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LA is using ride-hailing startup Via to shuttle people to public transit (techcrunch.com)
75 points by prostoalex 18 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 95 comments

Where I used to live in the Netherlands (Friesland in the north to be specific), it's very sparsely populated. Although the public transportation system here is incredible, in the more remote regions of the province they also suffer from the last mile problem. The way the local train/bus operator deals with the issue is by directly subsidizing local taxis to get you to your nearest bus stop for 2.50eu - essentially a cup of coffee. I use it whenever I need to get around up there and it works great.


I lived in LA for a year, and the biggest hurdle I had with using public transit in the city was exactly this: that stations, especially for the newer metro lines, often were 2-3 miles from my starting location and destination. Using public transit meant that I either was already near a stop or had a destination immediately next to stop. In every other case, Uber/Lyft'ing through traffic was faster (and cheaper when you add the price to Uber to and from the stations).

So I think this idea has potential, though its eventual success will depend two things: first, whether the price of the last-mile via's can be kept low enough to make the diversion to the transit stop affordable, and second, whether the via's and the public transit can reasonably compete on timeliness with ridesharing services.

Using a bike for ~2 mile trip is very fast and cheap. Seems like a much better and possibly faster way to get to and from the metro station most days.

But also super lethal per vehicle mile traveled. It might be different if you are on a dedicated right-of-way...

Cycling infrastructure in LA is so bad. Bike lanes that end randomly, poor lane merging patterns, and exceedingly fast cars that are all pissed off, it can be pretty dangerous.

"Super lethal"? Let's keep things in perspective.

Here's the perspective: You, or rather, the average "you" incur 1 micromort (1/1e6 chance of death while conducting a particular activity) for every:

6 miles traveled by motorcycle

10 miles traveled by bicycle

17 miles traveled by foot

230 miles by car

1000 miles by jet plane

So, it really is rather dangerous to get around by bicycle. Not that I recommend against it (I commute by motorcycle, personally).

[edit: source wiki article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micromort#Travel ]

First total bike miles are not rigorously tracked making this statistics extremely suspect. Which is why both 10 and 20 miles are given as separate estimates. “Travelling 10 miles (16 km)[25] (or 20 miles (32 km))[24] by bicycle (accident)”

Subway miles are also very safe at ~ 1/20 the risk of driving your car. So, a 2 mile bike ride to a subway + a 20 mile subway trip is about the same risk as a 22 mile commute. Though with very large error bars on that estimate based on personal habits and local conditions.

PS: Don’t become a bike messenger it pays well, but the risks are more significant when people are running red lights etc.

Not only that, but the references on that wikipedia page about bicycling are extremely poor: neither contains any sort of justification for the claim. I was hoping for a link to a paper, or something.

Is that taking into account the effect of the exercise you're getting while cycling? http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/06/13/bicycling-the-safe...

Does a comparison of miles traveled even make any sense when there are huge differences in speed of the vehicles you've listed? People are more likely to commute 60 miles by car every day but with a bike they'd only commute up to 10 miles. Just by looking at the miles it's not obvious which type of transportation is safer.

Thanks for the link! I'm still going to claim that 1 micromort/10 miles is nowhere near "super lethal", but we can all decide that for ourselves, I suppose.

That's just nonsense. I presume you haven't visited a bicycle friendly country.

I have, and I miss it every day I commute by bicycle. There's a span along one of my routes where you have to make a left turn across 5 lanes of traffic. The Dutch would faint, I think.

Cycling infrastructure in LA, outside of a few areas in West LA (namely, Santa Monica), is awful. Streets are insanely busy, there usually aren't bike lanes, and the few bike lanes that exist leave you biking next aggressive drivers pushing 60 mph (looking at you, Venice Blvd). Biking isn't a feasible option in most of the city.

Good way to wake up in the morning and feel great for the rest of the day as well.

Or sweaty, depending on your fitness level.

no matter my fitness level i've always been one of the sweatiest people i've ever met. Hasn't stopped me from cycling, and i'll echo the above sentiments: i feel more awake when i get to work and better for the rest of the day if i bike to work. I do take steps to make sure I don't smell: shower either immediately before leaving, or even better immediately on arriving when work has a shower onsite.

