FutureStructure

FlexLA is Ready to Shuttle You Around Downtown Los Angeles

FlexLA is the new on-demand, micro-transit service for downtown Los Angeles.

by / October 12, 2018
A view of Los Angeles City Hall in downtown. FlexLA is the new on-demand, micro-transit service for downtown Los Angeles. Flickr/Eric Garcetti

Getting around downtown Los Angeles in the evenings just got easier. The launch of a new on-demand, micro-transit service is stepping in during times when more conventional transit is scaled back.

FlexLA is a new service operating from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week within the boundaries of downtown — an area roughly bounded by the following freeways: 110, 101, I-5 and I-10. There’s a $6 flat fare for a ride anywhere within the service zone. And low-income riders can apply for a $2 fare.

Because the system is still in the testing phase, fares are currently $3.

Participants download the FlexLA app and enter their credit card information. The whole interface will be familiar to anyone who has used a ride-hailing app like Uber or Lyft. Rides are shared and provided by seven Mercedes-Benz Metris passenger vans. 

The program is a partnership among FASTLinkDTLA, a nonprofit transportation management organization; the Los Angeles Department of Transportation; the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator; LA Metro, which provided grant funding; and moovel, a software development firm specializing in the transit sector.

On the one hand, FlexLA is presented as a much-needed transit service for the roughly 70,000 residents who call downtown Los Angeles home — a number FlexLA organizers expect to grow to nearly 200,000 by 2040.

“As a result, some of the transportation, and specifically, transit, hasn’t kept pace with that type of growth,” said Derek Fretheim, director of business development at moovel. “And so, in downtown Los Angeles, after about 7 o’clock, transit service pretty much ceases to exist. There are one or two transit lines coming from LA Metro, but they scale back.

“And so you’ve got 70,000 residents who need to get around the downtown core,” he explained.

However, it’s not just after-hours transit for residents that organizers have in mind. A central goal is growing traditional transit use.

“We see this as actually a reason for people who are in areas throughout the region, to come to downtown by transit. Because what we see this as really optimizing is the choices you have once you get here by transit,” said Hilary Norton, executive director of Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic as well as FASTLinkDTLA, the transportation management organization overseeing the project.

“One of the reasons people keep giving about not taking transit into and out of downtown is, ‘Well, the place I really want to go isn’t accessible by transit right now.’ And so, we see that the service we’re providing is actually going to help encourage people to make trips throughout the region, leaving their car at home. That’s our ideal,” she added.

Cities across the country are investing in downtown restorations, often in the form of adding housing to these once sleepy business districts, mixing in new land uses and even taking on large capital projects like streetcar systems. A micro-transit project like FlexLA could be the low-impact answer to address transit in a sustainable fashion that both encourages traditional transit use and reduces traffic, say organizers.

“What we’re trying to do, especially in Los Angeles where ... a vast majority of people are not taking transit right now, we want to give people a reason to get out of their cars. That is first and foremost. And will they get out of their cars and sit with five other people? I think we can get them to do that,” said Norton.

“I think the thing is that people are looking for the kind of service that they feel is a little bit more intimate and safe, and if you want to get people to move around in cities during hours that they feel are most vulnerable, I think having options for people where they’re going to be a little more catered to is really important,” she added.

FlexLA launched Oct. 2 and is still in its “community beta” phase. Norton expects an official rollout next month. Funding for the program came from LA Metro as well as private sources. The vehicles are being underwritten by moovel, which was founded by Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz.

“We’re going to have a variety of ways that the private sector can participate with us, and we look forward to talking about those as they develop,” said Norton.

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.