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Since early April after Mayor Eric Garcetti issued his safer-at-home order, the number of vehicles on the road fell by more than half. However, traffic is slowly getting back to its normal numbers, which presently is at 80% normal. In contrast, traffic fell 54% in April. But now, traffic is expected to go back to its full tilt as the economy recovers from the pandemic.
Interviewed by Spectrum News, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds talked about the challenges the city faces in keeping traffic under control and the role shared mobility platforms, like on-demand scooters, bicycles, and cars, will have to play going forward.
“Right before the pandemic, people were driving all over the place to hunt and gather essential supplies. What traffic was like in late February, early March was the worst-case scenario, but that is what we are in for as the economy returns if we do not figure out how to bring public transit, car sharing, and shared mobility back into people’s lives as their first choice,” she said.
On-demand scooter rentals are a fraction of what they were before the pandemic, but are also beginning to bounce back. And while car-sharing platforms, like Lyft and Uber, are struggling, they will ultimately play an important role in filling the gaps in public transit.
Reynolds stressed the importance of infrastructure improvements as key to improving traffic. She said people need to feel safe when riding a bike or scooter, and also feel that same level of care and hospitality when on public transit.
According to Reynolds, at its peak, Los Angeles had 36,000 registered scooters. As the pandemic hit, companies removed their units from the streets as they struggled to figure out their cleaning protocols. The city is now down to fewer than 900 e-scooters on the streets. In January, they were seeing 529,000 trips per day, and now they’re down to 225,000 daily trips in July.
On people’s hesitation to touch what others have already touched and whether that will have a permanent effect on the willingness to use shared mobility, she explained: “The main way a virus is passing from person to person is really about close contact and shared air, not about shared surfaces, so I think that is going to continue to reassure people that they can come back and use these devices to get around.”
An increase in personal car usage post-COVID is a major concern for transportation analysts in terms of traffic and even pollution. On this, Reynolds said: “It’s hard to forecast what a new normal is going to look like because of the economic downturn. We know that when that happens, overall levels of driving and moving around by any means drops pretty precipitously, so it’s possible that we’ll just see an overall shrinking of people moving around at all. L.A. is one of those cities where most of the people on Metro or LADOT transit tend to be low and very low income. About half of the people on our buses make less than $20,000 a year. A lot of these folks don’t have access to a personal car, so even if they wanted to, they’re not able to.”