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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Using a Modified Delphi Approach to Explore California's Possible Transportation and Land Use Futures


Many methods exist for engaging experts in interactive groups to explore, clarify, and/or decide on various issues. In an investigation of four possible future scenarios concerning transportation and land use in California, we developed a novel “hybrid policy Delphi” method for use with a panel of 18 experts. We applied it to explore the policies and practices that would likely lead to each of the four scenarios and the consequences that would result from them. Through our process, panel members discussed and reflected on the scenarios in multiple ways. The scenario they considered most desirable they also deemed least likely to occur, and they foresaw the likely trajectory of California transportation and land use leading to less desirable scenarios. Our mix of discussion and questionnaires traded the benefit of anonymity for the benefit of exploratory, interactive discussion. In addition, our use of surveys before and after meetings allowed us to track changes in panel opinion on a central question and discuss the survey results at meetings, at the cost of greater administrative effort. We discuss the results of this hybrid policy Delphi approach, reflect on how it worked, and conclude with a discussion of limitations and future directions.

A Multifaceted Equity Metric System for Transportation Electrification


Transportation electrification offers societal benefits like reduced emissions and decreased dependence on fossil fuels. Understanding the deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) and electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) has been a popular focus, however, achieving their equitable distribution in the transportation system remains a challenge for successful electrification. To address this issue, this paper proposes a multi-dimensional equity metric system that assesses the equity status in the impacts of EV and EVSE deployment across different socio-demographic groups. Four types of equity are considered in the equity metric system: a fair share of resources and external costs that are grouped into horizontal equity, as well as inclusivity and affordability that refer to vertical equity. This paper performs a case study to examine equity concerns regarding the adoption of EVs and EVSE in Los Angeles County in 2035 by leveraging the proposed equity metric system. The results reveal disparities in the adoption of EVs and public chargers, as well as variations in EV trips and economic status across different socio-demographic groups. These disparities underscore the urgency to address equity issues during electrification. Building upon the results, this study puts forth recommendations to tackle these equity challenges to provide valuable insights for local agencies.

The Road, Home: Challenges of and Responses to Homelessness in State Transportation Environments


In recent decades, homelessness has become an increasingly major challenge in the U.S., reaching about half million unhoused people. Many of them seek shelter in settings such as freeways, underpasses, and rest areas. State departments of transportation (DOTs) are responsible for the health and safety of these settings and their occupants, housed and unhoused. This study synthesizes existing literature and findings from interviews with staff from 13 state DOTs and eight service providers and organizations responding to homelessness. Homelessness represents a recognized and common challenge for DOTs, which face jurisdictional, financial, and legal hurdles in addressing it. DOT staff employ both “push” and “pull” strategies, the most common of which is encampment removals (“sweeps”). However, the effectiveness of such removals is limited, as encampments often reappear in nearby sites. Other strategies include “defensive design” and, more proactively, establishing or partnering with low-barrier shelters, providing shelters and sanitation on DOT land, and coordinating rehousing and outreach efforts. Our findings suggest that DOTs should acquire better data on homelessness on their lands, create a homelessness coordinating office, establish formal partnerships with nonprofits/service providers, and evaluate the necessity of encampment removals, through the development and utilization of prioritization criteria.

Terra Incognita : California Transit Agency Perspectives on Demand, Service, and Finance in the Age of COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic upended transit use, finance, and management. To investigate these effects two years into the pandemic, we conducted 21 semi-structured interviews with senior managers at transit agencies in the most populous U.S. state, California. We found that the pandemic generated many operational and managerial challenges for transit agencies. Ridership plummeted, then slowly recovered, but is still well below pre-pandemic levels at most agencies. Commuter trips to and from major job centers were especially slow to return. In response to decreased demand, public health concerns, and uncertain finances, many agencies cut services and spending early on. As a result, fare revenues declined, in some cases precipitously. However, federal pandemic relief funds proved essential in filling budgetary gaps, stabilizing finances, preventing layoffs, and maintaining services. Other transit subsidies mostly bounced back robustly. Our interviews suggest that, though California transit agencies experimented with free fares, few fareless programs were made permanent. Their challenges include considerable uncertainty associated with future travel demand, looming financial shortfalls at systems that formerly had high farebox recovery and are still drawing on federal pandemic funds to backfill their fare revenue losses, and protracted labor shortages of drivers and mechanics that are preventing many systems from providing desired levels of service.

State of the BART: Analyzing the Determinants of Bay Area Rapid Transit Use in the 2010s


Peaking on public transit—the concentration of ridership in peak times and directions into and out of central areas—has waxed in the U.S. over the past century, as public transit has lost more mode share at off-peak times, in off-peak directions, and among non-commute trips. A notable pre-pandemic manifestation of this chronic problem was on Bay Area Rapid Transit, the San Francisco Bay Area’s regional heavy rail system. While BART staved off an absolute ridership decline longer than most American transit operators in the mid- and late-2010s, it did so almost entirely due to peak gains in riders offsetting off-peak losses. As a result, the system experienced worsening passenger crowding at some times and places, expanding underutilization of capacity at many others, and the prospect of enormous expenditures to accommodate rising transbay passenger demand. To examine the factors driving transit use in the 2010s, we model peak and off-peak BART trips as a function of station area and system characteristics. We uniquely use origin–destination pairs as the unit of analysis in order to separately measure influences at both ends of the trip. We find that transfers and travel time most influence peak and off-peak BART ridership and that station-area employment and time-competitiveness with driving particularly influence peak patronage. Over time in our models, the associations between ridership and transit travel time weakened, while the associations between ridership and transfers, employment, and time-competitiveness with driving grew stronger. In sum, we find that the peaking problem plaguing public transit systems for decades worsened in the years leading up to the pandemic—on this one nationally significant U.S. transit system, at least—which poses potentially substantial financial challenges in the years ahead.

Transit's Financial Prognosis: Findings from a Survey of U.S. Transit Systems during the COVID-19 Pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic occasioned significant financial distress and uncertainty for many U.S. transit operators. In the face of this crisis, the federal government provided substantial supplemental operating support. To understand how this fiscal turmoil and relief have affected U.S. transit systems, we conducted two nationwide surveys of transit agency staff in 2020 and 2021-2022. While pandemic-induced financial shortfalls affected service in 2020, with capital projects delayed too, these effects became much more muted by 2021/2022. Most systems reported moderate to substantial increases in federal funding during the pandemic, more so than other funding categories. However, nearly half foresee financial shortfalls once federal relief funding expires. Agencies with higher pre-pandemic ridership and farebox recovery are particularly affected by fare revenue losses and more likely to anticipate shortfalls. In the near term, difficulty hiring and retaining front-line workers was a pressing concern, while very few had plans to maintain pandemic fare suspensions.

Transit Blues in the Golden State: Regional transit ridership trends in California


Public investment in transit increased following the Great Recession, yet transit use nationally mostly fell, even prior to the 2020 pandemic. We investigate this troubling disjuncture by comparing transit ridership trends during the 2010s in two of America’s largest regions: Greater Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. While both California regions lost transit riders, we see substantial differences in the scale, timing, geography, and modes of these declines. In the LA area, ridership fell longer and further, spread more across routes, times, and sub-regions and concentrated on the region’s dominant operator. In both regions, increasing auto access appears to have played a central role, albeit in different ways. Greater LA saw increased automobile ownership, particularly among high-propensity transit riders. In the Bay Area, as jobs and housing have dispersed, ridehail services like Lyft and Uber may have eroded non-commute transit use.