mobility, shared use, technology

Live/Ride/Share – LA’s first Shared-Use Mobility Summit


Hi all. On Monday I’ll be attending Live/Ride/Share – a conference that will be focusing on shared-use mobility in Southern California. Shared-mobility is a catch-all term for transport modes that can be shared amongst citizens – think Uber (ride-sourcing), bikeshare, carshare (such as zipcar) and carpooling. With the increased uptake in smartphone technologies, open data and a desire to reduce the cost of driving, shared-mobility is an exciting way forward for LA. It looks like the day will provide insight into how shared-mobility could mean lower car ownership and provide viable options for the tricky ‘first mile, last mile’ element of a journey. Excited.

Looks like the conference is sold out – which is awesome!

I’ll report back on how it went, and if you’re going, please be sure to say hi!

mobility, technology, Transportation

LA ranked fourth amongst US cities where technology can reduce the need to own a car

Morning all. I was sent a link to a new report that considers how technology has provided new transport tools and options – the Innovative Transport Index. Los Angeles has come in at fourth on the list, below Austin, San Francisco and Washington DC. It tied with Boston and New York City. I think this is very positive for LA, although one would expect the larger cities to have more options. Interestingly, three other cities where I work – Seattle, Denver and San Diego – all made the top ten. These cities are offering viable options to their citizens, predominantly via the use of technology – smart phone apps, real time information, dynamically-driven websites, bike share and ride-sourcing systems. Simply put, these technologies provide people with options for their daily trips – often using real time information to provide the answer to the question – ‘what’s the best option for me right now?’. The photo below show’s Washington DC’s bike share system – perhaps not a viable option during freezing temperatures, but a ‘smart’ app could provide alternatives based on cost, mode preference or time of day.


Looking back on my previous post, perhaps it would be interesting to see how these cities are dealing with accessibility, and if these technologies have had an impact on the visually and mobility impaired? Should that be included as part of the index? Should car usage and ownership also be taken into account?

Let’s see if we can’t get LA higher up the index.


How tech is transforming mobility for vulnerable and less abled people.

Greetings from Canada! I seem to be making a habit of travelling to extremely cold places at the moment…

I came here to run a workshop that’s looking at how digital wayfinding services could help people navigate and explore parks. One of the key aspects that I wanted to find out more about was how the visually and mobility are using technology to help them navigate complex and ever changing physical and natural landscapes. My thinking was that if we could design an app or web service that provided these communities with easy to use and confidence building information, then it could work well for everyone. We tend to take these communities for granted and I really wasn’t prepared for the response we got….

On the plane on the way over (yes, I made the flight!) I boned up on a number of very interesting projects that are seriously looking at how new technologies could change the way visually impaired travellers go about their daily lives. One of the most interesting is the Microsoft/Guide Dogs project that has created location and user sensitive ‘3D audio soundscapes’ via a smartphone and bone conductive headset. This project, based in the UK, piloted some pretty amazing tech – it allowed users to get from Reading to Paddington using the headset and a series of beacons and WIFI routers. Similarly, the RLSB Youth Forum and ustwo’s Wayfindr project uses available smartphone tech, an easy to use app and bone conducting tech to guide young people around indoor environments using ibeacons – something which is very tricky when using GPS inside. The product gives people the confidence to get out of their homes and explore the city, get a job or meet friends – when they’d normally experience barriers. This use of (relatively) cheap technology just shows what’s possible and how the city can become a guide rather than a hindrance. This has to be exciting stuff, right?

It soon occurred to me that the vision-impaired are starting to adopt smartphone technology for navigation. iOS, for example, has the remarkable VoiceOver which allows for the content of a website of an app to be read back to the user. The use of GPS allows users to locate themselves and apps such as Google Maps to tell them where they are and what’s around them. Projects such as GuideDots are taking this a step further and using crowd-sourced data from Facebook Places and FourSquare to help locate people and provide them with contextual information – such as weather their friends are already there (inspires confidence) and whether there may be barriers to movement on their route (app users can actually report barriers such as badly placed bins and benches). It actually made me think about my place in transportation and how the tech we produce could be serving people better.

So at the workshop I told my embarrassing story about missing my flight. This got us all thinking about how much we rely on this information as sighted and able bodied traveler, but made us think even more about how poor data and service could impact on the visually impaired, deaf and mobility impaired communities. A lot was the answer. So we spent a good chunk of time talking about what information these communities rely on – if a bus stop is accessible, if there’s a toilet nearby, if there is a busy road and whether there is an accessible crossing. Then on top of that came the real time data – bus departures, changes of gates at airports. For those with disabilities, this stuff really matters.

