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Public-Private Collaboration Towards Sustainable Inclusive Mobility
November 2023

I recently attended CoMotion LA for the third time. This two-day annual event organized in Los Angeles gathers representatives from the public and private sectors as well as academia from North America and Europe. Discussions focus on ways to improve the transportation systems that serve people and goods, whether on the ground and in the air, mainly in urban settings.


Senior leaders from cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Pittsburgh, Paris, London, Milan, Amsterdam shared their successes, pain points and road maps relating mainly to technology, policy, and economics. The private sector — mostly startups — presented their solutions and the lessons learnt from deploying them in various geographies. Academics contributed well-documented analyses, thoughts, and recommendations to achieve common goals.


Issues of common interest to these three stakeholder groups are broad ranging, including safety sustainability, equitable access to mobility options, economics and funding, system performance, quality of service, congestion, shared vs. owned mobility assets, public transit vs. private modes or the optimal use of the curbside. 


I will just address a few topics I found particularly interesting among the many that were discussed. They are related to managing the curb, developing an urban, public charging infrastructure and addressing the dependance on cars in Los Angeles.


Managing the Curb – A Constrained Asset in Significant Demand

Curb management is a major topic for most cities which must deal with the combination of a limited supply and increasing demand. Cities are not building new curbs in existing districts. Yet, demand has been creeping up in dense city centers mainly due to increasing e-commerce deliveries, ride-hailing drop-offs and pick-ups or the need to access shared mobility assets (bikes, cars, scooters). As a result, some cities (mainly in Europe, e.g., Paris) have converted many on-street parking spots into delivery spaces, docks for shared bikes, spots for private two-wheelers or terraces for cafés. 


For reference, Los Angeles has 3.6 million on-street parking spots for 3.8 million inhabitants (14% of the city’s space is occupied by parking!). By comparison, Paris had about 130,000 on-street spots (about 800,000 in total) in 2020 for a population of 2.2 million and was planning on reducing the former by about a third by 2026 in a clear effort to rid Parisians of their cars.


Given these constrains, the objective for city administrators consists in maximizing curb productivity, as well as enhancing road safety and decarbonizing transportation, including by adding a publicly accessible charging infrastructure. 


Maximizing curb productivity means finding the optimal point for the various stakeholders, i.e., residents, public transit, ride- and bike-share, deliveries, ride-hailing, etc. This requires first having a digital inventory of parking assets which often lacks. To this end, cities and private entities have jointly developed the Curb Data Specification (CDS) under the umbrella of the Open Mobility Foundation. It creates a standard for coding the curb and associated activities in order to share data efficiently among stakeholders.


Once the curbside inventory is established, real-time data must be collected as to the actual demand and usage of the curb. One of the companies providing this type of data is Automotus, an L.A.-based startup that uses street cameras with computer vision at the edge. This data enables to potentially re-allocate the curb and optimize parking pricing.


Dynamic pricing can be used in case the curb is in high demand. Certain streets or times of the day are more constrained than others. Ride-hailing drop-offs / pick-ups and deliveries are ephemeral but critical and can be addressed with by-the-minute pricing. Conversely, parking for shopping may last a couple of hours but can sometimes be avoided using public transit. Variable pricing can be applied to these various use cases in line with a city’s objectives. 


Let’s remember that parking fees — and associated violations — represent an essential source of revenue for cites. In some virtuous cases, these funds are used to finance public transit systems which provide an incentive to use the latter when traffic and parking are issues.



Urban EV Charging for Private Vehicles and Public Fleets

Battery electric vehicles sales are growing at a fast pace, reaching about 7% year to date in the USA — 21% in California — and 17% in Europe. Likewise, cities are electrifying their fleets of buses (LA has hundreds of them coming on stream), police vehicles, street cleaning and refuse trucks, etc.


Providing EV charging options requires a joint effort between public and private entities, especially as cities own a large portion of the urban spaces that could be used for public charging. However, they do not have the resources to finance the public charging infrastructure that is necessary to achieve their sustainability goals.


For instance, San Diego leverages the fact that it is the largest parking owner in the city (libraries, schools, administrative buildings, etc.) to quickly deploy a charging network where people charge when the cost is lowest — or even negative given the amount of solar energy.  To this end, the city is engaging in ten-year contracts with private entities to install and operate the chargers, after which a new set of ten-year contracts will provide revenue sharing.


Charging public fleets offers a different set of opportunities and constraints. Vehicles can typically be charged at their depots — and buses potentially along their routes. Significant investment may be required to boost local power supply and install many plugs. Cities have the choice between two models: own-and-operate or charge-as-a-service. Differences between the models include CAPEX lay-out, cash-flows allocation, demand risk, in-house expertise, and performance management.


It is interesting to note that energy and transportation are increasingly managed by the same team at the city level. Likewise at the federal level, a Joint Office of Energy and Transportation was created. 



Addressing Car Dependence in Los Angeles

L.A. is equipped with a web of multi-lane highways that constitute the transportation backbone of this vastly sprawled megacity. The city has a very strong car culture. Public transit and active modes (walking, biking) are underdeveloped. Traffic congestion is rampant. It is important to understand the current situation in order to change this unsustainable status quo. 


“Los Angeles has been the model for car-dependent cities around the world,” John Rossant, the founder and CEO of CoMotion, told me. “That is precisely why we decided to come here in the first place – if Los Angeles can move towards a more sustainable and multimodal mobility future, any city can. We see Los Angeles as Ground Zero of the Mobility Revolution.”


BMW interviewed about 1,500 people in L.A. as part of larger effort to understand behaviors towards mobility and relationships with personal vehicles — interviewing about 10,000 people across 15 cities, 3 continents since 2017. A professor from University of California at Davis presented the findings of their cluster analysis of the data for Los Angeles during the conference.


L.A. residents are very attached to their personal vehicles — notably more so than in San Francisco or European and Chinese cities. They associate freedom, fun, and safety to their vehicles despite poor driving conditions. They have a rather negative perception of public transit. They are however interested in biking but seldom do so due to a lack of protected infrastructure and security issues.


Biking therefore represents an opportunity to change the status quo provided riding conditions become safe and secure. The poor perception of public transit and density of such options need to be addressed. Finally, on-demand solutions, which are well accepted, may offer a path to foster multimodality and expand to other shared modes, including public ones.


All in all, this conference provided very interesting discussions among a large group of stakeholders while highlighting opportunities for further improvement towards sustainable mobility.

Marc Amblard

Managing Director, Orsay Consulting

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