Not an issue as long as you shower regularly. I arrive at work sweaty but dry off within about 10 minutes in the air conditioned office.

Depends on the miles. 2 miles of cycling around the LAX bus depot is horrific

> "...its eventual success will depend two things: first, ... the price ..., and second, ... timeliness ...."

it's nearly impossible to compete on those two things, but you're assuming that that's the problem they're trying to solve.

this program is not for you. it's for people who can't afford to buy & own a car. if you can afford a drive or ridehail everywhere, of course you'd do that, because it's faster and more convenient. this is for less advantaged people who live in the suburbs and have service jobs in the various commercial sectors of the region. and it's for people with disabilities or other impediments.

i solve my last mile problem with a variety of options: walk, bike, scooter, and ridehail, but ridehailing is my last option because it's often a poor tradoff between price and time--either it's way more costly or it takes as long as another option, between waiting and picking up/dropping off other people.

in LA (the city, not all of socal), scooters and dockless bikes make a lot of sense to me. but the scooter startups want to be in the rich areas and metro flubbed it's bike program by using docking pedal bikes (with peddle-assist rolling out now, but still docked). we just need more dedicated bike/scooter lanes, especially grade-separated ones.

Well, if they're aiming to solve the last-mile problem for less advantaged people, competing on price becomes even more essential. And while the standard answer to this is always subsidization, I think the program needs to at the very least be sustainable from a business perspective so it doesn't become beholden to the whims of the next fiscal-hawk to take city office.

I agree with you otherwise: ride-hailing is expensive and inefficient as a last mile solution. Dockless electric scooters are a great idea, and I think if the city can do a managed rollout that doesn't frustrate residents in the area (basically, the opposite of Bird), they could be great success.

yup, it's subsidized for low income folks. honestly, i don't think this program will last long because it's relatively expensive and can't scale efficiently.

hopefully the electric scooter/bike companies figure out that a large business is literally right in front of them. it's low margin, but whoever captures it can turn around and use its scaling effects as a barrier to entry.

That's something that would change with time though, hopefully. Useful rail infrastructure, along with increased traffic congestion, encourages commercial and residential development (some may call this 'transit oriented development' but I think that is too narrow a term, and conjures the wrong image for some people) that makes the rail system more and more useful with time.

As an example, consider cities that predate multi-lane highways. Their highest density development tends to radiate out from the city centre along train lines, not roads, and the train stations have become commercial hubs where you can run a lot of random errands (with supermarkets, bank branches, post offices, etc.)

I worry about tethering public transport to unprofitable / not yet self sustainable companies who could eventually become so critical to public to transportation that they become their own version of "too big to fail"... and then just milk government for all they can, or if they go out of business the whole system is dorked up.

Like most cities, LA's public transit system used to be a privately-owned, for profit network, mostly from Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Railway. By the 50s, those companies had shuttered most of their routes because of competition from private cars and buses, so eventually they were bought by local government and became the public transit system.

Same thing happened in Chicago. Before there was the CTA, there were private, for-profit rail roads connecting the city, owned mostly by the Chicago Rapid Transit Company.

So, if Via is unsustainable and unprofitable, and was acquired by local government, that wouldn't really be any different from how the LA Metro got started.

> So, if Via is unsustainable and unprofitable, and was acquired by local government, that wouldn't really be any different from how the LA Metro got started.

Why would LA Metro pay to acquire Via when it can just run identical bus routes? Also, LA transit planners probably already know which areas would benefit from new bus route, but are constrained by their budget.

Unless advertisers are thinking it's profitable to blast ads to commuters for their 30-45 min commute, affordable transit will continue to need to be subsidised by tax dollars (yes, yes.. transit in Asia, real-estate).

It’s probably easier to bootstrap and acquire than to deal with the union issues in an ongoing operation.

Seniority rules for assignment and training requirements for example may be hard to deal with.

