least Los Angeles isn’t building more, or trying to ban EV charging stations unless they also offer gas. dot.LA will have more details for how the city manages this transition as they emerge.
“This is the beginning of a longer conversation,” says Shrader. “The motion directs city staff to figure out how the city can do this. The specific details will come in the staff report and the Council will react and give direction.” — David Shultz
Initially conceived as a way to preserve stories of Holocaust survivors and talk to other historical figures, StoryFile’s AI-based videos are now showing up at funerals, where the recently departed can answer questions from those they left behind.
The El Segundo-based space simulation company acquired a division of Colorado-based Numerica Corp and U.K.-based Seradata, which maintains a comprehensive database of all launches dating back to 1957.
After raising $1.8 million in a pre-seed round led by MetaWeb, the Los Angeles and New York-based startup now has a beta version of its decentralized, user-owned social media platform.
Nyborg's exit is one of several management changes at Tinder as it reconsiders its investments in virtual currencies and metaverse-based dating.
What We’re Reading ...
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Everyone hates traffic, and it’s no secret that Los Angeles has some of the worst commutes in the country. Drivers in the LA area waste an average of 62 hours – more than an entire work week – in traffic every year, making it the sixth most congested city in the country.
Right now, the idea of zipping around Southern California in a compact air taxi seems like a Philip K. Dick pipe dream. But there’s a handful of startups in the LA area eagerly engineering electric aircrafts that they say could be operational as soon as 2024.
Some of these startups have found powerful, well-funded allies in the ground transportation sector, like Archer Aviation which is backed by United Airlines, or Joby Aviation, funded in part by Uber. Others are supported by municipalities or nonprofits like the Urban Movements Lab, which LA Mayor Eric Garcetti launched in 2020 to hasten development on new transportation tech.
Here’s dot.LA’s guide to the startups you need to know that are working on air taxis or autonomous flight in Los Angeles.
OverairOverair Raises $145M To Fly Its Electric Aircraft PrototypeImage courtesy of Overair
Location: Santa Ana
Raised to date: $170 million
Overair raised a $145 million round last month to accelerate the development of its electric plane called Butterfly, which is a vertical take-off and landing vehicle that could see its first test flight by the second half of 2023. The company’s backed by a South Korean conglomerate called Hanwha and was spun out of a Lake-forest based military aerospace contractor called Karem Aircraft in 2020. Originally, the company made tech capable of dropping Navy SEALs into combat zones.
Courtesy Archer Aviation
Location: Santa Clara
Raised to date: $2.18 billion
Archer went public in September 2021, raising nearly $858 million in a SPAC deal that made the startup a unicorn with a $1.7 billion post-deal valuation. Based in Santa Clara, Archer thinks its Maker aircraft can begin charting courses over Los Angeles at up to 150 miles per hour within the next two years. The company completed its first hover test flight last December and is gearing up for another test flight this week.
Wisk AeroWisk AeroImage courtesy of Wisk Aero
Location: Mountain View
Raised to date: $450 million
While it’s not headquartered in Los Angeles, it's worth mentioning Wisk since it’s working extensively in Long Beach. The Silicon Valley-based company began working with the city’s Office of Economic Research in February to survey local businesses, government agencies and community leaders to gauge their interest in using air taxis in and around Long Beach. Wisk spokesman Chris Brown told dot.LA the company’s air taxis wouldn’t be up and running for another decade, at least, but said the startup’s already completed over 1,500 test flights.
Joby AviationCredit: Joby Aviation
Location: Santa Cruz
Raised to date: $1.64 billion
One of the older firms on this list, Joby is working to make an electric aircraft with the goal of taking passengers on flights within the next two years. Joby claims its vehicle can travel 150 miles on a single charge and will be capable of vertical take-off and landing, which crucially could reduce the company’s need to build expensive runways. Following backing from Uber, Toyota, Intel and JetBlue, Joby went public in August 2021 which led it to quickly surpass unicorn status at a $4.5 billion valuation.
Odys AviationCredit: Odys Aviation
Location: Long Beach
Raised to date: $15.9 million
Long Beach-based Odys is building vertical take-off and landing electric planes and is aiming to create a network of local city helipads and airports that can host its vertiports. Odys was founded by James Dorris, a former engineer at Virgin Hyperloop, and Axel Radermacher, a former production manager at Karma Automotive, in 2019. The startup wants to cut door-to-door travel times in half by ferrying people across town in air taxis. It’s backed by Hyperloop One co-founder Brogan Bambrogan.
SkyryseMake Flying Simple: Skyryse’s FlightOS Gives Pilots Control With Just a Tablet
Raised to date: $240.5 million
Skyryse is working on a software that can simplify flight controls and allow people (with the proper pilot creds, of course) to control aircraft with just an iPad using its FlightOS software. The startup launched in 2016 and in 2019 it demonstrated its ability to use the tech to program a helicopter to fly itself. In April, the company inked a deal with one of its investors, the medical transport company Air Methods, to retrofit 400 of the company’s single-engine choppers and fixed-wing airplanes with FlightOS. Skyryse courted engineers from Boeing, Ford, JetBlue and SpaceX, and hired new COO Justin Ryan and CFO Stephen Koo earlier this month.
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Three months after opening its new headquarters in Santa Monica, micromobility startup Veo is expanding its fleet and its footprint. As of last week, riders have been able to cross the municipal boundary between Santa Monica and L.A. and take trips north to Will Rogers State Beach, south to Marina Del Rey and east to Mar Vista.
“It’s good to see more people able to actually commute from Santa Monica to a nearby neighborhood…because in the past, we [did] see a lot of people stopped at the boundary,” said Veo CEO Candice Xie.
A screenshot shows Veo scooters' new availability on the west side of the city of L.A.
Still, riders will not be able to ride all through the city of L.A. The city of L.A. has only granted them permits for 500 vehicles. Xie said they’re focusing on expanding the boundaries of where their mostly Santa Monica-based users are already indicating they want to ride.
As part of the expansion, the company is adding a mixed fleet of 400 e-bikes and 100 standing scooters.
Enterprising riders who venture beyond the new, expanded geofenced zone can expect to receive a warning text message and for their vehicle to come to a slow stop. In addition, they will not be allowed to leave the e-scooter or e-bike outside of the zone without incurring a penalty that starts at $15.
Currently, it costs riders $1 to unlock and $0.33 cents per minute to ride (plus tax and fees). Residents of Santa Monica and Los Angeles who qualify can apply to ride at a reduced rate through Veo Access, where riders pay $5 per month for unlimited 30 minute rides.
Xie said that the permit approval process for the city of L.A. took longer than originally anticipated and that this new expansion will happen in phases, with the next phase anticipated in two to three months.
Veo is the seventh micromobility operator currently permitted in the city of Los Angeles, joining rivals Bird, Lime, Wheels, LINK (Superpedestrian), Lyft and Spin.
Veo’s expansion comes at a precarious time for the shared micromobility market. Earlier this month, Santa Monica-based Bird laid off 23% of its staff. Layoffs were also reported at both Superpedestrian and Voi this week.
However, Xie said that Veo is doubling down on both the greater L.A. area and California as a whole, as it recently launched in Berkeley and intends to move into Santa Clara and San Jose soon. As other companies lay off workers in pursuit of profitability, Xie said Veo is expanding.
“We're still hiring from the community and want to increase our exposure and also have more local talent join us.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Veo vehicles were already available in Santa Clara.
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