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Head of LADOT Calls for ‘Universal Basic Mobility’

In comments at the CoMotion MIAMI transportation and urbanism conference, LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds put forward a vision of expanded access to affordable and equitable transportation in her city and beyond.

Traffic in Los Angeles
Traffic in Los Angeles
The head of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation is calling for “universal basic mobility” in a plea to remake transportation that is more equitable, affordable, accessible and generally more “joyful.”

“The idea that no matter where you live, how much money you have, or who you are, you have access to dignified, frequent, affordable transportation that serves all of the needs that you have,” said Seleta Reynolds, general manager of the Los Angeles DOT, in a keynote address at the CoMotion MIAMI conference this week. “Because there is a strong economic argument to make sure that is the case for everybody in L.A.”

Reynolds challenged Los Angeles, and all cities, to put forward transportation ecosystems with “vision, pragmatism and joy,” and to advance systems that leave no one behind, curtail the use of single-occupancy car ownership and make a sizable effort to combat climate change.

And if the last 16 months — marked by loss and suffering in virtually every city and small town — has proven out, it’s that bold leadership makes a difference, she added, calling to mind actions taken by her own transportation department where Los Angeles streets were repurposed to better serve mom-and-pop retail and restaurants. Buses were put to work delivering food. Transportation workers helped to direct traffic at large facilities like the Staples Center or Dodgers Stadium, which had been transformed into large-scale COVID-testing and vaccination sites.

“So we know we can do big things in L.A.” said Reynolds. “And we know that now is the time for us to look ahead and figure out how we are going to do big things that bring everybody along with us.”

Reynolds didn’t dive too deeply into the details of what “universal basic mobility” means in a purely practical manner — or how to bring it about — but offered more of a vision for the future. A future surely formed from the past several months and years which laid bare vulnerable populations and communities in the wake of a worldwide pandemic and a national reckoning around racial and social justice.

“The people who had the privilege to stay home were on the west side of Los Angeles, the wealthier side, the whiter side,” Reynolds reflected. “These are the folks who had the jobs that allowed them to work from home. But if you lived in South L.A., or you lived in Watts, or you lived in Boyle Heights, you were still stuck in traffic.”

Some of the changes LADOT has already begun include electrifying its bus fleet, introducing EV car-sharing, micro-mobility transit and other developments. During the pandemic, LADOT completed about 90 miles of upgraded bike lanes and about 12 miles of bus-only lanes.

“We have to begin to think differently about the way that we deliver dividends from the mobility system,” said Reynolds. “So it has to be universal. That’s the visionary part. It can’t just serve one part of the population.”

John Rossant, CEO of CoMotion, said the time is right to re-imagine transportation.

“We have an alignment now with political forces at a federal level, the technology is coming together, it’s coming into focus,” said Rossant in his comments at the conference Thursday. “It’s an extraordinary time.”

“There is an unprecedented focus on equity and inclusion in our cities,” he added.
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 Yreka, Calif.