I wouldn't assume Via and city buses cost the same to run.

I'm not sure it is quite the same thing. Via leads them down a very specific path that now has to be sustained and failed. One that otherwise they may not have taken.

> and then just milk government for all they can, or if they go out of business the whole system is dorked up

As opposed to public sector workers and their defined benefit plans? https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-pension-squeeze/

What are your thoughts on Amtrak?

Not as good as SNCF which is state run.

it's a pilot program for just 3 stations (one subway, one busway and one light rail), so no need to worry about a messy tethering yet.

Yeah I'm cool with pilot programs.

Just not sure what it tells us if the parent company ... isn't solvent longer term and not sure if that is or isn't the case.

via has been around a while searching for a business model in this space. they'd probably get bought out by uber or lyft once they prove the model.

Completely off-topic, but this headline is an excellent example of why we shouldn't let companies stylize their own names and brands. It's unreadable in its current state. "via" should of course be capitalized, no matter what the company's "brand guidelines" say.

Always drives me crazy too. Uncapitalized company names are not a thing, get over yourselves.

It seems very LA to need a car to get to the nearest bus stop.

It's due to the sheer size of the city (it's the largest metropolitan region in the US by area). The "last mile" problem now turns into last 3-4 miles (or more!) often necessitating a vehicle of some sort.

This is pretty much spot on.

I live in LA and am an avid driver, motorcyclist, and bicyclist. I'm also a huge proponent of public transport, and use it whenever I can.

That last bit is often a bummer; it's very rare that I truly can use public transport to get to where I'm going.

The nearest train station is a 15-minute walk from my apartment. That gets me onto a pretty good train system that can take me to Santa Monica and Downtown Los Angeles on one train, but not many other places. Changing trains adds time, and then they also go to a limited number of places.

Buses are a bit all over the place, and victimized by the very traffic I try to avoid by using public transport.

My current office is about 9 miles from my apartment (Mar Vista to West Hollywood). This translates into 35 minutes by car, 20–25 minutes by motorcycle, and 1 hour and 20 minutes by public transit, involving at least two different methods. It would be a great 1-hour bicycle ride if I could shower at work.

I start a new job in a few weeks, and that office will be only 4 miles from my apartment. This should translate into 12 minutes by car, 10 minutes by motorcycle, and 40 minutes by public transit. It might also be a relatively sweat-free (low-sweat?) 25-minute bicycle ride.

Most people aren't as fortunate as I am.

My biggest problem with the buses is frequency. My gf lives just off Glenoaks in Burbank/Glendale, there's a bus that comes right by, but it's so infrequent that it rarely makes sense. "If I head out now, I might make it to the bus stop in time, if I don't I can walk to my destination quicker than the next bus will come. Am I willing to take that risk?" (The answer is almost always no.)

I looked at taking the bus from BUR to her place. There's a great route, right from the airport to San Fernando Road, just down the block from her, maybe a 5 minute walk. Except the bus only stops at the airport HOURLY. Google maps was saying the ride would take over an hour, because the next bus wasn't coming for nearly an hour. If you set the "Leave by" time to when the next bus arrives though? The bus takes maybe 3-4 minutes longer than a lyft to that stop.

If sweating is the primary thing keeping you from riding: get an eBike.

Sweating is the primary thing keeping me from riding to work. I solved that with a motorcycle, which does many things an eBike wouldn't.

Riding a purely-manual bicycle would be awesome because of the exercise, something an eBike wouldn't provide.

Yep sorry, thought that the ride to work was assumed. You can always turn off the assist so you get exercise on the way home, but don't sweat on the way there?

I've commuted via bike for 4 years now - 6mi with a big hill each way. Started on an ebike but moved to nonmotorised pretty quickly.

I guess the split (on there, off home) would kinda work, but it seems like half measure when I already have a road bicycle for serious rides and a motorcycle to get around the city.

9 miles you could run in a little over an hour, by bicycle it should be more like 35 minutes, no? (Assuming it's not too hilly.)