One of our guests, a visually impaired lady with the most gorgeous guide dog (see below), was a veracious user of smartphone and app technology. It took her a good ten minutes to tell us all about the apps she uses and how they help her life. She’s even thinking of getting an ibeacon for her dog! We also had the other side of the coin – a gentleman, also visually impaired with a guide dog, who doesn’t carry a phone but has a very simple GPS device. His argument was that smartphones are amazing, but many people still can’t afford them (VoiceOver is considered to be the best technology but only available on iPhones). So we still have to think about ‘traditional’ signage and how tech can add a layer of interaction, rather than replace it. We also talked about live maps that constantly update based on crowd-sourced information – including surface quality for wheelchair users, availability of charging stations for mobility scooters and routing that takes it all into consideration.

This dog is getting tech

This dog is getting tech

I came away buzzing and keen to look at how I could help develop new services that can cater for the less abled communities out there and also make a difference for the wider world. I’ve got some ideas which I’ll be sharing in later posts – most of them involving the ‘sharing’ economy – I’d love to develop the Uber of mobility apps.

If any of you work with any of the communities I’ve mentioned and think it would be worthwhile me speaking to them, feel free to get in touch or leave a comment below!

air, Transportation

Do we rely too much on real time information?

Greetings from Washington DC! I’m here to present at the Transportation Research Board’s annual conference. I’m presenting on my experiences in the UK with ‘open data’ and how it’s been used to create really useful mobility tools such as CityMapper and a ‘smart column’ we recently installed at Ealing Broadway station.


On my flight over it struck me how much we are starting to rely on real time information to plan our daily lives – up to the minute information on traffic conditions, when your bus or train is due to arrive, where your UPS parcel is and when your plane is due to take off. It’s the latter that I’d like to talk about today….

At airports we rely on the departure boards to tell us when our plane is ready to board and from which gate. It’s a pretty standard approach around the world – there’s a flight number, a destination, a status (such as delayed or go to gate) and an estimated departure time. You can use these boards to plan your brief stay at the airport and not miss your flight.

I missed my flight. First time ever.

I was sat in front of a screen in the AA lounge (frequent flyer before you ask…) casually keeping an eye on the 12.25 American Airlines flight 52 to Washington Reagan. The status didn’t say anything, so I presumed the flight was delayed. The clock hit 12.10  and still nothing. But, it’s OK, these systems are designed to update us. It got to 12.20 and I decided to head to the gate. They’d closed it. No way of getting on. I checked the nearest board and the flight status said ‘flight closed’. Simply put, the board I was looking at wasn’t updating. The gate had been calling me, but those messages don’t reach the lounge.

I went to customer services to see what my options were. Luckily I was booked on the next flight (via Chicago), but when I mentioned the board issue the lady replied ‘oh that happens, we’re speaking to the guys who look after the screens to fix that problem’. I questioned the lack of audio announcements and the reply was ‘oh sometimes we get those in the lounge, but not always’.

Massive lesson learned and I definitely think I’ve become too reliant on electronic information – especially when there are things at stake! It just underlines that with all the best data and technology in the world, there is always a human involved – and if that human isn’t paying attention (both passenger and system provider) bad things happen.

I’ll be talking more about this and user centred design at my presentation at TRB today – I’ll get my slides up on the blog for you to check out.


10 cool things about being car free in 2015!

1. You can take your bike on the subway and on buses.

This is great and something that is sorely lacking in other major cities around the world. I see lots of people hucking their bikes onto the front of buses and wheeling them on to subway trains. This sets up infinite multi-modal journey options – it’s just a shame that the LA Metro trip planner doesn’t offer this as an option.


2. You can save money – transit is really cheap to use and walking/biking are free

$1.75 for a one-way trip on the subway, 50 cents for a local LADOT community bus service. Bargain.

3. There are some great cycle routes in LA to enjoy, plus you might see some wildlife…

Aside from bike lanes (the one on Sunset is pretty good) there are some awesome bike trails to take in. If I worked in Burbank this would be my commute of choice for sure.

4. You’ll get to see cool street art like this


5. If you build a walk into your day, you get to burn calories and listen to some really great podcasts

I walk about an hour everyday – which leaves me to listen to some great podcasts such as Marc Maron’s WTF, This American Life and Serial. Yeah you can listen to them in your car, but there’s something about walking and listening….

6. LA transit has real time via smartphone – no need to wait at the bus stop any more

While there is some progress to be made on the user experience side of things, both LA Metro and LA DOT offer real time arrivals information for bus stops and stations in Los Angeles. This makes travelling much easier for a new-comer and helps me understand the network a little better.

What they really need is a smart real time powered trip planner – more on that later….

7. Try rideshare – it’s everywhere and has really competitive rates

We use rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft to get to gigs, the supermarket, the beach and the movies. Without it we’d have to spend much more time on transit. Never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a ride. Just download the app and you’re off.

8. It’s a great conversation opener! You’ll always get into a good debate….

Saying that you don’t have a car at a party really gets the conversation going. You’ll get different responses ranging from ‘how on earth do you manage that?’ to ‘that’s awesome, how can I do that?’.

9. You can enjoy the splendid weather that LA has to offer…


10. Never have to worry about parking, unless it’s your bike…

Valet parking? What’s that all about? I can’t park my own car? Weird and expensive (plus you’re throwing your keys at a stranger).