I'm a fairly fit person and I am not going to run for an hour twice a day. 30 minutes by bike is fine but if I am gonna get on my bike I might as well go all the way to work which is what I do. Public transport is just no use to me until I move somewhere with better access.

You must be in incredible shape. Biking at an average of 24 km/h for 30 mins twice a day is not that easy. Same for your running times.

Ouch, looks like my mental milesToKm() hit a logic bug and multiplied by 1.1, not 1.6... Yes, my times up there are pretty crazy.

Cool. I thought you are a smug marathon professional who doesn't understand that not everyone can run a marathon under 2:30 :-)

Here's a link for reference: https://goo.gl/maps/qTq3CfWFUrm (not my exact address, nearby intersection)

Having done that route in a car and on a motorcycle, I can say that Google is being a bit optimistic about the cooperation of traffic lights and the safety of traffic.

Wtf? Running 9 miles in an hour is under 7 minutes per mile. That's a very high level of fitness.

That doesn't make any sense. LA is dense. The suburban areas from satellite look like wall-to-wall housing for tens of miles in all directions. How can that not be enough to support a bus-stop every half-mile? How can my little town in the UK support a bus depot but a small area of LA cannot?

> LA is dense.

LA is ludicrously sparse for a big city.

> The suburban areas from satellite look like wall-to-wall housing for tens of miles in all directions.

Yes, the suburban areas (pretty much all of LA) are often wall to wall low density (single family or small, 2-3 story apartments) housing for miles in all directions.

> How can my little town in the UK support a bus depot but a small area of LA cannot?

LA has bus depots, and thousands of of stops.

So with all of that, how does the last mile problem turn into '3-4 miles (or more!)'?

LA has about 10 bus stops per square mile. It looks like Metro's Google Maps API key expired but there's a nice map here[1]. Most of the gaps are uninhabited areas or cities that have their own transit systems. But just because there's 5 bus stops within a half mile of your house doesn't mean that those 5 (or more) bus lines take you to your destination. It's like a graph, as the number of bus stops increases linearly there's n^2 ways to connect them. Traveling somewhere that isn't directly North/South/East/West usually requires 1 or more transfers, and most of the bus lines are subject to the same traffic that you'd experience if you drove yourself.

[1]: https://www.metro.net/interactives/gmaps/bus_routes/bus_stop...

It can. The people complaining are generally those that chose to live far away from transit. There are plenty of us that barely drive; we just don't complain.

LA is incredibly spread out. It's almost only single family homes with a few exceptions.

It can’t be more sparse then my town in UK which manages to support local bus stops fine.

small area of LA? lol.

Yes for any given small area in LA why can’t it have as many bus stops as the same sized area somewhere else?

Busstops are generally planned in a number per so many people. Not in a number per city, regardless the size of it.

many of these "bus stops" are BRT (bus rapid transit), which uses dedicated infrastructure like grade separated bus only lanes. Its more like a subway that doesn't have rails and uses busses instead of train cars.

"Park and Ride" is a fairly common thing for commuter rail in the US. Using it for busses is a new one though.

Is it? Maybe for busses that stay inside a city but all the "commuter" busses that go into and out of a city have parking lots. There isn't any other way to get to them.

Seattle has been doing bus park and ride for decades, although they are extending the rail to one of the biggest park and ride stops and I think other rail extensions will go past several others.

> "Park and Ride" is a fairly common thing for commuter rail in the US.

It's a fairly common thing for commuter transit generally in the US, not just commuter rail.

> Using it for busses is a new one though.

No, it's not. There's lots of Park and Ride locations in CA (and.I would assume elsewhere) that are served by bus exclusively or are at multimodal transit centers that include bus along with ferry and/or light rail.

It's a fairly common thing for commuter transit generally in the US

Yep. I've used park-and-ride to get to buses in New York and New Jersey.

FWIW, NJ Transit has operated Park & Ride bus stations for as long as I can remember.


We have "Park and Ride" for GO buses in Canada.

The GTA is also generally leading north america in adoption of dedicated rights-of-way for buses, such as the mississauga transitway and the bus lanes for Viva.

Train-like travel times, with bus-like frequency and construction times.

Dallas has the same problem as LA. I live about 3 miles from a light rail park & ride but I don't even have bus service. I'd love to be able to use a ride share service, but taking Uber or Lyft adds another $10-15 to my daily commute.

DART just launched a new service that does exactly this. 4 zones launched today, but many more are coming throughout the year. Try out planning a trip in the updated GoPass app and, depending on where you're going, you should see options for GoLink.

I'm in Allen which is outside of the DART service area, though, so I'm probably not covered. Although I'm just across the Plano-Allen border. Maybe I could just walk a couple blocks south and summon a ride. :D

Thanks for the info! I'll definitely check it out.

Isn't the hint in the name "park and ride" your meant to drive to the park part then take the light rail

We (sparelabs.com) just launched a very similar on-demand transit system in Dallas today! The service is primarily used to link up the suburbs and working hubs to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail network. Happy to answer any questions about this here!

Wait for my Via, wait for my bus, wait in the bus in traffic, wait for the bus to make all the stops.

I live in LA. I would rather sit in my car than take public transit here. The few times I have taken it, it has been such a bad experience I will never take it again. Party due to the amount of time spent waiting for trains/buses (they are infrequent). Partly due to how unsafe it feels.

I've lived in NYC, it's a total 180 experience. Ideally if you can live close to your job in LA the commute is negligible. The roads are ok as well as long as you don't travel during rush hour.

I used to feel that way until smartphones and laptops became common. Now I'd rather poke at my phone on a bus than sit in traffic in a car.

I'd agree if the time spent was the same.

In LA it will take you easily twice as long to get where you're going with public transit.

Not just L.A. when I lived in Chicago, I could have driven to work in 30 minutes. Instead I took a train and a bus 75 minutes each way and kept my sanity.

I guess to each their own. Though I suspect the majority of people would rather spend 1 hour driving than 2.5 hours in a bus everyday.

I'm not saying it's right, but poking at one's phone and sitting in traffic are not mutually exclusive.

Perhaps this is what Chariot should have pivoted to. Right now, the public transit is not the problem in places like Bay Area and LA if your source and destination are near the public transit stop or if those stops are accessible via a car/bike/scooter.

Still seems gigantically space inefficient. Would love to see this experiment done with scooters, especially in LA where the weather is pretty good year-round. I say this as someone incredibly annoyed with people leaving Bird scooters all over the street.

From my highly unscientific anecdata, that's been one of their primary use cases. The main problem I've heard reiterated is that they're not always readily available, suddenly turning a can-do trip into no-go.

If the "official" answer to the last mile problem is scooters, that'll run into all kinds of resistance from people with disabilities.

Why? Cars and scooters are not mutually exclusive.

Moreso, scooters take up way less space than cars and a properly designed scooter city will have much more room for disabled parking.

Not to mention electric wheelchairs can be surprisingly fast.

There was an article in the New York Times last year about how New Jersey suburbs are paying ride-sharing people to ferry commuters to train stations so that the towns don't have to build larger parking lots.

You're making it sound like this is only of benefit to the city. This makes things more space efficient and for those who might struggle with the expenses of a private car, is gold.

So essentially, we've downsized the busses running through suburbia with much smaller, more flexible vehicles. Seeing this as a failure of public transport is a bit short sighted, if anything I think this is a good evolution. Busses are only more efficient when ridership is medium-high. Busses are not commodity in the way cars are, some places have pretty damn old busses, which spews large amounts of diesel particles.

I think that public transport can radically shape an area, for example, see this video [1] about how the Edgware area developed, after getting a tube station (and how other areas lost). I recommend the entire channel btw, very informative and funny videos.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anHLOwH2HWU

I just started working with Ioki, we are a Deutsche Bahn company doing this exact thing-- we use mobility analytics to find 'sweet spots' for our service, and are preparing heavily for fully automated services too.

Feel free to ask questions! We are also hiring like crazy in Frankfurt :)

Fix the capital V in the title please.

Done. Thanks!

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