For the cyclist, Santa Monica has got this wrapped up with a great Bike Center. You can store your bike securely, use a locker, get a shower and even get your bike fixed. It’s like valet but far more useful. Check it out here. More of these please – I’d love one in Downtown as my building doesn’t have these facilities. Pretty please?

Over to you…got any of your own?


Rain + Rush Hour Fun in Downtown LA


Hitting the streets – the deal with LA

To kick off I thought I’d give a quick run-down of what it has been like to live in LA without a car so far. We get asked a lot why we don’t have a car. The main reason is the hassle and impact on our quality of life – driving in LA can be a pain and finding parking is really boring (we rented a car during the first month of our move). I also like to walk, bike and use transit – it’s cheaper, I get to enjoy the magnificent weather and, hey, I get to interact with normal people! Plus, cars are expensive and we’d rather do without the cost. Plus, I guess it’s good to practice what I preach….

By and large we really haven’t needed one, mainly because we chose to live in an area (Los Feliz) that is walkable and that has good transit links to Downtown (where I currently work). If we didn’t have these two things, I think it would be trickier to get around without a car. But, you CAN get around LA without owning a car and spending a fortune on taxis – technology makes this possible (to the smartphone owning person of course).

Oh and we absolutely love living in LA. With or without a car.

‘Well, good for you!’ – confessing the car free life to locals

Our LA friends are genuinely shocked that we don’t have a car. They are really concerned for our well being. We once told our friends that we walk to the supermarket (it’s less than a mile) – I thought they were going to recommend a therapist.


LA has a pretty good public transit system.

I take LA Metro’s Red Line to work everyday. It’s cheap ($1.75 per trip), not particularly crowded and I have a station nearby which I can walk or skateboard to. It’s 1.3 miles away (see above for normal Angeleno reaction to this). At the other end of the journey I can walk 5 minutes to my office. Why would I drive? Looking at it from a different angle, if you want to get to somewhere that doesn’t have decent transport links (such as the beach), prepare to spend a long time on a bus.


Technology is making city mobility easier.

Admittedly, if it wasn’t for Google Maps and Uber I think we’d be in trouble. Both of these tools provide us with viable options – be it transit, walking or carsharing – for getting around the city. Uber in particular has been a huge bonus. If you’re not aware of Uber, check out an article I recently wrote – I’ll be updating this soon, including an update on how much it costs to switch to using transit and Uber to get around. LA Metro also has a pretty decent smartcard system, but it’s poorly integrated (i.e. not really at all) with other operators in the city – for example, I can’t step off the Red Line and hop on a LA DOT bus and pay for the trip with my TAP card. Well, not as far as I’m aware!  LA also has online real time information for most transit services, but the user experience side of things has to be carefully reconsidered – at the moment it’s just not that good and accessing information is a tricky process. Again, all of this information and guidance is only really available to those who have smartphones and are computer literate – I’ll be picking up on this in an upcoming post.


The weather encourages you to get out and about.

You can pretty much rely on the sun shining when you leave the house in the morning, so walking is a viable option. Same goes for biking. We have friends who walk everywhere in LA – even better, the sidewalks tend to be pretty quiet so skateboarding is also a great option! Just watch out for the uneven surfaces. Using my iPhone Health app I’ve noticed that I regularly hit 10,000 steps a day (well, my average is just under 9,000 – thanks Holidays), so I’m keeping fit at the same time.


The roads are by and large terrifying places for cyclists – but things are changing

I ride a bike in London, but nothing has prepared me for LA roads and the drivers. Plus, most people I’ve spoken to who bike in LA have been knocked off their bike at least once – the roads are a scary place for cyclists. Drivers seem to be permanently glued to their smartphone screens. But, things are starting to improve – LA currently has around 300 miles of bikeways and the plan is to deliver over 1,600 miles of bikeways over 35 years. Cities such as Santa Monica, Long Beach and Pasadena are really leading the charge with making their roads more bikeable. Bikeshare (Boris Bikes) are also coming to Downtown LA, and Santa Monica (and others) are leading the charge with a proposed bikeshare system in the works. Importantly, cycling is starting to crop up in the mainstream media and the debate over sharing space is getting louder. We also have CicLAvia – where LA’s streets and roads get turned into awesome bike festivals. If you want to check out some of my rides in LA – I’m on Strava.


There’s an appetite for change in LA

We speak to a lot of people as we travel around LA – the general impression that I get when I tell people what I do is that LA is ripe for change. Something needs to budge as gas prices get higher and roads more congested. Younger people also appear to be more receptive to change – they see transit as a viable option and not one that is solely for the carless who live in the city. I recently presented at an LA Metro digital event which also got me thinking that LA could be following other major US cities and really thinking about how multi-modal mobility could be enabled by using technology and focused urban planning.


When you leave the car at home, you see some cool stuff.

There are a huge amount of amazing sights and sounds in LA. The city has art and culture ingrained in its streets and if you walk around places like Venice you can see how this has been sewn into the very fabric of the neighbourhood.